Saturday, February 27, 2010

Robert Brady Museum -- A work of art

Some of Mexico’s greatest fans and promoters come from outside of the country.

Robert Brady for example, was one of the most well known men of his time in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Mixing and mingling with celebrities of the past and well to do families, he was known on the social scene and will be remembered for his unique style, A-listed guest book and unbelievably breath taking collection of art.

Brady was an American born in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1928 and was said to be a somewhat ‘self-centered loner.’ He stayed in Venice from 1953 to 1959 where his passion for art grew and his selection in styles expanded.

At the close of the 1950s, Brady moved to Mexico and fell in love with a beautiful old Mexican house abutting the Cathedral in Cuernavaca. He got to work right away at renovating this beautiful property, making every inch of it with distinct detail and rich in culture. They say his only thoughts were of having fun, although he did not always enjoy his own parties and as good as an artist he was himself, was never satisfied with his creations. Through Brady’s life he traveled the world collecting art from different cultures and different eras, often purchasing pieces from famous artists before their time.

His house is lined with vibrant colours, exquisite sculptures, beautiful gardens and flowing fountains.

This wealthy and well known individual with a style of his own, fell victim to liver cancer and passed away in 1986 at the age of 58.

With his remaining fortune his wishes were for his home to be preserved exactly the way it is so that the world could explore his one of a kind collection of art. The doors were open to the public in 1990 and his home will forever be remembered as “Casa de la Torre,” The Robert Brady Museum.

Loyalist College student and artist at heart, Lynne Lafreniere spend a morning touring this beautiful museum and says she has never seen anything like it.

“It was fascinating,” she says. “For one person to accumulate so much art on such a large spectrum.... it was spectacular.”

Friday, February 26, 2010

A song of friendship :)

Day 6

February 24, 2010

“All in a smile and a wave.”

After being in a constant state of discomfort since I arrived I figured I would take what the sisters said to heart, I should take up to 48 hours of rest and have some quiet time. While the rest of the group went to visit Tepotzlan, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, I decided I would do some typical ‘house cleaning.’

While the majority of the group is staying in dormitory-style rooms closer to the dining hall Caila and I have a small, almost apartment like, place down at the other corner of the property. Determined to get well, I went through my clothes hanging some in the sun to freshen up and throwing others in a bag to get cleaned. You know when your not feeling well, and you feel like everything you touch is becoming infested with germs and no matter how hard to try that ora illness lingers in everything you touch? As nasty as it sounds, this is how I felt, and what I was trying to get rid of. As I remake my bed and hung some sweaters to air out, I listened to my Ipod and innocently sang along. Not knowing there were people working nearby and forgetting how congested I was and not being able to hear how horrible I sounded, I gradually grew louder and louder until to my surprise, right on the other side of my patio space were two middle aged Mexican men working away... probably plugging their ears the entire time.

I quickly shut up and went inside a little embarrassed. I started working on some other things, cleaning the dishes, folding clothes, and before I knew it there I was again singing away. I laughed at my forgetfulness and quietly asked the universe to not let them hear me.

I noticed we were out of clean drinking water, as tap water is not sanitary to drink, so I thought I would walk up to the dorm area and get some more water. In order to do I needed to pass these Mexican gentlemen not once, but twice in order to get there and back. On the way up I was able to go unnoticed, I traded our empty water vase for a fresh one and took a small walk around the grounds. On my way back down to our apartment I made eye contact with the younger of the two men working outside of my room. At first I was a little embarrassed, as everyone else had left for the day, it was very apparent I was the only white girl around and therefore was the one responsible for the melody of death in which I would like to call singing. Within the few split seconds our eyes met I had enough time to contemplate my reaction, do I turn and play oblivious? Do I stay silent and look the other way?

I was far enough away they may not have been able to hear me say hello over their work but close enough they could make out my facial expressions and what they meant. Within the short seconds I had to react, I decided I would do what we should always do when we see someone look our way, acknowledge their presence.

