Engaging and working with the community
By Lexi Stickel
On an unusually cold Tuesday evening, a group of mothers gather in a community center to discuss Day of the Dead. The mothers laugh and joke around as they discuss last year’s Day of the Dead event and the changes they would like to make to this year’s event. One mother volunteers to bring tamales and another to make pozole.
This meeting took place in La Palma, a rural community located outside of San Miguel de Allende on the road towards Dolores Hidalgo. This scene is not uncommon in La Palma, where the mothers gather once or twice a month to discuss issues and work together to make changes to their community center.
This initiative is driven by the Rural Education Institute of Mexico and its work in La Palma. The organization uses the community center in La Palma to provide educational programming and life skills to the children in the community. The volunteer staff works closely with a community representative of La Palma to assist with the facilitation and organization of monthly community meetings. Topics of the community meetings are closely related to the programming and events of the organization, and parents are welcome to voice their opinions and offer suggestions.
The Rural Education Institute seeks to ensure that the community’s needs are being addressed within the programming. A key discussion focused on what the community wants their children to learn. When the question was first posed, there were not a lot of responses. In fact, the entire meeting had been pretty quiet. This led one staff member to offer the idea of starting a community garden for the children. It was a spark. Suddenly, two mothers started sharing their experiences with a workshop about gardening. They volunteered to help. After this, other moms started speaking up about past issues as well as desires for this year.
Impressively, the Rural Education Institute started a community garden without any funds. It came to fruition solely with an idea and the amazing effort of several mothers in the community. Two moms came with tools and the necessary soil to make the ground fertile. They brought eggshells and a grinder, plants, and plenty of enthusiasm. The secundaria students split their time between researching on the computers what to grow in Mexico in the fall and winter and helping to cultivate the land. Since then, other students brought seeds and messages from their parents about bringing other plants. The Rural Education Institute will work with the students and families in La Palma throughout the year in the garden.
Though Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America, there remains a stark inequality in the country’s education system – rural Mexican children simply do not have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. The problem is partly financial – there are few high schools in the campo, and the government does not provide transportation for rural children to attend urban schools, and partly cultural – in rural areas, literacy is low, and education is not always a priority. The Rural Education Institute of Mexico exists to help fill this gap, and to give rural children the incentive and means to go on to high school and beyond.
Skilled volunteers work in rural community centers, providing programs that introduce children to a world outside the campo. Libraries are built to help children improve their reading. They learn art, drama and English, among other subjects, and are taught to use computers. Rural Ed also enables the most deserving children to meet the costs of going to high school – about US$700 per student per year – by awarding scholarships.
For more information about the Rural Education Institute of Mexico, please visit our website at www.ruralmex.org or call us at 415-124-1357.