Monday, July 30, 2012

Katelyn Stanoch: Final Project

Katelyn Stanoch, a junior at Augsburg College, painted a mural for her final project of the Social Work in a Latin American Context program this Spring. At the end of each program, students are required to complete a final project which will be presented in some way upon their return to their communities in the States. Most students choose to do a creative project like a mural, video, newpaper article or poetry, and Katelyn used her artistic abilities to make the living room in one of the CGE houses here in Cuernavaca even more lively and meaningful.

The mural is of a tree with twisting branches and falling foliage, and next to the tree is a poem that is an ancient Nahua poem (below). When asked about her mural, Katelyn said, To me my mural represents a sense of sorrow yet the presence of strength. The poem is about searching for peace and a place to be free from whatever it is that is not positive in life and the strength it takes to keep moving forward. This subject of suffering related to the oppression of the people of Mexico. More specifically related to drug violence, domestic violence, and the effects and causes of migration. The strength I feel that allows the people to move on in times of hardship which in the mural is represented by the tree that looks aged and twisted but yet is still standing strong. The mural represents suffering yet a strength that allows those to keep pushing through."

The poem Xochicuicatl, or A Flower song, was originally written in the native Nahuatl language.

In the place of tears, I the singer, watch my flowers; they are in my hand; they intoxicate my soul and my song, as I walk alone with them, with my sad soul among them.

In this spot, where the herbage is like sweet ointment and green as the turquoise and emerald, I think upon my song, holding the beauteous flowers in my hand

In this spot of turquoise and emerald, I think upon beauteous songs, beauteous flowers; let us rejoice now, dear friends and children, for life is not long upon earth.

I shall hasten forth, I shall go to the sweet songs, the sweet flowers, dear friends and children
O he! I cried aloud; O he! I rained down flowers as I left.

Let us go forth anywhere; I the singer shall find and bring forth the flowers; let us be glad while we live; listen to my song.

I the poet cry out a song for a place of joy, a glorious song which descends to Mictlan, and there turns about and comes forth again.

I seek neither vestment nor riches, O children, but a song for a place of joy

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CGE House in Mexico

Interested to know what our house looks like in Mexico? Take a tour with this video!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stephanie and AnnMarie: Final Project

Stephanie Villarreal and AnnMarie Eliason, both Junior Social Work majors at St. Olaf College, painted a gorgeous mural on the wall of one of our CGE houses in Cuernavaca. The mural represented their views on the immigration debate - both from political and personal perspectives - and encompassed a semester of studies here at CGE. "Through the mural, we hope people get inspired to fight for migrant rights and give them the respect they deserve," says Stephanie about the images and meaning behind their painting.

This is a video of the process. Please watch!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dylan Peterson: Final Project

Dylan Peterson, Junior at Augsburg College, and Spring Semester participant in the Social Work in a Latin American Context made this touching video on immigration in Mexico for his final project. Please watch!

Parts of the dialogue in this video comes from the book Debating Immigration by Carol M. Swain.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Closing Time

The semester is over! It doesn't seem possible that four months have flown by in the blink of an eye. We spent Friday at the director Ann's house and had all day to hang out with CGE staff and friends. It was a fun, relaxing - and slightly emotional - end to the semester. We had our closing ceremonies, ate incredible Mexican barbeque complete with nopales (grilled cactus), grilled chicken and beef, guacamole, rice, beans and even tres leches cake! Then we got to swim in the pool, the students worked on their last minute tans, and we got to hang out together as a group for the last time. 