And so I smiled and waved, and to my surprise the Mexican gentlemen did the same. It was a friendly wave and a comforting smile. It was the kind of wave that reminded me of children at a parade, quick, firm and excited. It wasn’t just a raise of the hand or nod of the head but a genuine, teeth bearing smile and hand flailing wave. It made me feel good and I was surprised how with that one small gesture I wanted to open up to them, go see what they were doing, ask them for their names, see if I could help.

It was interesting to learn that as I continued to walk to my room, my smile was growing bigger. That smiled stayed on my face for the rest of day. It wasn’t because I was in love, or had won a million dollars, or found out I was magically not going to be sick anymore it was something better than all of those things and more simple than imaginable. It was because the eyes of two strangers had met and instead of turning away we decided to smile and wave.

- a memory from the past -

Today the group went to the magical town of Tepoztlán. Unfortunately I was unable to join them but I was lucky enough to have made the trip last year.

---- Day 11, February 2009 ----


Today we visited the magical land of Tepotzlan, and magic it was.

There were people and street vendors and music and restaurants everywhere! The little town was filled with so much commotion and chaos it was brilliant! Four of us students, Andy and Loraine decided we would do the hour and some trek up the mountain to the ancient temple while the others hung around and shopped in the town. The climb was steady, steep, breathe taking and absolutely gorgeous!

From the top you could see the whole town and surrounding towns. It was incredible to be at eye level with the green covered mountain tops you have to crank your head completely vertical to admire from the ground. We sat and admired the view for as long as possible, it was definitely worth the trek.

Unfortunately we lost track of time and ended up being late for the speaker of the day. She was a female activist living in Tepoztlán. The town has many activists and the town is recognized by the government and military for being full of activists who won’t back down. In the past, businesses wanted to put a golf course in and the people disagreed, “We don’t play golf,” they would say. A protest began because of this and the people would gather together in the town square and listen to music and dance and sing. By having fiestas people of the town got to know each other and talk about what current issues were taking place. Together they stood against the creation of a golf course and won. It was another inspirational story about the power in numbers and the strength of a voice.

In many ways I envy the strong sense of community in Mexico compared to in Canada. The people here work together for major causes and stand up for change. They are friends with their neighbours and offer strangers the invitation to become their friend by participating in community gatherings. It isn’t a crime to gather on the street to sing and dance and Police won’t stop you and it isn’t an inconvenience for your peers to stop by unexpectedly for company. People don’t rely on materialistic things and they don’t need a lot, what little they have they share. I envy their true sense of community, neighbours becoming friends and friends introducing strangers.

They are so rich in culture and wealthy in spirit.

This I envy.
Day 5 – MEDS PLEASE!!!!

February 23, 2010

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate pain and discomfort calls for antibiotics!!

Caila and I decided to do something different than the group today and went for a walk in the town where we stay called Ahuatepec. I was fresh out of Advil Cold and Sinus and so, was on a mission to find more. The first pharmacy, nada. The second pharmacy, nada. The third, nada.... but this time the older man behind the counter offered a different solution. He asked if I was allergic to penicillin, nope, okay and he handed me two packs of medication.

The total cost was 45 pesos, $4.50 Canadian.

I thanked him very much and told him how much my ear hurt and the inside of head and so on.

“Si? Ven, sientate aqui,” he said.

He examined my ear and my throat and told me I had an ‘enflamed sinus infection’... grrrreeaaattt, I thought to myself.

He gave me ear drops to reduce the swelling and said if I had any more problems in more than three days to come back and he would be there.

The total cost to heal me was 55 pesos, $5.50 Canadian.

Of course when I returned to the Abbey I confirmed with Loyalist faculty the prescriptions were ok to take, but that will come later.

I walked away with what would have taken a doctor’s note and three days of waiting for an appointment to get. Not in Mexico. Narcotics and Tamiflu are two of the few, if not only, drugs you need a prescription to receive here. Everything else can be found over the counter at any local pharmacy.

Just a few days ago a Germany student staying in Cuernavaca died from self medicating with over the counter ‘prescription’ drugs.

Laws in Mexico are different than in Canada. Certain laws and regulations of specific content, and the amount of content, in each drug can vary. Self medicating at a local pharmacy can be very risky and it is important you can communicate clearly about specific details and it is always a good idea to consult with a doctor if possible.

