Written by Phyllis Richards
Luis Fernando Mendez Ruiz spent his early career as an emergency room nurse in the impoverished Chiapas region of Mexico. He left nursing to become a microfinance educator, convinced he could save more lives this way.
“Once I saw a young girl die in the hospital emergency room where I worked,” says Luis. “Her mother didn’t know how to read and write. Her father was an alcoholic and did not take interest in the family.” Shaking his head in anger, Luis continues, “And the girl just died. Her mother didn’t have any power to make any decisions for her. She felt really bad. She cried hard, and didn’t know what to do because she was dependent on her husband.”
Determined to make a difference in such situations, Luis funneled his energies into training women to begin their own businesses using microloans from Freedom from Hunger’s Credit with Education program. Teaching literacy, math and health-related classes, Luis reports that students advance in their business skills, family life and selfesteem.
The women initially treated Luis with the same deference as other men in the community – not speaking up or asking him questions. Building the trust of his students, Luis reports that the women began to engage the materials more. “I kept inviting others to participate,” he says. “The group started to change when I heard their voices. They became more motivated, asking questions about topics that concerned them, and always wanting to stay longer – one hour or more.”
Luis tells the story of a student, Julia, who used to leave class early to cook dinner for her husband, but now leaves his dinner on the table for him before she goes to class. “It’s important for me to go and learn,” she told her husband. Luis says this may seem like a small step, but it is an enormous social shift that leads toward equality, health and happiness.
One Great Hour of Sharing supports the efforts of Freedom from Hunger and their microloan education programs in Chiapas, Mexico.