The Mountain Song

16 Sep


More photos HERE

I’ve always believed, no matter how broken a community is, there is beauty. I just came back from the mountains of Chihuahua, specifically Turuachi, Chihuahua with Sara and Luis Gerado and it was quite an experience. I’m not sure how I should actually think or feel about it because my emotions are still so mixed up.

The thing about the mountains in that the people there have heart. They give without expecting anything in return, and just hosting you is an absolute pleasure, an honor. They care for you like a sister, and respect you like a teacher, and laugh with you like an old friend. The people in community and also the people hosting us went beyond “taking care” of us. I want to introduce you to a few characters:

Leo, Sara, Luis Gerado, Alma, Prof De La Rosa and Luz Elena

Leo, Sara, Luis Gerado, Me, Alma, Prof De La Rosa and Luz Elena (Left to right)

Profe De la rosa, he would shout “Dientes!” and run to the sink to brush his teeth after every meal. Maestra Elva from Durango who always had the wisest words of wisdom, a woman who was just interested in who you are. Maestra Luz Elena who would gather the group every night for a game of cards and always knew how to have fun. Maestra Alma from CONAFE was just a sweetheart, and who could forget Leo, the soft-spoken representative who drove us all the way from Chihuahua to Turuachi and back – the steadiest mountain driver ever. All of us, and Luis Gerado spent a good 10 hours together each way from the center of Chihuahua city to the small little Pueblo of Turuachi.

Not to mention the girls from Durango who were Nely, Nery y Reynalda who were such intelligent, thoughtful and generous young women. And each hug with them was a real hug, felt from the heart. Nery (Betzy) gave me a graph she had made from a wooden board and nails, something she had made for the tutoring session to investigate quadrants and coordinates in graphs. They gave without asking anything in return.

The girls from Durazno, Durango

The girls from Durazno, Durango

The graph board

The graph board

Background for what was happening in Chihuahua: I was at an “encuentro” or like an exchange program with students (Pre-school, Primary and Secondary), teachers, parents and administrators coming from two neighboring states, Chihuahua and Durango . It was hard, at first to understand what was going to happen, who was going to be there, but after talking to Profe De La Rosa and Maestra Elva, I realized that this was an event to unite communities, and help them go through time of struggle, time of change. The project was called Project of the Mountains, between 3 states: Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa, also known as the infamous “triangle.”  

I was at the purple region of chihuahua, where Sinaloa and Durango meet

The big question in the mountains, and especially this part of the mountains was of course the violence and the drug trafficking that was plaguing communities, families, homes, people. And I’d never thought I would feel the violence so close. It started off with learning about acts of injustice like Luis G’s son who was killed along the roadside 3 years ago, to learning about stories of the teachers, mainly women- one whose husband was burned to death, and the other whose husband was chopped into pieces 3 months ago. I still don’t understand why or who but I saw pain. I saw pain in the students who were living in communities that had almost no men left because of the violence, I saw pain in the women that had come as widows, I saw pain in the teachers that wanted to see change in their communities. And in this pain, I also saw the beauty of the students who really just wanted to learn, I saw the beauty of parents who took precious time off work to learn about relación tutora, I saw beauty in the leadership of the Project who wanted to motivate their teachers, students and families and really believed they could.

And I’m intrigued. Sometimes there would be a disconnect between what I was hearing and the “encuentro.” I knew that I believed that education could really change things, but how? The constant question at the back of my mind was “What is the role of what I was doing, the relación tutora in all this pain, all this suffering? Were we just doing it for ENALCE (national tests) scores? It can’t be. I threw this question at Luis Gerado and that’s when I understood more the power of relación tutora.

Luis Gerado said, “The thing about relación tutora is that is changes you as a person. It teaches people to respect, in places where there isn’t any. It’s a way of living.”

That’s it. This is why this concept of teaching is so much more than just academic learning, it’s teaching character and leadership at the same time. As a tutor, you learn what it means to learn, in all sense of the word. You learn academics, yes, but you also learn to be patient, you learn to respect, you learn to be humble, you learn to learn – and this way of learning, this way of living could save communities. And tutoring doesn’t have to be limited to math or spanish, it has been extended to history, to discussing issues of immigration to the US, to understanding what’s going on in the community and how to rise above it.  And maybe one tutoring session at a time, people regain their joy and trust and respect again, and that might be enough.

There’s still so much to be done in the sierra (the mountains) and issues of violence can’t be solved by one thing, but I do believe what we’re doing can instill some beauty back in broken communities. It can bring back a song where there’s no reason to sing. In Turuachi, I heard their voices – the voices of almost 4 generations of people from Chihuahua and Durango, singing again.

That’s The Mountain Song.


Primary school, Turuachi

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