Lucky for me I was able to speak in Spanish with the man working at the pharmacy and when we returned to the Abbey I knew enough to consult with a supervisor before taking any kind of over the counter drugs.

When I returned to the Abbey and could not find Gary to confirm my ‘prescription’ I broke down in frustration and discomfort. Sarah, a child and youth worker professor from Loyalist College and a supervisor with Quest, was available instead and very helpful. She wasn’t able to read the labels on the medication but her comfort and support seemed to help a million. Between her, a few of the older Quest participants, our translator Neil and the Sisters we were able to hit the nail on the head and find me a cure.

Staying at the Abbey must have brought me closer to God because in any other situation I don’t think I would have had as much help, luck or success with this task. When one of the Sisters entered the dining hall and saw me upset she immediately came over and asked in Spanish what was wrong, I told her I wasn’t feeling well and was in pain and a lot of discomfort. We asked her if she could help us read the medication labels just to triple confirm and she said would. She said it was an antibiotic and it would be very good, but she then told us one of the sisters was a doctor and she would go get her.

The Dr. Sister, or Sister Dr., came in with a stethoscope and checked my breathing, read the medicine labels and re-prescribed me a more accurate amount and sent me to bed. Told me I should stay out of the sun, drink lots of water at room temperature, get lots of rest and no showers for 48 hours to regulate my temperature.

Every time we have a problem, concern, question or anything at all, the Sisters are always able to assist us. They are brilliant, talented women and for 4 minutes... 2..... and for 30 seconds I seriously considered it. I never doubt their judgement or their knowledge, never underestimate their wisdom and consideration for others and will always appreciate their presence and keep them in my thoughts and in my heart.

In all negative experiences we can walk away with something positive. Through this I’ve learned, again, the power of communication, the strength of working together, the important of clarification, the different in medicinal laws and regulation between countries and that the Sisters at Abdia Santa Maria de Guadalupe are some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met and I thank them for saving my journey in Mexico.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 4. Meditation.

February 22, 2010

“Through good thinking we create positive energy.”

We spent the evening learning and practicing with a meditation master named Dada. The group of us sat on towels or mats on the floor with a light melody playing in the background as Dada spoke to us about the true meanings of meditation and its benefits.

Dada began the session by splitting us into two groups and telling us to form two circles. From there we all raised our right hand and placed it in the centre of the circle. Kinda like the whole “go team, go” thing but without the cheer. Next we raised our left hand and placed that in the middle of the circle on top of all the other hands. Slowly we were to remove our hands from the pile and grab on to the hand above or below us, by the end of it we were each to be holding to different hands. Now that we were all tangled up the point was to untangle ourselves without letting go and recreate our circle. I believe the game was called something about an Octopus when we were younger? But I could be mistaken! Our group did very well and finished the task in quite good timing! We reminded each other that we must use our communication skills and listen to one another for this to work.

Dada said this was to represent community working together. When people need things done, especially here in Mexico, they rely on the strength and cooperation of the community to accomplish the task. When people work together and communicate and listen, things happen. The game was to represent this.

Dada says you must ask yourselves “Can we do this?” And the answer is “Yes we can.” And then you are free.... as our group became free because we worked together.

Meditation is about looking for something inside of us. It is between you and your supreme consciousness. It is a service of love and is meant to expand the feelings of love.

He taught us different positions and body poses to help increase balance within our bodies and mind, he taught us about energy points and the art of breathing. He taught us about Kaoshikii, a dance that helps create peace and strength in our mind and body. He said this dance is supposed to be done every day for 21 minutes for full benefits. We practiced this dance and lasted a song length of 1 minute 31 seconds. We weren’t very good, but we tried.

Someone asked how we are suppose to slow down our minds in order to fully concentrate on mediation and the energy and love around us. Dada said by practicing deep breathing and focusing on slow, deep breaths it will eventually slow all things down, including the thought process. Although I’ve always been keen on the idea of meditation, in theory I have never been fully competent at it because I am not able to slow down my thoughts. I would often grow frustrated because of this and give up. But like all things in life, it takes time and with practice comes perfection.

