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!