Buenos Dias dear reader. It is another new day here in Chiapas as it is for you wherever you are. I sit here in the hotel lobby between the open front door and the open grassy courtyard that is lush with green trees and bushes and flowering plants. The air is crisp and cool and my heart and mind is full of all we experienced yesterday. There was so much to process from our visits that by the time we finished with worship last night the mind was mushy.
Our visit to Universidad de la Tierra was, what can I say…a WOW experience. It began with all of us walking downtown to the zocalo to pile into 5 taxis. And I do mean pile. With 21 of us, in my taxi there were 5 of us squashed into space for 3! And off we went to just outside of town. What an amazing place. Something that I found out is that this place is not only the Universidad de la Tierra but also the Indigenous Center of Integral Training or CIDECI las Casas or simply CIDECI (say-dee-say).
OK, where to start. This place is a school—a place of learning. The philosophy here is one that challenges all the ways we do teaching and learning in the United States. One way to understand how this place functions is to note that CIDECI is the practical side of learning and the Universidad de la Tierra is the philosophical side of learning. CIDECIis a place where indigenous youth can come from the communities as young as age 12 to study to learn a trade as well as to learn how a community can live with autonomy from the government. Resistance and autonomy are two important principles for the indigenous communities here in Chiapas, and one cannot understand why this important without understanding some history.
The Zapatista uprising in 1994 by the indigenous poor was an attempt to be heard finally as a people. It was to protest against the way the Maya people had been enslaved and pushed aside for all the 500 years since the Spanish Conquest. ¡Ya Basta! Enough! The Zapatista demands were for basic human rights. The response of the Mexican government to these fully legitimate demands has been to continue finding ways to push the indigenous communities aside in any way it can including creating rifts between indigenous groups and murder and yes, massacre.
CIDECI and the Universidad de la Tierra were created and founded with the thought and liberation theology of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia. These organizations share space and philosophy. All of the buildings have been built by indigenous people. The teachers of the children are indigenous. The school is self-sustained and all the needs of the school are produced on site as part of the learning program. There are training areas for cooking, sewing, weaving, typing, publishing, electronics, electricity, architecture, farming, music, shoe production. The school grows vegetables and raises sheep, rabbits, chickens, and geese. Nothing that is produced is sold outside the school, but is used by the school. The huge looms for weaving were constructed in the carpenter shop. The shoes are made for the students who live at the school. The school is truly autonomous which means that they do not accept any government money or programming. They have even gone off-grid with electricity.
The way education happens here is that youth age 12 and older are invited to school from their community. They come to the school for 2 months at a time then go back to their community for a month or so and return. They do this for 2 to 3 years. The youth are given a choice as to what they wish to learn. If they leave and decide not to come back for awhile, that is fine. When they are ready to return they are welcomed back. The youth return to their communities with tools and knowledge of the practical things they have learned at CIDECI which help to aid in the autonomy of their home communities.
The Universidad de la Tierra or the University of the Earth is consists of seminars that happen on Thursdays where the indigenous people decide what topics and pertinent issues they would like to discuss. It is a school, yet there are no teachers or students. Yet all are teachers and students. The idea is to learn from one another and that each person is a teacher. The topic is chosen as a group and then the director of the school gathers materials regarding the chosen topic which are sent to the attendees a week prior to the seminar. The people gather and discuss issues that emphasize the reality of Chiapas, Mexico, and the world. It is called University of the Earth because “we sit on the earth” together. The seminars are held in Spanish, and people from all five of the indigenous languages have participated, but mostly from the Tzotzil and Tzetzal communities.
Dear reader, it is now 11:17 pm. I have written the last half of this post in the cool, crisp evening air. I have not done justice to our visit to this amazing place. It was only half of our day yesterday and we have experienced yet another entire day we have yet to tell you about! Tonight at worship Chelsea mentioned that what struck her most about CIDECI and Universidad de la Tierra is that it was truly autonomous. There was nothing to offer them but our prayers—a humbling thought.
Please be on the lookout for more photos. We are working at choosing and reducing the digital size so we can get them uploaded. It is our plan to insert them within the appropriate posts we have already sent, so do check back for photos of this place as well as in our previous posts!