Another thing we learned about breathing was how it can help with the way we react to things. If we are upset or angry and we want to react in such ways, if we first take a moment to slowly and deeply breathe, we will be able to react in a kinder more caring way. It allows our minds to breath and calm before reacting in an inappropriate way we may later regret.

With that we learned one of the greatest greetings I have ever encountered.

You put your hands together in front of your chest and bow saying, “Namaskar.”

-I salute you, the divinity within you. With the purity of my mind and the love of my heart-

Namaskar to you from Mexico.


Day 3- The cathedral and my health.


February 21, 2010

Woke up and headed to town. I’m becoming a fan of the public transit in Mexico. It may be bumpy and crowded but it makes me feel more a part of their culture by emerging myself in their world, even something as little as taking the town bus.

While the rest of the group paid a visit to Huitzilac our smaller Quest group, Cailia, Chrissy, Lynne, Melanie and I spent the morning exploring the Cathedral in Cuernavaca. We walked around this beautiful church filled with so much history taking photos, observing the crowds and talking amongst ourselves. Once we had finished we crossed the road and entered the Flower Gardens. To our surprise “Domingo es libre,” Sundays are free! Perfect J We explored this beautiful garden with rose gardens, sculptures, fountains, hidden corridors where if I had a lover, I would take there and spend every Sunday afternoon! It was a beautiful place with a little magic too it. We walked around and talked to some of the Mexicans selling their art work or jewellery. We tried to be adventurous and went for a little boat ride, it was an old fashion rowboat that fit three of us and was quite difficult to steer. Being true Canadians we had to grace everyone with our beautiful singing voices and put on a free concert consisting of “row, row, row your boat.” It was a shame we didn’t have CD’s to sell.

After the gardens Melanie and I headed to an internet cafe on a beautiful side street in Cuernavaca, close to the Cathedral. We saw a beautiful photography school, an old Mexican lady carrying and selling flowers larger than she was, little girls screaming and clinging to their fathers as large bugs with wings flew by, lovers holding hands and families joking and laughing. Perhaps we aren’t so different after all.

When we returned to the Abbey we met with the rest of the group to discover Caila’s wallet had been lost or stolen. Regardless, it was gone and she was rightfully upset. Caila has been living in Mexico since January and will stay until the end of April and so you can see how the loss of such important content as your wallet would be a large setback. As disappointed and frustrated as she was, we tried to be optimistic and look at the lesson learned. Sometimes when we grow comfortable we let down our guard and can unintentionally become careless. Although the wallet was never found everything was settled and worked out, luckily she had left her passport at home. We discussed this as a group and mentioned how leaving your identification, your cash and your bank card all in different stops, even if they are just different pockets, can be a very good idea.

This afternoon the group met with an environmental activist Beatriz Padilla. In the last year my interest in the environment has grown and I have become quite passionate about environmental issues and was very much looking forward to this presentation. Unfortunately for me, I was overcome by another one of my disabilities: my health. Since arriving I have been a little under the weather but able to keep up with the group, this afternoon I lost my voice almost completely and had all other signs of a serious cold. Because we are here for five weeks and I know I am in for the long-hall, I realized how important it is I get back up to par before Chiapas, where living conditions are much more strenuous. I spent a few hours resting in my bed while the others learned important information that I wish I could have been part of. I am beginning to learn how body, mind and soul all work together to make things happen and there must be a balance in order for us to carry on as schedule. Unfortunately my balance has been shaken and I must focus on getting it back in order to get better. I find it ironic how easily our health can be taken for granted until it is weak. Sometimes when I am ill I forget what it feels like to be well because I am not concentrated on my body but on everything else around me. I am hoping one good night sleep will help heal whatever chaos is going on inside of me and allow me to become more a part of the group. Because I have not been feeling well I have been a little distant from the group, not wanting them to catch my cold and not wanting to strain my voice any more than necessary. This disappoints me greatly, because for me this trip is very much about togetherness. It is about community, working together, supporting each other, learning and growing together. I hope that by sharing these thoughts and experiences with you the universe will grant me the privilege of my voice and my health and allow me to take part and enjoy all experiences to the fullest.

