Sunday, March 28, 2010

Knowledge is power - Oblivion is bliss

Canadian soil has presented us with yet another challenge, describing our Quest.

People ask, ‘how was your trip?’ and it is a difficult question to answer. Was it a trip, yes in ways it was, was it a vacation, only from our normal 9-5’s and everyday lives. Yes there was sun and fun and good food but it was so much more than that. Every day was a challenge filled with tasks, learning experiences, growth and development. Things that for some is hard to believe.
When people ask, ‘what was your favourite part?’ I don’t know how to answer. Five weeks can be a long time, especially when every day is filled with adventure, excitement and new knowledge.

Reflecting on all the things we did and all the wonderful people we met, we could take hours discussing our experiences and what they meant to us and how they’ve affected our lives but truth is people don’t really want to listen. Perhaps because they don’t understand, maybe because they can’t relate and others just don’t care.

The last five weeks have impacted our lives greatly, and for some people, this is a difficult thing to understand. Or perhaps they don’t want to. This, we must respect.

There is not a day that will go by where my life won’t be affected by the things I’ve learned from this experience, but I’ve also learned that I cannot force people to believe in the things I believe in. I cannot force them to listen to me and I can’t beg them to support the things I support and care about the things I care about just because they are important to me.

As grateful as I am for everything I have learned I have come to realize the truth about our world is too much for some people and they would prefer to be oblivious. We all must decide, as individuals, where we want to stand, ‘knowledge is power and oblivion is bliss.’

I will share what I’ve learned and my experiences with those who will listen and I will do all I can to make information available to those who want to learn more.

I look forward to meeting more of the similar kinds of people I’ve been privileged to meet in Mexico. People who care less about fashion, mainstream television and what people are saying is ‘cool’ and more about what matters to me like human rights, social justice, the environment, education and access to clean water.

I’ve learned these things aren’t for everyone and by pressuring people to listen I am only pushing them further away. But I’ve also learned there are many people out there who do care and are willing to listen and work together.
I believe these are the individuals who will make a difference in the world. I believe everyone has the ability to care and the desire to help those in need.

One mind at a time I believe we can shift the focus.

I believe in positive change.

Blind Side.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On the plane ride to Canada the in-flight movie was Blind Side, directed by John Lee Hancock and based on the true story of NFL player Sean Tuohy. The film is about a young, disadvantaged black man growing up on the tough side of town who is given a second chance. He is taken in by a well to-do family, given a place to stay, a proper education and an opportunity to try his luck at football.

Many could say this film had little to do with our trip and in some ways I agree. But there was something about this film that seemed to tie everything together for me.

The similarities I saw between this Hollywood hit and what we’ve been experiencing and learning for the last five weeks was the power of people. This movie wasn’t only about football and what we were learning wasn’t only about poverty. Both were stories, stories about real people. They were stories of their struggles, their innocence and their silent hope for something more. These stories were about faith and having heart and keeping hope and not giving up. This story was about a person and a family reaching out to change a strangers life, not because they had to and not just because they wanted to but because it was the right thing to do.

People are born into unfortunate circumstances every day. Just because they don’t look like they’re going to be something special doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the chance to prove the universe wrong. Some of the best things come with rough edges and some of the most wonderful people come in unique shapes and sizes.

To me this movie was about thinking outside the box and not taking things for face value. It’s about going against the grain and is meant to remind people to lend a hand and help those who need it. Not because they have to or because they may get something in return, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Sometimes doing things for others may do more for you than it does the person you’re helping.

Try for courage, aim for honour.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Our last night in Mexico, looking at all the little lights and seeing the big picture

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Never in my life can I recall five weeks going by so quickly. It seems only yesterday the four of us girls met at 5:00am at the doors to the Toronto Pierson Airport to begin our journey. Within this short period of time we have grown as individuals, as a team and have learned so much about ourselves, each other and the world around us.

Sitting here on our last night, it’s interesting to look back and try to pick a favourite day, as each and every moment has been inspirational, irreplaceable and unforgettable. Staying with the nuns in Cuernavaca, meeting with street vendors, climbing mountains, meeting with independent community members, being invited to indigenous church ceremonies and special lunches, exploring the Centre of Human Rights, meeting with Canadian journalists, environmental activists, sociologists, liberation theologists, street children, videographers, English teachers, non-profit organizations and monkeys in the jungle.

I don’t know what I will talk about with my friends and family first; communicating with people in a language I can barely speak, listening to stories of harassment and abuse from men and the government, riding in the back of pick-up trucks, catching city buses, flagging down taxi’s, being dropped off at the wrong place, nice dinners, bad dinners, strong people, funny people, lonely people, swimming in a waterfall, hiking through ancient ruins, climbing massive pyramids, sea doing in the ocean, horseback riding on the beach and laughing up and down the streets of Mexico.

Each day was an adventure and each person I met has given me something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As I look out the window of our apartment in Zihuatanejo at all the city lights, for what will be the last time, I think of how every light represents a household and a family, perhaps with more than 5 people for every light.

Looking at them scattered across the landscape they look like a collage of dimly lit candles, some strong, others fading and barely noticeable. I can’t help but wonder what it would look like if all those little lights were grouped together. If all of the people within them worked as one, how brightly that light would shine.