To say that these students will be missed is a complete understatement. After living and eating and working and hanging out with them for four months, they have become some of my dearest friends. Here are some hilghlights from the semester:

Group pyramid - why not?
At the UNAM in Mexico City
Hanging out in Mexico City

Students with host-families in Amatlán

Students at an Ameríca soccer game in Mexico City
Parasailing in the beach town of Zihuatenejo
Riding the rails in the Mexico City subway

Students and host-mom at the Nevado de Toluca covered in snow!
Stephanie at Teotihuacan - ancient pyramids

Showing off their new wool purchases in the cold town of Toluca

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ministerios de Amor

As I write this, I am looking out at the house full of children who I have bonded and lived with for the past two months and who I unfortunately need to say goodbye to tomorrow.  It is my last night here in the house and although I always have been aware of how my goodbye may affect the children at the house, I have little thought of how it will affect me.  During my entire stay, any of my preoccupations have mainly been focused on the children: “Is he really grasping what I am trying to communicate to him?” “Can this self-esteem activity even make a difference with this kid?” “I wonder if she feels safe with someone in the house.” “How will the kids react to my short time here with them?”

I realize the grand importance and necessity of closure of the relationship that I have experienced with the children, especially considering their past experiences of abandonment; I have replayed and rehearsed how I will say goodbye to the children at least one hundred times, but I have yet to set time apart to think about how I will process the end of my relationship with my clients.  I have experienced many goodbyes in my life, but nothing like this. 
I feel as if there is no way for me to emotionally prepare myself for goodbye rather than look forward to how I can use the valuable experience I had here with the Tias and children in the future.  Here at the orphanage I had the unique opportunity to work outside of my own language and culture, and that in itself was extremely empowering and affirmed my desire to work with the Latino population when I return to the United States.  Although I unfortunately need to say goodbye to and physically separate from people I have come to love tomorrow, in a way I will bring them with me in my future work.  I look forward to see how they will help guide my work and continue to inspire me to serve populations in need. 

Written by Nichole Hulstein

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interning at Con Nosotros

I have had tons of interesting adventures in Mexico, but none have been as inspirational as my Internship. As a social work student I am required to hold a social work related internship during my semester in Mexico. I am interning with Con Nosotros (meaning “with us” in Spanish).  Con Nosotros is a nonprofit school for children with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term that describes various motor-neurological symptoms that result from a brain injury inflicted during pregnancy, birth, or the first 1-3 years of life. Cerebral palsy varies from mild in that it may only cause a child to be slightly uncoordinated to severe in that a child can’t walk, or even talk. Cerebral palsy is not a defect with the muscular system; instead the brain struggles to send the neuron signals to the muscles to tell them to move. The cool thing about cerebral palsy is that with physical training, especially at a young age the brain can be trained to send neuron signals out faster and coordination can be increased. This is where Con Nosotros comes in. 

Con Nosotros uses a school of thought called conductive education. Conductive education originated in Hungary and is different from physical therapy in that it “educates” people that have Cerebral Palsy on how to be more independent. So instead of performing exercises to become more mobile, these children are taught to use this mobility to do things like brush their own teeth, get dressed, or use a phone.

Con Nosotros was started by four Mexican parents that have children with cerebral palsy and wanted an educational option for their children. In conversations I have had with my supervisor Itzel I have learned that there is no place for children with disabilities in the public school system simply because the resources are not available. Con Nosotros is the only school of its kind in Mexico, and one of few options for children that have any sort of special need in the country. I have had the pleasure of working with an incredible organization that strives to improve the lives of people with cerebral palsy while trying to change the thought process of society in regards to disability. 

-By Grace McLagan

Monday, April 30, 2012

UNAM Student Exchange: Pictures

UNAM students presenting their "Social Work Tree"

Group discussions
Panel with political party representatives
Dance Class
CGE Social Policy Class Presentation
CGE Social Work Tree
CGE social work students presenting their  "tree"
Learning the UNAM school chant! Cachun cachun ra ra!

UNAM Social Work Exchange

The second week of April, the Social Work students of CGE had the great opportunity of taking part in an exchange with the students from the Escuala Nacional de Trabajo Social (ENTS). This school is the smallest in all of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), having about 3,000 alumni. However, it is practically the same size as the private schools in Minnesota we come from (Augsburg, St. Olaf, and St. Kate's), but different in that it is completely dedicated to social work. 