Cross your fingers and think healthy thoughts :)

I am disabled.

February 20, 2010

"Based on certain factors and circumstances, we are all at one point in time, at a disadvantage and this is our disability. It may not be mental and it may not be physical but it is present."

I have not written a poem in years but as I sat down to write the other day this is what came out.


I am disabled.

I look funny. I don’t understand.

People are staring at me.

I am disabled.

I am frustrated. I’m angry.

I don’t get it.

I am disabled.

I want to throw something. I’m going to cry.

I am afraid.

I am disabled.

I am a boy. I am a girl.

I am disabled.

I am young. I am old.

I am disabled.

I am black. I am white.

I am disabled.

I am an individual.

I am disabled.

I am strong. I am sensitive. I am smart.

I am disabled.

By Michelle Newlands

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 2. An Orphanage named Casa Hogar

February 20, 2010

Our first night under the Mexican stars..... and it was cold. Since arriving we’ve learned the weather here has been a little unusual for Mexico. It has been quite cold and very damp with more rain than ever expected for this time of year. Only a few weeks ago there were two days of constant rain causing flooding in Mexico City and the town of Michoacan. Cuernavaca was lucky to not have suffered from floods but the rain was definitely in the air.

My sleepwear for my first night in Mexico was long johns, rugby socks, t-shirt, sweatshirt with hood up and blankets x 2. Perhaps not what was expected for our first night under the Mexican stars, but we survived and I am still more than pleased to be here.

Lesson learned – expect the unexpected and be flexible and prepared for change!

Once I was up and about there were a few small things I had forgotten, things that in Canada we take for granted. Things like not flushing the toilet or using toilet paper... (unless it isn’t optional !!!) Things like tap water not being safe to drink, not even for brushing your teeth, bottled water only and cold showers with next to no pressure because hot water is a rich person luxury and only using one towel for body and hair!

Easy enough right? Well sort of, once you’ve remembered.... but with the whole congesting of tap water, you should be careful what happens if you forget! J

Our first meal of the day was of quesadilla con queso (Cheese quesadilla don’t ya know!)with freshly made carrot juice and buns. Myself and four other girls, Caila, Melanie, Lynne, and Chrissy, headed off to “an orphanage” called Casa Hogar. This is a place where children stay and is also where our friend Caila has been spending the last 5 weeks as a volunteer placement. The children were amazing. They were so inquisitive and intelligent, full of life and curiosity.

The rest of the group went to visit families in a squatter settlement called La Estacion. This is something we did last year, to read an article on our visit last year, scroll down through my blogs to “A squatter settlement called La Estacion.”

When we arrives it was interesting, the kids were open and rambunctious. They were pleased with our company and asked one hundred questions a minute even though we couldn’t answer almost any of them because they were speaking so fast and of course, in Spanish! We played with them on the whirl around, threw around a football, danced, took photos, practicing English, saw a massive nasty caterpillar and got to know each other the best way complete strangers from totally different worlds would do. It was amazing. To read an article on Casa Hogar please follow the link below or click here.

Today I focused a lot on my own personal disabilities. A lot of the experiences and circumstances we through as individuals and members of Quest can relate back to living with a disability ours being we are foreign. Our disabilities as foreigners are lack of ability to communicate with those around us because of a language barrier, our appearance, we look different than everyone else, we stand out and people stare, we are unsure of our surroundings, we are vulnerable, undereducated about our surroundings, new culture and lifestyle. We are at a disadvantage. This is our disability.

This comparison may seem odd to some but to us it is not.

At one point in every person’s life they are disabled. Based on certain factors and circumstances we are all at one point in time at a disadvantage and this is their disability. It may not be mental and it may not be physical but it is present.

To realize this makes us strong. It opens our eyes, makes us aware, teaches us compassion and helps us understand.


Day 1 – we travel!

February 19, 2010.

And we’re here!!!!! Five am had never come so quickly. After days of packing, weeks of preparation and months of anticipation the time had finally come. Myself and tree other girls would be flying to Mexico to spend 5 weeks as members of an education non-profit organization called Quest Internacional. During our stay we will be exploring the Mexican culture, learning about international development, human rights, social justice, poverty, education, health care, infrastructure and more.

