Fellow Since 1989
Fundación de Investigaciones Sociales, A.C. (FISAC)
This description of Alicia Argüelles's work was prepared when Alicia Argüelles was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
Beginning with Mexico City, Alicia Argüelles has designed a program to prevent alcoholism and drug abuse in schools.
The New Idea
Alcoholics Anonymous has in many countries been the most effective program to help people addicted to alcohol in a sustained way. It uses the strength of a community to help people overcome what is largely, a social problem. Alicia is using many of AA’s successful curative techniques to launch a broad preventative program in schools. She is beginning by drawing in AA volunteers, by going into a number of Mexico City schools and helping the students understand the culture that leads to drinking and drug abuse; providing counseling, and simply letting them know where they can go for help. The problems seem to be getting significantly worse, with alcohol, drugs, and “glue” often coming together. Schools increasingly see the need to act and respond willingly Alicia’s service. Ultimately, she would like her program to become part of the curriculum of across Mexico. Although AA has long had a systematic program to reach alcoholics in prisons and hospitals, these again have a curative, not preventative, focus. Building in her experience with both these programs, Alicia hopes she’ll be able to gradually draw the institution of AA into this major new application of its techniques and national and global networks.
Everyone has an example; a sharply etched image of the impact addiction has had on someone they know. A gentle sixteen-year-old in one of Mexico City’s poor neighborhoods at a party; his glue bag always by him, who cannot protect himself from the simplest practical jokes because he has lost the capacity—perhaps a nephew who cannot stay in school. There are no reliable statistics in Mexico to report how many people or how addicted they are to which substances. However, no one doubts that the problem is serious and growing. Its spread is helped by all the familiar inducements of the sellers of alcohol and drugs, aggravated by the disruptive effects of Mexico’s precipitous urbanization of the last decades followed by the extraordinary stagnation, declining real income, and lack of jobs for young people in the 1980s.
During her fist year, Alicia will refine her approach by concentrating her work in the junior high schools in three delegations of the central zone of Mexico City. Working with statistics provided by the Ministries of Health and Education, her initial focus will be in the areas of the city with unusually high rates of alcoholism. Once Alicia has targeted the schools, she will organize her volunteer former alcoholics and former drug addicts to visit an average of two per week. Key to these visits is a conversation among the students and the visiting adults who talk openly in an AA-like context about how alcohol and/or drugs damaged their lives. The approach is frank and personal, an experience far removed from that of a clinical lecture on the subject. As she refines the program, Alicia will turn her energies to expand it. This is where her strategy to engage Alcoholics Anonymous, with its enormous national and international network, may prove decisive. If she can persuade AA to take up such a preventative program, she will harness their capacity to spread the model very quickly.
Alicia is a mother of two young children, and is married to a former alcoholic whom she met through Alcoholics Anonymous. Although she originally trained as a bilingual secretary and worked for over ten years in the Institute of Physics of the National University, she studied part-time for a degree in sociology at the National University of Mexico. She is completing her thesis in sociology in the social aspects of alcoholism in Mexico. Alicia has helped AA develop special programs for women in Mexico. Recognizing that the social problems women face are different from than those facing men, she maintains a special concern for women, even as she launches her school-based preventative program.