During our time at ENTS we had the chance to see how social work is done is Mexico through speaking with professors, spending time with students in their practicums, attending classes, and taking a tour. We learned that attending ENTS is completely free for all Mexican citizens besides the 30-cent charge for the piece of paper used for registration each year.  The school puts a great emphasis on the importance of research in social work, which was somewhat a new idea for me. 

The students have three different internships throughout their undergraduate schooling, and each begins with doing a diagnosis of the problem the population they are working with is facing.  Not until extensive research is complete and a plan of action is developed can the students begin to work one-on-one with the people. Another area of difference in the practicum is that the UNAM students work in groups as opposed to what we’re used to - working alone at different agencies. These groups of interns work as a team and provide support to one another. They divide the work and specialize in the topics they’re most interested in. 

The bachelor's level social work program at the UMAN is extremely intensive. The students are required to take up to 7 courses each semester in topics similar to ours, but much more extensive. All of the subjects they study purely surround social work topics. A student must know upon acceptance that they want to graduate with a degree in Social Work; while in the US we begin with general courses in order to give students the opportunity to explore different fields. I think each method produces different results. In my opinion, bachelor level college graduates in the United States know a little about a lot of different things, and the ENTS students receive an education more similar to a masters level degree in the US, knowing a lot about one specific thing: social work. In many ways, I think they are more prepared to be professionals with the completion of their degree, but something that was emphasized during our stay was that one system is not any better than the other, they are only different. Now that we have learned about the profession of social work from the Mexicans perspective, what unique things can we share about ourselves in the second half of this exchange?

By Natalie Koness

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Amatlán Homestay: Part 2

My homestay is in the same community as my internship. I teach ESL to people in the community. Also, if they are planning on migrating, I can help find resources in the U.S and Canada for them. I think this has been a great way for me to be involved in the community. I can go to peoples' homes and sit and talk with them for hours. In many ways, I still have to build a lot of trust with people and some of my longer goals would take over a year to really see the progress. I’m the outsider and I think in many ways that can be ok when doing research, but I have to be aware of the fact, that I’m not living in Amatlan to write reports and do research about migration. I want to emerge myself in the culture and really learn from the people around me. I think I’m extremely blessed to have met so many wonderful people on this journey. I have made some connections for life. I have realized how to really open my mind and take the time to grow and learn from the people around me. I have found ways of being more flexible and passionate about whatever the day brings my way.

I have always loved to help people, that's the reason I decide to go back to school. While studying social work in a Mexican context it’s obvious that everyone has really expanded on his or her abilities.

Many people think of social work as being some agency job where you sit at a desk in some office building. But this experience has shown me that we as social workers have to really be involved in the community. Many times what communities need are resources and money but they don’t get adequate funding. So your own skills and talents are what you need to bring to the community. I have seen many people in Mexico, that our in poverty and lack basic resources like water, land, food and shelter. So you have to be willing to use all your tools in your toolbox. I think one of my best tools is I know how to build things and like to work with my hands. 

By Dylan Peterson 

Amatlán Homestay: Part 1

One thing I’ve noticed during my homestay in Mexico is people treat me warmly and respectfully, and they make me feel welcome. Something that I've learned is that when working with Latinos and Latinas, it will be good to inquire about the well-being of their family and to engage in social conversation before addressing the issues that bring them into the office when I'm a social worker. 

I have always wanted to live in a rural area and work in the field. So, I was excited to help when my family asked me to contribute with daily activities that needed to get done. From getting water for the cows and horses, to setting up the campsite for weekend visitors. Also, I want to return one day and help my host father construct adobe for the four, one bedroom cabins he plans one making in the upcoming year or two. 

One morning, my host father told me to come quick, “la vaca esta teniendo un bebé.” I jumped up and ran with him to the field. When we arrived the cow was giving birth. This was one of the most imcredible things I have ever seen in my life. Also, the look on my host father’s face was priceless.

When reflecting on my homestay and listening to people' stories of crossing the border, I’ve learned more about my own cultural values, beliefs and behaviors.  By listening to different peoples' stories, I have gained more empathy and I think that can go a long way, for the different types of work I want to be a part of back in the United States.