Four of us girls met at the Toronto airport to board our 9 am flight to Mexico City where we would then check our luggage, go through security, board the plane, , watch the in-flight movie, try the breakfast, almost throw up from turbulence, get off the plane, pick up our luggage, pass through customs, find a bus, take the bus, unload the bus and take a taxi to the Abbey in the next town over where we would meet the remaining 22 members of our Quest group.

Not always fun and not always easy, but we made it through the first task of our journey with no bumps, bruises or tears! We sat on a coach bus watching “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” in Spanish of course while my body decided to have an allergic reaction to everything in Mexico causing me to cough, sneeze, weeze and what looked like constant crying for the hour and a half bus trip. This years journey from the airport to the Abbey was different. Last year everything was new and there were noises and colours and people and this year everything was the same but we remembered it and it was familiar and we weren’t afraid. We were thrilled.

Once arriving to the Abbey we met the rest of this year’s fabulous group consisting of students in developmental service work, social service work, child and youth work, photo journalism and the groups new facilitator Neil.

The sisters had prepared a light dinner of tortilla-like casserole, salad, bananas and of course SUGAR BUNS. After dinner the three other students travelled with and one who we met, all of whom participated in Quest's Mexico journey last year, met privately with Quest Founder and Loyalist professor Gary Warren to discuss our schedules. As students, professionals and as individuals we have important roles to fulfill. We must learn, we must listen, observe, digest, encourage and share. Every day is a journey, a journey in which we grow from the experiences and encounters of the world around us.

Every day I will be posting photos, news articles, short video clips and personal blogs of our journey in Mexico. I invite you as friends, family and strangers to read, ask questions, leave comments and be part of my Mexico Quest, 2010.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

FOCUS ON CHANGE STRATEGIES.

By Michelle Newlands
Written Wednesday, February 25.


I support fair trade. I stand against oppression.
Today it felt as if we travelled in time. We met with a group of indigenous women wearing their traditional dress and slippers in the town of Cuentepec. Their houses had dirt floors and no running water. The washroom was a toilet without a seat and a curtain for a door.
We gather around a table with these women as they taught us their craft that has supported their community for over hundreds of years, crafts made of clay. Clay pots, clay sculptures, clay candle holders, clay necklaces, you name it. We made ‘circle of friendship’ candle holders.
There was a German lady there who set up a fair trade organization where businesses can purchase these products at a reasonable price for the womens' labour. A lot of their products are also sold in the United States and Canada through 10,000 Villages. Fair trade was created to allow people living in poverty an opportunity for a better, deserving life. Their products are sold and the profit goes to cost of production and into the pockets of the rightful owners.
Whenever I have seen handmade items from other countries I consider where they are from, but have never been able to picture the conditions in which they were made. Today I not only saw it, but was able to be part of it.
Today I noticed a clay candle holder at the abbey sitting on the table and pointed it out. It’s meaning will be greater from this day on.
Gary reminded me of what Juan had said, making the invisible, visible.
Together our different generations from what felt like different universes smiled and laughed together as some of us Canadian students learned their craft, and others didn’t. We were surprised how difficult the work was and how beautiful the final product.
When we were finished together we had a table full of food for lunch. Some we had brought some they had supplied and of course there was Coca Cola. We thanked the women for the amazing day and got back on the bus.
After lunch we met with two members of an activist group called the People’s Movements. They taught us about the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas are a social movement that began in 1994 and is said to be one of the most important movements in Mexican history.
The indigenous people in the state of Chiapas started this movement because of the way the government was treating their people and their land. In association with NAFTA, the Mexican government re-wrote section 27 of the Mexican Constitution declaring the indigenous people the rights to their land. By changing the Constitution, through NAFTA, it allowed United States and Canadian to buy and sell freely with the country of Mexico, including all of its land.
The land began to sell and grew polluted, people were being converted and blindly starting fights with their own people. In defence, the Zapatistas were created.
The information we gained about this movement was strong. The Mexican government classifies the Zapatistas as terrorists. The Zapatistas are not terrorists. They are people being terrorized who’ve decided to no longer accept this treatment and stand up for their rights and initiate change. They are not violent nor do they want to replace the government currently in power.
The Zapatistas fight against oppression. They do not want power, they say power rots and corrupts the blood. Their goal is to be left in peace and live off the land in the ways in which they have lived for centuries. They say when the land is abused, we cannot survive. This is the problem they are currently facing because of what the government has been doing.
They say it is a strong commitment to be a part of the Zapatistas. They say it is not a job, but a service and this is why they rotate the services and responsibilities within the communities.
“They want a world in which many worlds fit.”
They do not support violence, although they have weapons for protection against the 56 military bases surrounding the 34 active municipalities. Because of this movement Chiapas is the highest militarized zone in the country.
This movement has gained international attention and international support. There are organizations, Universities and individuals in the United States and Canada that actively support this movement including the National Indigenous Congress. Later when our group was discussing this topic, we figured out any person or persons who fight against oppression, of any form, have the characteristics of the Zapatistas and should learn about the rapidly growing movement.
Because of the international media this movement received, it gave people the opportunity to learn about this movement, to know people are out there fighting for human rights. Many say if the people in Mexico living in oppressed societies and poverty were aware of this movement it would be growing even more rapidly and would gain many more supporters. Unfortunately, the government controls what goes on the television and radio and only 1.5% of Mexicans are able to read, which means they cannot learn from newspapers.
Because of the amount of international media coverage the Zapatistas received, people all over the world are being influenced by this movement and are able to act on it. Our speakers said if people don’t report on it, others will not believe it exists. This is the case for many human rights issues and movements.
As a member of the media, I found this not only inspirational but motivating. It is our responsibility to ‘make visible, the invisible.’ It is our job to inform people around the world, about their rights and their options. Each day I learn more about how important a role we, as the media, play in universal hope for positive change and how important you, as the readers are to spread the word. Spread awareness and create social change.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Focus on Central America and Urban Poverty

