Chiapas Andragogy

Dr. Marco Tavanti with students participants

The Chiapas exposure challenges students to not make assumptions about the current system while at the same time inviting them to think anew. Rather than only exposing students to alternative ideologies such as those expressed by the utopian realities of Zapatista autonomous community and NGOs clearly motivated by their Zapatista agenda, the preparation readings, program orientations, visit of organizations and activities during the immersion week in Chiapas are carefully designed to demonstrate the complexity of problems but also the variety of possible solutions. Since March 2004, the first year of the SPS Chiapas Program, alumni and coordinators have recognized eight elements that make this program a “best practice” in professional and adult service learning.

1. Chiapas Coordinators: A local coordinator, in dialogue with the instructor, does the coordination and adaptation of the program itinerary, selected organizations and other adjustments. Through this, the “service” emphasis of the program and its relevance for the current context of the Chiapas process is guaranteed. The coordinator, Marina Patricia, does more than “coordinating”. She is actually an invaluable presence for her expertise and personal commitment to the work with indigenous people. Her leadership and knowledge blend with the role of the director and instructor of the program, Marco Tavanti, who has been conducting collaborative research projects and leading delegations to Chiapas since 1997.

2. Global Learning: Chiapas is a unique place for the study of globalization from above (free trade agreements and development programs such as NAFTA, FTAA, CAFTA, PPP) and globalization from below (Zapatista movement, Mexican and international NGOs, indigenous civil society). In addition, as the southernmost state of Mexico bordering Guatemala, Chiapas also provides an excellent context for understanding border issues, cultural diversity and indigenous rights. As the poorest state in Mexico, Chiapas appeals to DePaul University to continue developing a transformative educational presence in this state. Every year, about four students decide to go back to Chiapas to work as volunteers and interns in local NGOs. Other initiatives organized by the students include inviting a delegation of indigenous women and leaders in the United States for speaking tours and presentations in academic conferences.

3. International Service Learning: Due to the professional engagement of the instructor and coordinator, the SPS Chiapas program is all but “cross-cultural tourism.” Students get to know organization and encounter situations that they would not be able without the trust and connections of the instructor and coordinator. They acknowledge the privilege of participating in such a unique experience and they reflect and act on their social and professional responsibility to make a difference and to return some of what they received. Instead of “doing something for them,” students are required to invest their energies in what is more useful to the process of Chiapas: listening, observing, learning and then action once they go back into the United States.

4. Facing Poverty and Suffering: Although every participant comes to the program with their own unique background and sensitivity to people in poverty, the Chiapas program challenge students to actually see, meet and, even for a short time, experience poverty first-hand. In the 2006 program students spend a night in precarious conditions of two internal displacement camps in the Highlands region. In addition, hearing the testimony of survivors of the December 22, 1997 Acteal massacre deeply impacts our students. The emotional intensity of these testimonies did not preclude students from recognizing the courage of indigenous people belonging to the Civil Society Las Abejas.

5. Beyond Borders: Latino and Chicano students in particular, recognize how the struggle for the recognition and rights of indigenous communities in Chiapas is not so different from the struggle of Latino immigrants in the United States. The program helps participants go beyond Cancun and stereotypes of Mexicans; rather, it helps them recognize the ethnic diversity and indigenous dignity of Mexicans and Central America. In addition, immigration is viewed not only as a pull factor to the American dream, but as a push factor for economic instability, lack of opportunities, violence and discrimination, particularly visible in the Southern border of Mexico.

6. Ngo Visits And Panels: The program offers students the opportunity to visit several NGOs in their work places. It also promotes dialogue among NGOs, who were, until recently, more focused and isolated in their own projects. It also fosters professional dialogue between Chiapas NGO leaders and our NGO/Nonprofit professional students. Through these panels, the SPS Chiapas Program encourages Chiapas-based NGO representatives to listen to each other experiences, sharing best practices and foster more inter-organizational collaborations. What distinguishes this program from other Chiapas delegations is that Chiapas NGO professionals get to engage in a dialogue with our students, professional managers in nonprofit organizations in the United States and other countries.

7. Organizational Missions: The Program benefits from the support of the Vincentian mission of DePaul University. Because of its Vincentian and Catholic dimensions, the University is support the program in its academic quality and self-sustainability. It encourages the relation with the San Cristobal de Las Casas Diocese and with other religious based organizations working in line with the evangelical and Vincentian option of the poor. In addition to the historically affirmed presence of Jesuits and Dominicans in Chiapas, the connection with the Vincentian family is represented by the work of the Daughters of Charity with their San Carlos Hospital in Ocosingo, in the Lacandon Forest of Chiapas. Their service to the indigenous poor, also members or sympathizers of the EZLN made them a target in the counterinsurgency operations following the 1994 uprising.