By Dylan Peterson 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Photos from Puebla

 Photos from our recent excursion to Cholula and Puebla - two hours from our home in Cuernavaca!

Popocatépel, an active volcano, emitting a little smoke for our drive home

, , , an indigenous ceremony still performed today!

Men in Cholula performing the Danza de los Voladores , , ,

CGE Intern, Ryan, enjoying Puebla's culinary
specialty of chicken and mole!
Stephanie N., Katelyn, and Stephanie V.
diving into the infamous mole! 
The striking church in Puebla's main square

Monday, April 2, 2012

Semana Santa

Spring Break has finally arrived here in Cuernavaca! The students moved back into the CGE houses on Friday morning just in time to unpack and then pack again for their various Spring Break activities on Saturday. Semana Santa, Holy Week, is the typical Spring Break for universities and schools throughout Latin America.
Zihuatenejo - who wouldn't love this?

Twelve of the eighteen students - including all of the traditoinal social work students and the adored Social Work professor - opted for the idyllic beach resort towns of Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo. They're currently relaxing on the beach, getting their tans on and probably drinking fruit smoothies under cabanas without a worry in the world.

The Salto de San Antón
Other students chose to stay in the Cuernavaca area and spend their days traveling to the surrounding towns and sights. They spent the day yesterday going on a walk to the Salto de San Antón - our neighborhood's very own waterfall! Plans for the rest of the week include the world renowned Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, searching out Korean restaurants in the country's capital, visiting some art museums, catching up with their Mexican friends and having a movie night with their interns!

  • Have you studied abroad in Cuernavaca? If so, what did you do during your semester break? 
  • Any travel suggestions for current or future students?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 CGE Photo Contest!

Are you a current or former CGE travel seminar or semester program participant with a knack for the artsier things in life? If so, you should enter our Third Annual Facebook Photo Contest! First place wins a $150 Fair Trade Certificate, and second and third places win $50! 

All you need to do is find an amazing picture that you took while on a CGE trip, and post it to the Center for Global Education Study Abroad Facebook page with a detailed caption. 

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua 2009

 Quick Rules: For the Facebook-Savvy
  • You must “like” us
  • You must be a current or former student or travel seminar participant; the photo must be from your time as a student or participant
  • Post your entry on our wall/timeline between March 28, 2012 and April 13, 2012
  • Give it a caption – location, year, and brief description
  • Email it as a .jpg to
  • CGE Staff will pick 5 Finalists
  • We'll notify you if you are a finalist, and your photo will be voted upon by the Facebook community
  • See extended rules for prizes and timeline on the Facebook page here.

The deadline is April 13th, so start looking through those photos!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Luz y Libertad For All!

The Ladies from Luz y Libertad with students Itohan and Katelyn
Interculturalist, businesswoman, writer, singer, songwriter, composer, M. Bertha "Betty" Ramos spoke to us about the work she has done in her career. She spoke about intercultural discovery and how learning about and experiencing different cultures is also a gift in self discovery. She shared with us her experience of living in Canada versus living in Mexico, and how things she used to not enjoy in Mexico were things she began to miss while in Canada. She explained that, in experiencing different cultures, especially when living in another culture, we learn more about our own culture and are given an opportunity to see the world in a new way. Betty Ramos shared her experiences of working and living amongst different cultures and was a living example of how in learning more about ourselves as social workers  and as people in general, we can better provide services to those we work with.

Eating amazing vegetarian food at Luz y Libertad!
This week we also visited the Christian Base Community organization of Luz y Libertad here in Cuernavaca. The organization has been in action for 21 years involving programs such as self esteem courses for women experiencing domestic abuse, nutritional cooking classes incorporating wheat germ and soy, and an arts and crafts group. In everything the organization does, they strive to provide empowerment to those who participate in the programs, especially women. The self esteem course is aimed at providing the women a space to realize there can be more to their world than the cycle of abuse. The arts and crafts group is also an extension of this in which women are taught how to make things like bags in which they can sell to provide more income for themselves and to be less economically dependent on their husbands. The organization Luz y Libertad, and the leaders who spoke to us about the organization they started, like Betty Ramos are examples of the infectious effect of what happens when we live the change want to see in the world.

