CCEGL Institute participants have journeyed to Oaxaca, Mexico for the past five summers to work with educators and community activists who are living and working in indigenous communities. A relationship has developed between CCEGL and UNOSJO (Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca) to host the exchange. Many indigenous farmers are struggling with the recent contamination of their native corns by GMO varieties, which have been “accidentally” introduced into Mexico. Contamination of seed and the introduction of foreign grains and foods has become a global problem which is one of the results of the liberalization of international trade agreements. Several years ago, members of UNOSJO were hosted by several environmental organizations in the Bay Area to participate on panels about food sustainability and to bring testimony of their experiences. It was at that time that we began a conversation about working together in Oaxaca.
The state of Oaxaca is rich in history, culture and artistry with many opportunities to know the people and traditions. The main city of Oaxaca is filled with impressive colonial architecture, vegetation, an endless array of colors from tejidos (weavings), artesanias (traditonal crafts), exceptional regional cuisine and dances and the presence of a diversity of Oaxacan indigenous people from across the state. The people of Oaxaca have a long history of social engagement. The many years of struggle of the Oaxacan teachers is well known and several films have documented this in powerful ways (Granito de Arena, Corrugated Films). For CCEGL educators, it is an honor to be able to work with Oaxacan educators, young people and their families and to learn about their struggles and teaching practices and to share ours with them. Indigenous educators are exploring ways to create an alternative education that reflects the culture and aspirations of their communities. Our work together focuses on building inclusive educational communities, exploring environmental issues with hands-on activities and lots of conversation. We place this work within the framework of developing a critical approach to the acquisition of literacy.
The workshop takes place in the small town of Gueletao, which is the birthplace of Mexico’s first indigenous President, Benito Juarez, famous for the words, “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz, meaning “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.” It is inscribed on the coat of arms of Oaxaca. Gueletao is a mountain town where the air is fresh and waking up to the view of the landscape is invigorating. We are housed in a boarding school which is home, during the school year, to children who do not have access to schools in their communities or in small hotel accommodations.
CCEGL Institute participants work together for a period of several months learning about the environmental challenges that we face as both a local and global community. Themes include: access to clean water, food sustainability and food sovereignty, over-consumption, alternative energy, climate disruption with its social and its political consequences and the maintenance of indigenous language and culture. The learning process builds on a series of readings, film documentaries, discussions and hands-on activities to bring the themes to light within a classroom or community context. Upon completion of the Institute, participating educators find creative ways to use, both the new knowledge that they gain and the structures and activities they developed for the workshop, within their own contexts.
The following are a few of the exciting pieces that were brought into this workshop:
Working with our Oaxacan colleagues to collect and use natural plant dyes and create fabric designs with the dyes
Performing an activity called, “The Council of All Beings” (Joanna Macy) to graphically demonstrate the interconnection between all of the Earth’s beings and to bear witness to how human activity is endangering many of the earth’s inhabitants