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The Healing Power of Relación Tutora

9 Aug

The school!

After spending about 4 months in Zacatecas- from January to July 2012 (being outside of community in April in June), with the majority of my time spent in the community called Presa de Maravillas, I have come to grow and learn in a way that would not have been possible without this experience. For four months, I really lived with the community. Mondays and Wednesdays were usually spent in afternoon lessons with the primary school, Tuesdays was tiangi’s, where you could find almost everyone you knew in the outdoor market either buying or selling things. Thursdays was either a day to do the laundry or wash the dishes and Friday I’d go to a painting workshop with other women in the community. I was game for anything – making cheese, climbing over rocks to get to another part of the community, riding donkeys and of course, dancing. And through all of this I really grew to love the people there, what living in community really means and how the school Pedro Vélez was an oasis for the students in this context.

As the study moved along, I moved to live in San Ramón for two weeks in May with the telesecundaria Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Maestra Sara Moran, who also has students who have trouble at school and/or a home, including a student who was recently expelled from the Téchnica in Villa de Cos, almost drawing a parallel to the students and situation in Presa de Maravillas. Furthermore, I made side trips to work in Río Grande and Tlaltenango and took the opportunity to see if the trends I was seeing in Presa de Maravillas and in San Ramón were common in other regions, and they were.

Here is the full study for sharing!

The Healing Power of Relación Tutora

and in Spanish!

Poder sanador de la relación tutora

Presa de Maravillas


Presa de Maravillas

26 Feb

Presa de Maravillas

More pictures here and en español aquí!

Being at Presa de Maravillas and living in the community has been all I’ve wanted. The very moment I arrived at the school and the community, I was welcomed with the most delicious biscuits and hot canela (or cinnamon) drink, by Doña Juana who came to me as I stepped out of the car and said, “I’ve been wanting to know who was the Maestra that was coming.” That was just the beginning. Throughout the week, I was showered with so much care and love and every evening mesmerized by the breath-taking sunset as the sun slipped into the tiny hills with a brilliant red background. This is Presa de Maravillas.


The students in the classroom at Pedro Vélez

As I have come to know the community, I grow more in love with its people but more pained by some of its stories. My “sister”, is 16 year old with already one born child and 7 months pregnant with a baby boy. She’s a single mom, but loves her kids with all her heart. She is incredible sweetheart who took me in as a confidant and friend. About 4 days ago, we worked on a Langston Hughes’ poem, Dreams and she analyzed it with more depth than I had ever had seen. She talked about her dreams of a new life, of moving forward for her children and how she’s going to fight to create a life for herself and for them. And I know she’s going to do it. Then there are the students who recall of painful stories in school and in the family. During a tamale feast in the school where a bunch of parents came, unknowingly, I asked this student if his mother was coming. He just looked at me and said, “I don’t have a mother.” Oh. “How about your father?” I asked. “I have even less of a father, I never see him.” And this child is brilliant, gentle and kind. These are some of the people at Presa de Maravillas that I have come to learn from and love.

Speaking to others, I have seen how tutoría has changed not just their attitude, but their hearts and their dreams. I am learning from Yohancarlo, in his third year en the telesecundaria, on what it means to learn. When I think about student involvement in the community, I only think of small community projecst, or community service – which is the mainstream literature that we have. But during Yohancarlo’s interview, I asked, what is the role of students in improving the community? He said, “To work hard at school, to study, so that when we become someone in life, and get a good job, that brings the community up. If we don’t learn, the community will never improve.” I was left inspired by his words. Yohancarlo was brought to this school because he was kicked out of another.


Yohancarlo presenting his math problem

Mothers have also left me fascinated by what Profe Gabriel and Cesario are doing in the community. One mother recounted the story of Pedro Velez, when they first started comunidades de aprendizaje. She told me many community members didn’t want the students from Malpaso to come to Presa de Maravillas because they were afraid they would corrupt their own kids. But after talking to Profe Gabriel, who explain the right of every child to an education, they community let the students from Malpaso come in. And what was most interesting was that the school became a space for mothers to interact with the mothers who were struggling with their sons and daughters from Malpaso. They would offer suggestions to build up their kids and the school became a critically important space for those conversations.

What’s more, is that the students were now coming home and being the actors in building the comunidad de aprendizaje. At home they would ask questions, ask for books, try to investigate this and that- involving their family through sheer curiosity and a thirst to learn. And that same mother has even asked to be a part of tutoría, something I’m going to try to start in the coming months after school in the community.


A part of the community in Presa de Maravillas

Pedro Velez is such a special space and I am so honored to be working alongside Profe Gabriel and Cesario. The energy they have in the classroom, the organization of the temas and the absolute joy and love for their students have moved me and so many in the community. Amidst the tough and very real challenges in the community, you see the bright light of hope in these giants in Presa de Maravillas.

Every day is a battle, some days the students escape from school and leave before the day ends, some days some don’t want to do their demonstrations or even get up to say their names, some days, you see a spark in interests in some students, some days you don’t. I feel I’m barely scratching the surface getting to know the community and the students, and already this experience has been so rich. I feel I need more, so much more time with the people and I’m glad I’m going to have that. It’s a wonderful balance of learning so much every day but also feeling you have can help be a support to both my new found family in Presa de Maravillas, the larger community and in the school. There’s a lot to be done, but we have he best people working on it, what a wonderful feeling.