The Church at Luz y Libertad

"To change the world we must start by being the change we want to see." -Buddha

By Katelyn Stanoch

                                                                                   References                                                                                      .
Ramos, B, M. Interculturalist Discussion. 20 March 2012
Garcia, A.T, Chaives, A.M, Alvarado, M. V., Saldana, E.E, Luz y Libertad Organization excursión. 23 March, 2012.
Full names of ladies from Luz y Libertad: Teresa Andrade García, María Alma Chaives. Victoria Maria De Leon Alvarado, Eustorgia Estrada Saldana

Friday, March 16, 2012

First Week with our Host-Families

Lauren and me in Taxco
On Friday night, the students from CGE were all eager to meet their host-families. Everyone was nervous but also excited to see whom he or she was staying with. Upon arriving to my new home, I already felt welcomed and was excited to start my month long home stay. My host mom was very hospitable and I truly felt as if I was at home in the States. Of course the first night we began to watch some of the Novelas together, and then the next day we were invited to a Bautismo (Baptism). That day I was able to meet more of her family and eat some delicious food. So far this week has been very exciting and I can’t wait for what the rest of the month has in store for me.
One of the oldest churches in Mexico

Thursday, March 8, the social work students were given the chance of meeting a social worker that works in a community. Being able to spend time with her made us realize our profession in the States has some similarities and differences. For one, all social work students study the same material but the profession is seen differently in Mexico. In Mexico, social workers typically find jobs in organizing or community development. They are only hired for specific tasks. However, seeing how much of an influence she has within the community only encourages me to move forward with my career.

On Saturday, March 10, the students of CGE were taken to Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico. The city, known for its jewelry, and beauty was filled history at every corner. The city was beautiful and filled with exciting Puestos. Upon arriving we were able to see one of the oldest churches built in Mexico and still be able to see the modern life of Taxco. 

Written by Stephanie Villarreal

The beautiful city of Taxco

Monday, March 12, 2012

Migrants: Butterflies to the South and Campesinos to the North

This is a beautiful male butterfly
As I have come to find during my studies here in Mexico, there are a number of reasons for migrating. For some, it is safety from political regimes and violence within the country. For others it is the chance to live, not just survive. After visiting the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, the winter resting place for over 200,000 monarch butterflies, this past weekend, I have come to find that these migrating butterflies and the poor campesinos of Mexico have a lot in common. The butterflies migrate from the north to mate and provide a safe space for their offspring to flourish. They travel for thousands of miles, in dangerous conditions, to reach their destination. How is this any different from many Mexican families who migrate to the U.S. to provide a better chance of living for their children and wives? Men, women, and children cross the U.S.-Mexican border every day in order to make a life for themselves. It is extremely hot in the day and many die of dehydration. In the evening, it cools off but there are rattlesnakes, scorpions, and other dangerous animals that make sleeping impossible. Not only do they have nature to combat, but they also work with coyotes, experienced guides in crossing the border, who are known for their brutality. Many times women are raped and abused, they stack migrants on top of one another like boards in vehicles, and they demand more and more money from the very people who are migrating to gain some form of capital. It is a dangerous journey, but many continue to make this trip because they feel it is the only way to make any success.

These clumps of "leaves" are actually butterflies crowding
together on trees. There are more than 200,000 in this
sanctuary, so there are easily thousands of butterflies
on a single tree.
We climbed the mountain, at the butterfly sanctuary, using horses from local campesinos. The higher we climbed, the quieter it became; I could practically hear the flapping of wings. At the top of the mountain, the butterflies resided on the trees that have been holding their ancestors for hundreds of years. They appeared as leaves on the trees, all bunched together, becoming one community. Just as these butterflies stayed together, migrants who come to the U.S. find others in their community and stick with them, a survival tactic to help improve their chances of finding jobs, learning the language, and understanding the rules of the land. Often families and people from the same small towns (pueblos) migrate to the same city in the U.S. because they have a connection there and feel safer and more comfortable. The young man who allowed me to ride on his horse told me that after he graduated, he planned on joining his brother in the U.S. His mom was not pleased, but he said, "She knows what to expect. No one can make it here and she knows the best thing for me is to join my brother."

