Friday, January 26, 2007

Volunteering and Learning in Chacala

Pretty often people who are coming to Chacala are interested in “volunteering” here. Some come to stay at a local retreat center, located south of Chacala, where they pay room and board at the retreat center and volunteer in a nearby town, Las Varas. Other times people write and ask about volunteer opportunities here. Sometimes people are surprised when I ask what they had in mind, and if they speak Spanish, or if they have some special skill or talent they could share with local kids or adults. Sometimes pople seem to be surprised that they might need some skills to be useful volunteers here. Usually I refer them onto Viki, the coordinator of the Bibliotecha program here in Chacala. I have a suggestion for people who are coming to Chacala and would like to help out in some way. To share their money or talent or time, or whatever. My suggestion is instead of (or in addition to) offering to volunteer, people can come to Chacala with a desire to learn about Mexico and Chacala. They can become students of life of Chacala and all of Mexico. And to learn about what life is like in a small Mexican tourist and fishing village. And about the culture, the family life, the role of religion, food, architecture, infrastructures issues, the working lives, the schools, and whatever else is interesting to them. In Chacala a person can learn about the birds, the petroglyphs, the animal and sea life, and all kinds of things. And maybe learn a little Spanish.

One thing you can bring to Mexico is a respect of the people of Mexico. And a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn about the history and culture. It is very possible to prepare for a visit to Chacala by learning some Spanish, and reading about the history, politics, geography, art, and culture of Mexico. There is so much to learn about this beautiful country. There were beautiful cities here while our Pilgrims were living in log hovels in the wilderness.Of course, there are many people who come to Chacala, having learned some Spanish, and with something to share with the kids here. Or some skill to teach. And, of course, there are the volunteer groups who have come to Chacala. Like Rotary. And people who have worked on Techos de Mexico projects. And church and student groups. All of whom have come here to help support the people who live here. They have created some wonderful buildings: homes, the learning center, and school buildings. And thee are individuals who bring down tools and school and art supplies. Some of the new owners of homes in the gated community have made wonderful contributions to the Kinder and the Bibliotecha. And people come here to learn Spanish during the months when there are few English speakers here, say April thru mid-November. And learn Spanish with classes and thru immersion in a Spanish-speaking environment. The rents are lower in the off-season months, and it’s easier to learn Spanish if you have to speak it to do everyday errands. And there are people like Memo, who was here a few years ago, and worked with the kids every day for about four months. And he didn’t approach them as a person from a supposedly superior and more advanced culture, but as someone who was learning from the kids. He wanted to share experiences with them.And there’s Becky, who came prepared to develop a small percussion band with interested kids. And to do a little concert with them at the end of her stay. I think that people who come here ready to learn about life in Chacala and about the individuals who live here have the nicest visits.One thing anyone who comes to Chacala can to is to come with an open mind. Come to watch and listen and observe. And ask questions. Not judgmental questions. Like asking “how do you….?”, rather than “Why do you….?” . And we can try to remember that cultural differences are not necessarily good or bad. Often they are just different.


Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful post! You touched on a topic that I've thought a lot about, but haven't been able to articulate.
If I'm reading your post correctly, the concept is something like "get to know people/places (at least a little bit), then figure out where or how or if you can make a contribution".

Nancy said...

You are a very smart lady, and you are able to approach gently but clearly really sensitive subjects.

I always enjoy reading your thoughts and observations on life in Chacala.


Anonymous said...

Andee, that was a terrific post.
If more of the world had this in their hearts daily, we could not imagine how far we would come in solving the conflicts in the world and the conflicts in some people's hearts. Thank you for taking the time post such a good thought.

Anonymous said...

Nice post about "volunteering to help" the people of Chacala, Andee. Sweet. We will be down in mid-February. Hope to connect.

Allan Hardman.

John Wood said...

So often we try to help without understanding those we're helping. Here in San Miguel a group built large community bathrooms in the countryside to reduce pollution in the Laja River. Checking back, they found the bathrooms filled with hay! Keeping feed dry is more important than sanitary facilities.

You are so right about getting to know the neighbors. Then it's possible to find ways of working with them, instead of treating them as disadvantaged and somehow inferior.