8. Institutional Relations: The program has established good collaborations with academic institutions. This generated the organization of an annual conference that includes the participation of university scholars and administrators that would be otherwise insolated and in competition. During the 2007 conference on development at the Universidad de la Tierra, about 200 participants received a certificate from DePaul University. The partnerships and collaborative relations are purposely maintained with very diverse institutions that reflects diverse political perspectives. The ultimate objective in promoting institutional relations is to highlight the values of participating institutions while promoting programs and initiatives empowering local, indigenous and impoverished communities of Chiapas.

9. Holistic Education: Contrary to other programs in Chiapas, our academic program offers students the opportunity to taste the complexity of Chiapas. Rather than looking at one side, the program attempts to offer an education to the complex interception between sectors, political positions and organizational constituencies across conflicting sides. This best practice could not be possible without the active collaboration of students in their preparatory readings.
10. Unique Experience: Even though the experience of previous participants is incorporated into the program, each year the trips to Chiapas have unique features and experiences. In addition to the improvements made in logistics and the learning experiences, each program is purposely designed to have something different that can make alumni of the program foster collaborative group dynamics based on the sharing of unique experiences as opposed to seniority. Yearly experiences, organizations, and itinerary require more work from the part of the coordinators, but it has the advantage of keeping up with the constantly changing organizational landscapes of Chiapas.

M.tra Marina Patricia Jimenez Ramirez, The Chiapas Program Coordinator

What students say about the program and the organizations we meet:

The Chiapas program is necessary take for an MIPS student. It brings forth the internal values of public service to all. It also emphasizes the meaning of working with the people to empower each other in other ways that we would otherwise not realize if we did not interact with people from different places. It encompasses all that we share in cultural heritage and diversity.

This trip was amazing--what you learn and what you experience first-hand is like nothing you could experience anywhere else. There is a distinct difference between learning through reading and first hand experience and I think that this trip did an excellent job at linking both our readings and experiences together in a most profound manner.

It is an experience that changes your view of what Mexico is about. All areas of injustice come into view here, whether social, political or economic, but the fight of the people is very inspiring, and allowed me to really see a many-sided reality, one with no easy answers.

This program changes your life. It opens your eyes to the struggle of marginalized people world-wide. This is an opportunity one cannot pass up.

I really appreciated the experiential aspect of the program. The curriculum taught to all different learning styles and provided a unique experience for everyone. I think the program was facilitated well, with a perfect combination of direct instruction and experience. I think the instructor had an abundance of knowledge on the subject, and personal experience, which helped all of the students have an amazing trip.

The visit at Kinal Ansetik was fabulous. The women there have managed to build a wonderful organization. I think we have much to learn from them in terms of their outreach to other organizations, their support of all those in the group and their constant search for new ways of communicating their needs and desires. I am also very hopeful to hear of their desire to do more outreach to younger women – so important to the sustainability of not only the organization, but also the IDEAS behind the organization. It was such a pleasure to meet them!

PRONATURA has a lot on their plate. From conservation, gender perspectives, financial development, etc. They are very clear on their dedication to promotions of ideas and, in that sense, I really enjoyed hearing about their work with other groups and how they strategically place themselves in the region. They, to me, are one of the better examples of how groups should be working together and not duplicating efforts.

CODIMUJ was AMAZING! This is one of those groups that I wish I had met when I was in high school! I loved the frank discussion regarding women’s positioning in the religious culture. The “stained glass ceiling” is coming down in part because of the work the women in this group are doing. For me, this group helped me reconcile the religion/work/culture clash I was experiencing in my head when looking at Chiapas.

CIEPAC helps make the invisible, visible in Chiapas. I like and appreciate that they have six, very clear goals that they stick to and their work is a clear reflection of those things – research, information, education, formation, analysis and social process. These are six goals that all organizations could benefit from knowing in order to streamline their work (thinking of Pronatura here).

At the museum of the Maya Medicine and OMIECH was truly fascinating. As someone interested in public health, hearing this perspective was eye opening. I enjoyed the video we watched and think there are opportunities for intersections with other organizations like SADEC. The museum is well put together.

I was thrilled with the conference. I thought it would probably feel a little long but I was enamored through the all of it. I had never questioned the idea and definition of development – which now I can’t believe. To hear all the other perspectives made me realize that I was starting at zero for knowledge, but my interest is there, it made me want to learn and, optimistically, help find solutions. So many passionate people from different places with different perspectives trying to come up with answers made it seem possible and certainly hopeful.

The time and work that went into the program from both Marco and Marina Patricia was very evident. Connecting us to all the NGOs, the conference; I know I saw and learned things that I never would have in any other situation. I appreciated every experience but if I had to choose one, it would be the conference. I am an emotional person by nature, but I never imagined I would be moved to cry at a conference!

I think that both Marina and Marco are great teachers. They were fun to learn from because of the passion that they have for what they are doing. I also appreciated learning from facilitators who truly believe in what they are doing and have their hearts invested. I also like the community building aspect they provided.

Tomas Ramirez, a Chiapas Program alumnus and Sullivan fellow for the International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI) at DePaul University shares his perspective on how the experience of Chiapas can help in the education of international public servants.