The butterflies were in flight! It sounded like a
 thousand leaves falling from the trees. It was a magical
and powerful moment.
The only similarity I could not find with both of these migrants is that one receives a residing place protected by the country, the other does not. The Mexican migrants continue to be mistreated in the U.S. As a future social worker, this experience opened my eyes to the needs that this particular population has. I know that I must fight for them to have a safe resting place in the U.S. and fight for rights within our country so that they can easily leave when they have done what they need to do, just like the monarch butterflies. They always return to the north. Mexicans do not, not because they don't want to, but because they have no other choice. I hope to change that.

Written by AnnMarie Eliason

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mi Casa es Tu Casa

On Friday night, the CGE house was packed to the brim with Social Work students and their new host-families. Everyone gathered together to meet and greet each other, play getting-to-know-you games and eat the most delicious tinga tostadas in Cuernavaca lovingly made by our cook, Don Victor. The students served the families coffee and tea, mingled and practiced their Spanish while they tried to "Find someone who likes waking up early" or "Find someone who is involved in their community." As a larger group, families gave advice to the students on how to enjoy and feel at home in their new environment while students gave advice to the host-families about how to be patient with their language skills and to help them learn cultural norms and traditions so as not to be unintentionally offensive. Both groups seemed pleased to learn from each other and excited to begin the next step in their CGE experience.

By the end of the night, students and families happily left together to start their four-week long intercultural adventure together. Now, after a weekend full of quality time in their new homes, the students seem relaxed and content to spend a month with their Mexican families. Here are some of their initial thoughts:

There could be no better saying than "mi casa es tu casa" to describe the welcome I received from my host family. I have gone to the market with them, attended their local church, and watched my host brothers' soccer game; I already feel like part of the family and feel right at home. I can't wait to continue to spend time with each member of the family.

My host mom is very friendly and willing to share valuable time with me. I love it!

The weekend was just like returning home. Saturday was a day of getting settled and reuniting with my host-mom, Doña Irene. She is famous for her tortillas and other specialties.  I, unfortunately, have a long way to go in the department of tortillas.

I have had a great weekend! It has been so fun to practice my Spanish and get to know my new family through wonderful conversations about life, faith, family, and Mexico. I was nervous to start the month long homestay but now that it has started, I am so happy to be here.

I returned to Amatlán de Quetzalcóatl for my month long homestay. I enjoy smelling the fresh air, looking at the stars in the night, and reflecting on my Mexico experience this far. I'm excited to help work on the farm, ride horses, hike up the mountains, and start teaching ESL classes!

Have you stayed with one of our host-families here in Cuernavaca? If so, tell us about your experience!

Travel Tips from CGE-Minneapolis

CGE has several upcoming travel seminars in Mexico. We’re also gearing up for sending off summer study abroad students to Mexico in a few months. We thought some of you traveling with CGE might be looking for travel tips. CGE-Minneapolis is here to help.While we may not have the in-country expertise of our colleagues in Cuernavaca, we are the folks that often have to travel to and from CGE locations around the world.Sometimes frequently! So we thought we’d put together a list of our top travel tips. We hope they help you as you plan to study abroad or travel abroad in Mexico.
From Olee Amata, Program Assistant, International Travel Seminar:
“I always carrying toilet paper with me. Travel-size tissue paper works great! I also like to bring wet wipes, and hand sanitizer too. When traveling, you don't want to be caught without TP!!! Toilet paper is not always readily available like it is in the U.S. and if it is, sometimes you have to pay for it!”