By Michelle Newlands

Written Tuesday, February 24.
This morning during our walk we found two building parallel one another located on a large piece of property with a soccer field. It appeared to be a school. Each building had two floors with numerous classrooms. The electricity and water were not working but were installed, but still the building remained empty. We talked about how awesome it would be to turn it into a classroom for international exchanges with Loyalist students where we could come and learn.

On the walk home I saw the biggest dog ever that looked like a Mexican version of Beethoven.
Later at breakfast Sister Alajandra told us how it was meant to be a school but for whatever reason, the municipal government forbid it.

For the rest of the day I struggled; mentally, physically and emotionally. In many ways you could say I lost it.

To begin with, for the first time since I arrived I could feel my body catching up with me. I was tired, weak and a little under the weather. For the first time in my life I relied on coffee to keep me awake. Not because I wasn’t interested in what was going on, but because my body was giving out.

We went to visit a family who immigrated to Mexico from El Salvador 27 years ago and met with a life-long activist in Liberal theology who later introduced us to her friend Estela, who lives in a co-op settlement with her four children.

Gloria, the mother of the El Salvador family, and Estela are two of the strongest, most influential people I have ever met. Their stories and strength empowered me and changed my life.

I will start with Gloria. Gloria grew up in El Salvador. In 1977, when she was 14 years old, communism entered the country. This is what she calls the beginning.

Gloria and others like her, wanted to help people people. They wanted to break out of the old tradition; play music in the church and focus on conflicts and solutions. There were many conservative catholic’s who disagreed with this, causing a separation between the people. The government was communist and was not in favour of the people and so a movement began in hope of change. The movement was not interested in war or conflict. They were interested in equality, change and human rights. They thought they could reach their goals without arms.

In 1978 and 1979, the military sent 100 soldiers into the villages where they knew the movement was active and they would look for the leaders.

In 1979, two members of the movement living in Gloria’s village disappeared and were never seen again.

It got to the point where people from Gloria’s village were being murdered and they were forced to hide in the mountains and get weapons. The Arch Bishop told the people, “Stop the repression against your own people, these are your brothers and sisters you are killing.”

