Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Quintessential Experiential Learning Event: Visit to Tlamacazapa

By: Lisa Rawlins
St. Olaf

I doubt that anyone in the social work group would disagree that our visit to Tlamacazapa was the most memorable part of the week. Tlamacazapa is an indigenous (Nahuat) village in the northern part of the state of Guerrero known for its palm weaving. The name Tlamacazapa, which means “people of fear,” reflects the town’s history. During the Spanish conquest of the nearby city of Taxco in the 16th century, the residing indigenous people were forced to flee, seeking refuge in what is today Tlamacazapa. Unfortunately, as we learned during out visit to the headquarters of Atzín (a community development organization that works with the people of Tlamacazapa) on Tuesday, today Tlamacazapa is plagued by numerous problems, including the high levels of arsenic and lead in the well water. The water contamination, along with the lack of food, results in widespread health problems in the community.

Student learning how to weave a canasta (basket)
On either Friday or Saturday, the social work students visited Tlamacazapa to learn more about Atzín’s work and to interact with community members. Our experiences in Tlamacazapa were simultaneously full of joy, hope, empathy, and sadness. In small groups, we learned how to fetch water from the well and tote it on our backs, climbing up steep, rocky hills in scorching heat. I am amazed that the women of Tlamacazapa do this four times a day. In addition to gathering water, at our hosts’ homes, we learned how to make tortillas by hand and also learned how to make small “canastas” (baskets) using the Tlamacazapan palm-weaving technique. Later on, we had the opportunity to meet some of the women in the quilting income-generating project. The women beamed with pride as they eagerly explained their artwork to us. Anita later commented that in the past, the women in Tlamacazapa have been much more modest and shy. She interprets their newfound confidence and sociability as a sign of empowerment and increased self esteem among the women of Tlamacazapa.

During our debriefing session the following Monday, everyone agreed that in addition to being inspired by the quilters, we were inspired by the young “promotoras” (promoters) we met. The Promotoras, are young women from Tlamacazapa who volunteer to facilitate Atzín’s programs, which include the children with special needs program, the children’s nutrition program, and an outreach program for elderly community members. Most of the promotoras are several years younger than us, and yet they are doing such important work! The promotoras taught me that anyone can make a difference, regardless of age. Their example also taught me that the most effective community development occurs through the community members themselves. As social work education literature often stresses, the client is the expert of his or her life, not the social worker. The same principle applies to community development.

In spite of all we learned about the lives of Tlamacazapans and the work of Atzín, we are still left with questions. For example, one huge question we have is “What should we do with what we have learned?” As we discussed during the debriefing session, it is much more challenging to create innovative new policies than it is to simply put band-aids on problems. Hopefully by the end of semester, we will have a better idea of our own roles in promoting social justice.

Students sharing their experiences from Tlamacazapa

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nuevo Semestre!!!! New Semester!!!

Welcome to Cuernavaca!!!!

A new semester has started for the Social Work in Latin America Context program. We have 16 new students from all over the U.S., from Colorado to New York City.

We are now into our 4th week and the whole group is doing great. Having a new group can sometimes be challenging because we are still getting to know each other. During the 2nd week, I had the opportunity of plan Lab Group, a weekly group run by faculty and/or students. In Lab Group the facilitator can choose any theme that connects to the academic work of the semester.

The theme of my lab group was “Why social work?” I wanted to know a little more about why my students chose social work. I told them to think of that one moment in their lives that made realize that social work was a right fit. This activity was not just another exercise to say “because I want to help”- they made bigger connections to their own experience and personal lives.

The students each had and experience that allowed them to access help whether from an agency or even a social worker. They wrote down their experience on a card and then were able to share their story with the group, of course only if they felt comfortable. They all amazed me at how comfortable they felt in sharing because we had known each other for so little time. They were all respectful and supportive of everyone’s experience. After sharing they were able to take their card and post it on a bulletin board. Then they connected their cards together to each others. Finally, they created a web consisting of the moments that brought them to Social Work and consequently, here to Cuernavaca and CGE.

Tying the string together gave it greater significance to the fact that for the next couple months we will be bound to one another. We will share many memories together and there will be times that we all will feel lost but in taking one look at our web will remind us why we are here. We are working together to understand not only ourselves but those who we will serve in the future. We are there to walk together and to have respect for ourselves and those around us.

I would like to end by sharing a quote that I find personally motivating and helps me to be both inspired and critical of my own work: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." -Lilla Watson

"Why Social Work?" Students Web

-Alendi Vidal

Center for Global Education- Mexico

International Resident Advisor and Intern

Gettysburg College‘10