“When traveling internationally, always make sure that your passport does not expire for at least a year out. If your passport will be expiring soon, or the same year you are traveling, I would suggest applying for a new one. Most people don't know that some countries require you to have your passport valid for a least six months before the date you will be departing from their country.”

From Fatimah Panemalaythong, Administrative Assistant:
“It's always handy to have a few of plastic bays around for certain items such as toiletries or dirty clothes.”

“Don't draw attention to yourself, avoid wearing flashy jewelry and don't display large amounts of cash. Carry only enough cash and leave the rest in a safe.”

From David Hamilton, Director of International Travel Seminars:
“Travelers often don't realize they have a different standard of tolerance until they are in another country. For instance, if we told students that they will have to bathe with a bucket in a rural homestay, they might complain about it. However, nobody ever complains about doing these things after the trip. After students get in another environment and get welcomed by a family who is often giving up their bed for the students, they can easily adapt to it.”

From Regina McGoff, Director of the Center for Global Education:
“Zip up everything once you're done using it so you don't take unexpected guests home!”

“Eye masks and earplugs are your friends for sleeping better in loud areas, shared rooms, etc. (as well as a little Tylenol PM!!”

From Emerald Tribuno, Program Associate for International Travel Seminars:
Carabiners. I always bring at least 2 and they come in handy so often. I use them to:
1) air dry clothing if you don't have any hangers
2) clip my purse to a loop on my pants in busy areas filled with people when I am worried about theft (use a locking clip for this one)
3) hook my carry on and rolling suit case together or shopping bags
4) keep hair binders in one place
5) hang a hammock
6) clip muddy shoes, a hat or water bottle to my backpack
7) emergency zipper if yours breaks on your luggage, zipper pulls, additional layer of security to detour theft (hooking 2 zippers together like on a backpack)
However, note that if you pack them in your carry on and go through Munich security they will search your bag looking for your brass knuckles.”

“I always bring a couple of packets of dry-mix gatorade with me to countries where I anticipate intestinal distress. After one trip to Mexico where I was too sick to leave my room and go in search of something with electrolytes, I've carried them with ever since.”

From Jesse Haas, Coordinator of Recruitment and Promotions:
Skip the souvenirs. As people go through life, souvenirs can’t always come with– especially if you’re young and have many life transitions ahead of you. When you’re packing up a tiny Toyota to move across the country for a new job, you will more than likely choose your pots and pans (or your dog, in my case) over boxes of items purchased while abroad. Souvenirs often get donated or left behind. Instead of souvenirs, keep a journal. They take up less space and nothing is more valuable than your thoughts and reflections from your time abroad. If you want to support the local community, purchase a few gifts from artisans to give to others upon returning home.

CGE-Mexico would like to congratulate our frequent guest speaker Dr. Susan Smith, Director of Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario in Mexico because the Canadian Nurse Journal recently published a super article about Susan and Atzin. Anyone interested in international health can read the article here:  

Have you visited Atzin and/or Tlamacazapa? If so, please post your comments regarding what impacted you most about your visit. Also, please share the article with others. 

Thanks! Ann  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Rural Homestay in Amatlán

Last week, all of the residents of Casa CEMAL and Casa Verde loaded our suitcases into two vans and headed off for a five-day rural homestay. By the end our visit, I think that everyone in the Social Work and MG programs would agree that the tortillas that we ate in Amatlan were some of the best of our lives. Some of us even got to try our hand at making tortillas of our own. Personally I did not excel in this area, but I enjoyed eating the delicious, if lumpy and misshapen, results of my labor. In addition to our culinary adventures, we also had some really important experiences that will inform our careers as social workers.

Host families and Students
For me, the most influential part of the visit to Amatlan was hearing about the experiences of two men who had spent time working in the United States. It really felt like an honor that they were willing to share their emotion-laden stories with us. One had crossed the border without documents and one arrived with a work visa but, despite their differences in immigration status, they were both subjected to many hardships during their time in the U.S.