My new community- Presa de Maravillas

Osire- The Strength Within

19 Dec

UNHCR Post at Osire, Namibia

When you think of a refugee camp, you think of people in need, people who carry ration cards, people who can barely depend on themselves, people in poverty, people who are dirty, people who don’t even have a home to call their own.

That’s not what I found when I was in Osire. I found poets, businessmen, musicians, thespians, activists, teachers, leaders.

Papa Mbikay showing me his work in his house at Osire, Namibia

I want you to meet Papa Mbikay, a writer whose deepest desire is to leave a footprint where he treads. A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Papa Mbikay fled his country when he wrote about the regime in the Congo. He is an elder in the community, and won a grant this year to start a mushroom cultivation project to help with employment in the community. He already ingeniously and meticulously grew 3 batches of mushrooms in the past three years.


A philosopher, he knows that knowledge is power and wants to use that power in Osire.

I want you to meet Gabriel, a 17 year old, who worked as a translator with us, also from the DRC who dreams of being a pilot. Outspoken and inquisitive, Gabriel has a fierce spirit that wants to understand how to make his community better. I remember when we were sitting in a small bench during lunch and him asking tough questions about the role of men and women in the household, culture and how do we go from here to protect women’s rights in community.

Gabriel is also a singer. When he sings, he sings with a smile and closes his eyes so he can focus on the words. He plays the piano. We sing, “Come now is the time to worship, Come, now is the time to raise your heart.”

Gabriel, the musician from DRC playing the piano at Obama Hope Youth Center

He sings and this uplifts my soul. In the midst of losing his parents and waiting to hear about his refugee status from the Namibian government, he sings, and calls me to come, for now is the time to worship and raise our hearts.

I want you to meet Haki Zimana, the entrepreneur who has started his own business in Osire, and has made enough money to support his family of 4 and pay for his own education at the University of Namibia. He was born in exile in Rwanda in 1977 and fled the country with his elder brother, travelling from Rwanda to DRC to Angola and then to Namibia – while being chased by a rebel group the whole time. He is studying to become a nurse because he remembers being helpless running through jungle after jungle, watching death and disease consume his fellow refugees.

I want you to meet Mama Isabel, a woman I admire and love. She has lived in Osire for 10 years now, a role model and activist in behalf on her community, especially for women. She is exactly what this community needs and has already begun to live for that change.

A widow after the death of her husband at the hands of the government in the DRC, she fled to Namibia and is vice president of the Refugee Representative Committee in Namibia – the first woman to take office. In Osire, she has to defend being called a prostitute and accept looks from men who tell their wives not to talk to her for fear of them leaving the home. Confident and kind, she knows almost each family by name and fights on their behalf. She wears a “Forced Sex is Violence Against Women” tee-shirt and welcomes a discussion among the men on what forced sex is and what are the traditional men and women roles in the household. She took Gabriel’s questions seriously when the other men shot his questions down. She said, “We have to answer his questions, if not he’ll just grow up not knowing. We have to answer them now.”

Mama Isabel's smile

Mama Isabel believes in the power of the youth, and started a Youth Ambassador’s program to help the young in Osire uplift themselves through mentoring and sharing of mutual life experiences.

I want you to meet the Osire Youth Group. They are spunky, fun, daring and passionate. I was most privileged to sit in the audience of the Osire Youth Group performance yesterday. The group began with a powerful drama piece that addressed the issue of HIV in the community and the increasing teenage pregnancy that pains many community members. Teenage pregnancy (Girls between the ages of 14 to 18) is estimated to be as high as 65% in Osire.

They are real. Real with their own struggles, real with who they are and real with where they want to go in life. They believe they have power and I saw that yesterday. I saw the power of the young people yesterday and almost cried because they stood for everything I ever believed about what change is and what we need to do.

I didn’t get to listen to all their stories but I know for sure that each one will touch your heart. The way they sang, they rose above the pain of being a refugee and for a moment, believed that “To show power is to love.” The Osire Youth Group wrote the play themselves, planned it, acted it, and practiced it so that what we saw was perfect. But they almost never have the chance to perform it, maybe once a year on Refugee Day on June 20, 2010. They want to be heard, they want to be seen. Maybe it is for that one day in the whole year that they can show the world- not even, show the town, who they are, their struggles being young refugees, young refugees who are so passionate and excited about change.

Osire Youth Group at the Obama Hope Youth Center

I’m struggling a lot with this as a young person myself. What is our role in this? How can we as young people support each other? I still have so many questions unanswered.

My friends, this is Osire, the refugee camp.

This is Osire, the place where people have ran for fear of losing their life.

This is Osire, where there is great wisdom but little opportunity to share it.

This is Osire, where there is great strength and potential within but lack of opportunity.

This is our world. There is so much strength within it. Maybe we just need to find that same strength within ourselves to be part of that change in whatever way we can.

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