“In the name of God, stop.”

The next day, he was killed. Gloria said this is when they realized they meant nothing to the government. If they could kill the Arch Bishop, they would have no problem killing them as well.

In 1980 the government planned an ambush on Gloria’s village. Gloria told us the story of one of the children who had survived. The child remembers telling her mother she was afraid because they could hear gun shots. Her mother told her to go hide under the bed.

“I don’t want to go alone,” she said.

Her mother did not answer her after that. She recalls seeing the inside of her mother’s stomach on the outside. Forty six people were killed that day. Three were men, one was Gloria’s father. The rest were women and children.

Throughout this war, Gloria was captured by military and held captive for days with no food or water her two small children with her. She lost her father, brother and two sisters to this war.

“The majority of our generation was killed,” Gloria said. “[But] it was not our time to die.”

Gloria escaped to Mexico in the early 1980s and says the only reason she survived was because she left the country.

Gloria said people think she left El Salvador because people were dying of hunger, she tells them no, the government was killing us.

Gloria and her family came to Mexico with nothing and were very poor, but humble and happy she said. Her and her husband are now quite successful and own their own business making T-shirts. Over the years they have built themselves a beautiful house with a lovely garden and have four children who all attend school and who they are very proud of. Gloria said there is always emptiness inside of her left behind from her past.

People are still being exposed to the same terrors as Gloria around the world.

Next we met Elaine. Elaine is a single mother of four living in a ravine settlement. She grew up in the state of Chaipas, the poorest state in Mexico. It had no schools, no jobs, no running water and no electricity. She was married there and had four children.

Her husband abused her and told her she was nothing, told her she was worthless and threatened her life with a gun to her head. Things are different in Mexico compared to Canada. Women have very little rights, leaving your husband is something women don’t do. It is not accepted by society and looked upon as sin.

Elaine is one of the few women who stood for her rights as a female and as an individual. With nothing but the clothes on her back she left the state of Chiapas and her husband behind in hopes of a new life.

She said when she arrived to the city of Cuernavaca she had no idea what she would do and stayed with her Aunt. She said for days she would cry and cry. Sometimes, she said she felt as if she were drowning in depression. Her father threatened to take her back to Chiapas, said it was unacceptable for her to leave her husband but Elaine stayed strong and refused. Eventually her father accepted he would not be able to change his daughters mind. He helped her purchase material to build the one room home which she and her four children now live in.

The things that struck me about Elaine were her purity, her optimism, smile and passion to live. She lived through terrifying circumstances and held no hatred towards the world or the people in it who made her life hell. She said she had no negative thoughts against her husband and wished him well. She said she thanked him. Without the cruelty in which he treated her, she would never have gained the strength to leave and would never have been able to offer her children an opportunity to a better life.

Agustina said Elaine is the kindest, most selfless person she has ever met. If all she has to eat is a small plate of rice and tortilla after she has fed her children she will share what little she has with her neighbours.

Agustina brings many different groups from all over the worlds to meet with Elaine and hear her incredible story. She said many of the students have written and told how her story changed them. Elaine blushes and says she knows nothing.

A member of Quest said to Elaine, “This isn’t true. By sharing your story you have taught us so much about life that we can’t be taught in school. You are worth so much and we thank you.”

I left her house in tears, as did many members of our group. I felt selfish and embarrassed coming from a country where we are given so much but are still not happy. Elaine was never given anything. The little she has, her one room house with two beds and a curtain dividing where they eats from where they go to the bathroom, is a product of her sweat and her tears. Her story made me want to be a better person. I was blessed with many opportunities in life as are most Canadians. Who is to say we deserve them any more than Gloria, who was forced to flee her country in terror, or the children whose lives were taken before they began, or Elaine who has never known anything but extreme poverty.

Hearing these stories, there were times my body would tremble as I cried and I wanted to leave the room except I couldn’t find the strength to move.

At dinner in the Abbey the group reflected on our day and shared what we had learnt and how it had touched us. I tried to explain how I had felt and how I had lost it.

Gary told me I hadn’t lost anything.

He told me I had found it.