By Brooke Gazer
Dr. Giovanne González was a physician who believed in doing charity work, both in his clinic and at various schools. When he announced his plan to run for Municipal President, often referred to as the “mayor” of Huatulco, eight years ago, his wife Reyna Olmeda was uncertain regarding her husband’s ambition. Up to that point he had no political experience, so it was understandable that she had some doubts. But he achieved his goal and took office in January of this year. At this juncture, Reyna’s life changed dramatically.
Before the election, Reyna was a stay-at-home wife and mother of two. She had a three-year-old son when the campaign began, but shortly before her husband took office, she gave birth to a second son. When I asked her about her new duties as the mayor’s wife, she corrected me. “My job is not because I am married to the mayor, my work is as the President of DIF.” “DIF” stands for Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, Mexico’s national system for Integral Family Development.
DIF is a public institution that provides social assistance focused on strengthening and developing the welfare of Mexican families. At all levels, federal, state, and local, the wife of the head of government assumes the leadership of DIF, but not all carry it out with the same degree of dedication. Rumor has it that some wives see this as merely a social opportunity, while others view it as an important social obligation. Reyna falls into the later category. She says, “I feel responsible to all the women in Huatulco because these are my people.”
Despite having two small children at home, Reyna’s full schedule at DIF begins each day at 9:00 am. Her sister, who has a family of her own, is pitching in and helping to manage both families. In February, it is still early days and with only a month in her new position, she is still evaluating and prioritizing. Despite the pressures of being away from her family, she told me that she enjoys her new role, particularly working with children in the programs DIF provides.
I asked Reyna if she could accomplish only one thing in her term at DIF, what would this be? Pausing to give my question careful thought, she finally answered that she would like to upgrade the project for senior citizens, referred to in Mexico as adultos mayores. Reyna says she feels a special attachment to this program and the people in it. In Mexico many adult children care for their aging parents. Since many couples both work, elderly people are alone much of the day; many begin to feel isolated. Pensions, for those lucky enough to have them, are generally meager, which limits their opportunities for social interaction.
The previous municipal government purchased a small house in Sector K in La Crucecita to use as a senior day center, and Reyna is expanding on what has been started (she hopes to also create such a facility for Santa María Huatulco).
From 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, local retired people can socialize at the house in Sector K, which has been named Casa de Día. For many, the high point of their week is Sunday afternoons, when they hold a dance in front of Casa de Día.
A doctor of geriatrics is available three mornings per week, offering both physical and mental exercise designed for the elderly. She also provides evaluations for seniors who may present with symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Reyna invited me to attend a meeting she had at the Casa de Día with the adultos mayores. About eighty seniors attended, and Reyna asked them to tell her what they needed. The first request was to have chairs available for the Sunday dances and Reyna immediately agreed to have the municipality deliver them. She seemed sincere in listening to the many requests, but funds for DIF are already stretched between the many social programs this organization offers. There is only so much she can do and without saying no, Reyna was honest with her group that she could not do this alone.
This house was in poor repair when the new administration took office. Their first action was to give it a new paint job. Now the house looks clean and inviting but currently it is an empty shell, in need of many things to make the place fully functional as a recreation center. They are not looking for cash donations, but if you recently renovated or redecorated, you may have some items they need lying around – here is your chance to put them to good use!
1. Plants for landscaping: if you are thinning out your garden drop off some of those extra shrubs.
2. Furniture: plastic chairs, an old sofa, any kind of tables.
3. Craft materials: scraps of fabric, buttons, beads, ribbon, thread,
4. Paint: one of the seniors offered to do a mural if paint was available.
5. Kitchen fixtures and appliances: there is space for a kitchen but it is just an empty room.
6. Bricks and cement: to build kitchen counters and a retaining wall at the back of the house
7. Tile: for the kitchen and to cover the patio. Any odd pieces can be put to good use.
8. Lights and fans: ceiling fixtures or lamps, hardwired or standing fans.
9. Glass for the windows: at this time they have only bars.
10. A bed: currently one homeless man sleeps on the floor of a small bedroom.
11. A bulletin board: somewhere to post announcements, for residents and the general public (some seniors would like to work part time, there are even a few musicians who want to teach kids about Ranchero music).
You can take your donation to Casa de Día, located on Monte Alban Este. By car, go out from Santa Cruz to Chahue Marina, make a U-turn and head back. Turn right on the east side of the canal just before Marina Park Plaza; Monte Alban Este will be your third right, right after Fonatur’s facility. Casa de Día is on your right, oppose the kindergarten and the park. You can also drop donations off at DIF, located at the corner of Oaxaca and Guelaguetza – Oaxaca is the street that runs east from the traffic circle by the main Pemex station and Guelaguetza runs right beside the canal.
If my first impression of Reyna was accurate, she is going to do her best to make a difference in our community. Helping her to make Casa de Día more successful would be a nice way of welcoming our new President of DIF and thanking her for her dedication.
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view bed and breakfast in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).