Finding México

4 Sep

Doing "tutoria" with Denise and Juan Manuel

More pictures HERE!

The first day

Let me see how I can summarize without cutting out the good parts. The first week was a whirlwind of activities. I got a phone number, shampoo, changed money.. Actually that was my first day. The second day was a lot of discovering the city center and a lot of dancing.

Retirement in Tepoztlan

Then the fun really began. On the Sunday I went to Tepoztlan and fell in love with the town. Gabriel (the guy who made all this happen basically, and the mind behind all that we are doing in Mexico) has a beautiful cottage there. He makes all his own furniture and has a million books on education and I could stay forever. I saw him and his wife there and I thought – yup, that’s how I want to retire. I also took the role of (anti)spiderwoman and tried to chase or kill the spiders out of the bedroom for Sara (the other fellow).

Schools – Giving Life

So Tepoztlan was a transit to Estado de México where all schools nationwide were just starting up after the summer. So a little background on what I’m doing here. I’m working with the Mexican ministry of education (also called la SEP: Secundaria de Educación Publico), specifically the Program to Improve Educational Achievement and this organization Conviviencia Educativa and the people here are just incredible.

They are working to change the way lessons are being conducted in the classroom with a radical shift- teaching in tutorial relationships. They started working with the worst secondary schools in the country and are currently working with 9000 “failing” schools right now and changing communities from inside the classroom, inside the school, and bringing the joy of learning back to schools. And the best part is that the basic premise of the “tutorial relationship” is that you’re creating a network of people in school.

Students are called to be part of the change, be part of the solution to their “failing communities and school.” They learn so that they can then be tutors, and the learning continues at all levels of the school.

These tutorial relationships are now a national policy that we’re working with and trying to make sure what the “tutorial relationship” is, is really happening on the ground, training teachings and students- starting the seed that germinates and empowers even more, one at a time.

At this telesecundaria (a school in rural areas of the country where students learn by “television” and one facilitator,) I got the chance to meet and interview these three girls that had gone through 2 years of the relacion tutora program. Hearing and interviewing the girls who were both tutored and tutors was inspiring. They spoke with such confidence and were poised to lead their communities. This was a rural school and without fancy technology or resources, schools were improving and giving life to communities again. It was quite a beautiful sight, a humbling experience. I had the privilege of tutoring two kids in fractions (we all know how great my math is) and in Spanish, it was hard but so much fun. (Side note: the joke now is that I have a boyfriend called Octavio because 1/8 is un octavo but I said un Octavio, and my kids burst out laughing and were like WHO IS OCTAVIO? Your boyfriend?!”)

But in essence, the tutorial relationship is based on 1) Learning what you are interested in, 2) Teaching what you know and 3) thinking about a dialogue and a process of discovery – every mistake is a part of that. I keep thinking if this could work in Singapore, where there’s a time crunch on every exam, and we got to memorize all these formulas for math, without really understanding what π  is or why Pythagoras Theorem makes sense.

Maybe that’s why so many kids have their schedules filled with tuition in Singapore. Maybe we already are doing “relacion tutoras” but paying huge bucks for it. So for those in Singapore- they are trying to create a culture of tutorials in the general classroom, as a way of teaching in the hardest to reach, most marginalized neighborhoods, to change the schools from the inside. And it’s working. The school I visited improved their national scores in just two years with this new way to teaching.

México’s Heartbeat

Before Sept 1, I had been having a tough time settling in, there was no room to breathe and I was rushing everywhere, and I felt I didn’t belong, and the area that I’m living in was a pretty fresa (posh?) area with clubs at night, but it was safe. So I kept trying to find a place to call home, instead of just being with all the extranjeros (foreigners, although they’ve been so wonderful). Remember how it didn’t really hit me that I was in Mexico? Well, it hit me LAST FRIDAY and SUNDAY. I found Mexico on the subway on day on the way to the city center a week ago and coming back from Estado de Mexico.

1) Estado de Mexico

On the drive back from the mountains, I saw these kids about 6 or 7, playing football with sheep grazing alongside and then peaking out just round the corner were taco stalls with bright colors, and Maestro Pablo said, “You see these decorations. It’s for all the fiestas. That’s the thing about Mexico- even if the people have no money, they party and celebrate life anyway.” I loved it.

2) The Metro

Mexico has a great Metro system and it’s always filled with people with crazy speaker-backpacks which blasts music all the time, as they sell CDs for $1 each with like 300 songs. It’s great. Every train has a few people who walk in and out of the different sections, selling things like flowers, lollipops, chocolate, CDs… but on Sunday there was this guy who was selling Jokebooks. He went around to each person and tell a joke and by the end of his stint, almost everyone has a smile on their face. I didn’t understand many of the jokes, but it made me smile too.

Then next came a taxi driver, who spoke with a booming voice. “I represent a bunch of taxi drivers and I’m asking for your help. The lady that usually cooks for us, her daughter got into a car accident but she has no money to buy the coffin for her daughter. So we’re banding together to buy her a coffin, and we as Mexicans can help each other. So please if you can give just a little bit, please help us.” He walked around with a plastic bag of coins he has already collected and people reached into their pockets to give small change that they had. That’s the Mexican heartbeat.

My Mexican Family 

1 September was a big day for me, and I had been so worried about finding a good place to live. But again, I honestly don’t know how God is so so good, but this place just dropped on my lap. The other people would spend weeks finding apartments, seeing like 7 or 8 places, and this was the first place I saw, and I fell in love with it. I moved in on September 1, and my Mexican mother is hilarious and so animated. My brother, Sebastian is two and looks like he came out of a cartoon. He wear these rocket shoes around the house and there are two other Mexican girls (my new roommates) who are just great. And I just came back from a bike ride with Elena (my mom) and Fernanda (one of the girls) where we took a whole tour around the city on bike, ate DELICIOUS tacos on the streets and cricket parts in this crazy market. They brought me to chinatown, where I shouted, “MY PEOPLE!! (MI GENTE!)” and bought me a Yeo’s Lychee drink which I kept the can because just seeing the can makes me happy. The bad thing was that that can cost a whooping S$2.5 (US2)- simply ridiculous. The good thing is that I found COCONUT MILK for less than $5 a can so I can make some Nasi Lemak. 🙂

I don’t get it. 

Sara and I just got invited to document on this rural indigenous community in the sierra (mountains) of Chihuahua. We’re taking a flight on Wednesday with some experts in the field and I can’t wait.

But the question that still lingers in my mind is: “How do the incredibly passionate and smart people that I’m working with trust someone like me to be part of this change?” They don’t even know me, or where I come from, but I’m so welcomed everywhere, in the schools and with the people. And I love my collegues- they are so passionate, so intelligent and it’s been nothing but a joy being with them. It’s very humbling to be part of the team and I’m so so grateful for their love.

I found México. I found the Mexican heartbeat. What an adventure I’m going to have this year.

Each day has been such a miracle and I couldn’t wait to share all my special moments here with you.

More pictures HERE!

With much Mexican Love,



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