Seeing both men weep while recalling memories of injustice and mistreatment in the States along with the pain of separation from the family that they had been forced to leave behind in Mexico was moving. For me, it was enlightening to learn that these men did not plan on settling in the U.S., they didn’t even really want to be there, but poverty and a lack of jobs forced them there. Our experience in Amatlan opened a door to a different world- the world of Mexican workers in the U.S.- which will allow us to be both more informed social workers and more compassionate human beings.

 By Lauren Cummins


One of the important themes of week three was understanding and working with rural or indigenous communities. One of the things that impacted me the most was the talk with Xochil and the visit to the small town Tlamacazapa (Tlama for short).

Xochil works with the nonprofit, Atzin. The nonprofit works primarily with the village of Tlama.  The organization consists of several leaders and a number of organizers from the community. Everyone involved works very hard in many different areas. Some of these issues include domestic violence, malnutrition, alcohol and drug addiction, and various diseases due to unclean water.

Xochil has a lot of knowledge about the community and shared a lot of information with us. We also learned a lot through visiting the town. Tlama is a small town of about 6,100 people in the state of Guerrero. The main economic income comes from weaving palm. This is an age old practice that the people of Tlama have been doing for generations. In order to make a living this way, many of the men travel to larger cities to sell the baskets and other goods made by the women.

Another challenge in Tlama is getting enough clean water. In order to get water today, the residents must walk to one of three wells. All of these water sources naturally contain lead and arsenic. What’s worse is that because of the incline, water from dirty streets runs into the wells. The bottom two wells are generally used for washing, while the top one is where people get their drinking water.
Well in Tlamacazapa

We got to see some of the other work Atzin does within the community. They provide a school and a health clinic as well as other various resources. The organizers of Atzin are all members of the community who see a need for change and are trying to do something about it. They also work to educate others in the community.

While we were in Tlama, we had many different experiences. Upon our return, we discussed them and while everyone had a unique perspective on the trip, there were some common themes. For example, many shared stories of being called out for being an outsider. Saying things like “So you want to be one of us?” as the group took turns carrying water. Or, “You lost?” as a student walked by.

For me, this was the first time I felt completely like an outsider in Mexico. Because I cannot understand everything people yell out on the street means, I can usually ignore it. But in Tlama I felt as though I was really intruding. The combination of learning about the extreme poverty and injustice along with these feelings, gave me a much different perspective on my role here.

The experience of seeing how much physical labor was required just to survive was very eye opening. I am often unaware of all the privileges I have. Seeing the way of life in Tlama reminded me that not everyone has all the luxuries that I take for granted. I hope this experience will help me work for change in the ways that I can.

By Stephanie Nelson

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let the Semester Begin!

Hiking the pyramids in Xochicalco
Welcome to the Social Work in a Latin American Context blog! The new semester Social Work students arrived a little more than two weeks ago to sunny, warm weather here in Cuernavaca. It's been an eventful couple of weeks jam packed with orientation activities, the beginning of classes and excursions.

During the first week, the students visited ancient pyramids at the UNESCO World Heritage Site called Xochilcalco, spent a couple days at the gorgeous ex-Hacienda Santa Cruz, viewed the Diego Rivera mural at the Cortes Palace, hiked the pyramids of the Sun and Moon  in Teotihuacan, and spent a day in a rural, indigenous town in the state of Guerrero called Tlamacazapa.

This weekend we are heading to the campo to spend a week in the town of Amatlán. Everyone will stay with local families to have an opportunity to use their newly learned (or recently honed) Spanish skills. The Social Work students will visit a local school, meet with the head of the Mexican version of the Department of Human Services, listen to a talk from former migrants to the United States and take part in local traditions and rituals. It will be another busy week, but we'll all be able to enjoy the gorgeous views and fresh air.
Ex-Hacienda Santa Cruz

Please check back for more updates. It's going to be an exciting semester! If you'd like to receive our updates via email, just put your name into the gadget on the right. Each time we update, you'll get have an email waiting in your mailbox from us!