If every light represents at least one person and if we put all those lights and all those people together how strong they would all become and how brightly that light would shine. The cluster would become a ball and if it kept rolling it would grow and perhaps the world would be a better place.
Not only here in Mexico, but for people who live in all those little lights all around the world.

A girl named Lety

Friday, March 19th, 2010

About six years ago the Quest group met with a young Mexican woman named Lety. She could not read, write or speak English but was still said to be wise beyond her years. One of the staff members at Loyalist College was taken away with this girl’s talent and potential and offered to sponsor her to go to school.

When Gary spoke to Lety about this opportunity and asked her, “Where do you want to go to school?” He thought she would have picked somewhere nearby, Cuernavaca, Mexico City, but no Lety replied, “I want to go to Loyalist College, I want to come to Canada!”

To Gary’s surprise he relayed the message to the sponsor and without hesitation she agreed and soon after Lety was on a plane to Canada. Today we met with Lety’s father, walking up and down the beaches hands filled with homemade basked and bags of material to make jewellery. We sat and spoke with him for a while.

Thinking of his daughter I can only imagine the shock of this young woman as she flew into Pierson Airport, took the 401 to Belleville and pulled into the driveway of the house she would call home for the next six months. For us Northerners coming to Mexico is a shock, seeing the conditions people live in and the way of life down here is eye opening. Not because we didn’t know it was happening but more because we’d never seen it with our own eyes. For Lety, this young Mexican woman who could not read, write or speak English, she was actually learning about things for the very first time and seeing them for herself; a washing machine, a dishwasher, a flushing toilet, running water, a shower, a bath, linens for your bed, water fountains at the school. It was all so unknown to her, so foreign.

Gary told us a story about Lety and how one day she was walking down the hall and saw a water fountain.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“That’s a water fountain,” Gary explained. “You turn this and water comes out for you to drink.”

“Who do I pay?” Lety asked.

“Nobody, it’s free,” Gary said.

“Your president must be very wealthy and very kind to let you have drinking water for free,” Lety said.

Another story was when Lety was going to take her first shower. She was shown how to turn it on and when she did she started screaming.

“All the water is going to go into your kitchen! It’s all going through that hole in the floor to the kitchen!”

Lety had never seen indoor plumbing, or plumbing and running water of any kind. She didn’t understand how one household could have their own well and how the water wasn’t going to end up on the floor in the room below. These were things Lety was shown and taught.

Goes to show you some of the things we take for granted.

Here in Zihuatanejo

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

After an interesting four weeks our group has arrived in the city of Zihuatanejo. There’s a unique contrast here compared to the places we’ve stayed so far, Cuernavaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, The Lacondon Jungle and Palenque.

The apartment we’re renting is close to the Ocean and the majority of the people we see on our 5 minute walk down to the beach are white and speak English! The majority of others are upper class Mexicans on vacation or lower class Mexicans working the beaches selling jewellery and homemade baskets. All of the houses on our street are large and beautiful, fenced in with gates, barbed wire and barred windows.

The women who owns the place we are staying in, Joa, says we must be careful to always lock the doors and not leave anything of value in open view of the windows when we leave. As the majority of locals know this area is mainly for tourists it is a great target for thieves. Those who are not aware of their surroundings let their guard down.

Walking along the beach with my feet in the sand I sometime forget exactly where we are. Our last four weeks in Mexico have been spent in rather rough conditions, visiting families sharing a one bedroom house between seven people, have no toilets or running water, living in squatter settlements or in fear of harassment and abuse by the government. Looking around the only houses in view are big and beautiful with balconies and patios, gardens and pools and some even have two car garages. The others belong to hotel chains.

It is difficult to imagine we are even in the same country as the places we’ve been visiting until you head away from the beach and further into the city. Passing through the streets to pick up groceries and explore, the colour of people’s skin turns darker and the size of the houses get smaller with less detail and expensive design. The streets are more cluttered with garbage and Spanish again becomes the dominant language surrounding us.

It’s also interesting to see the shift within myself and other members of the group. At one time on this trip the sound of English and the colour of white was a comfort and something we would try to seek out. Now the sound of English and sight of white skin represents tourists. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something we aren’t necessarily accustoming to with the way we’ve been traveling and the places we’ve been going. We appreciate that type of travel more and definitely prefer it.

Again we travel

March 16th, 2010

Woke up early to enjoy one last breakfast in the jungle with our new Mexican friends from the state of Tabasco. The six of us sat together and talked like old friends until it was time to start packing. We exchanged email addresses and hopefully one day we will meet again. Then it was time to go.

At 9:00am we pulled our things once again over the limestone paths, packed the van and hit the road. It was another hot day and we were all thankful we would get a stop at Aqua Azul , a beautiful swimming spot with crystal blue waters, waterfalls and small rapids and currents, on our way to Palenque.

On the way we passed through three different check points. We were asked to step out of the van at two of them. Our driver spoke with one of the military men telling him where we were from and where we were headed, us three girls lined up alongside the road and Gary spoke with a different military man while yet another went through our things in the van. The man handled our things very gently and they assured us this was protocol to reduce trafficking of illegal drugs, alcohol, firearms, wild life and immigrants.

About 10-15 minutes later we were able to get back in our cars and drive away. We all noticed the manner in which they handled us and our belongings and compared it to the way they treated Mexicans or other dark skinned people. Often they will rampage through their belongings, ripping and tearing things apart. They will tell them to get out of the cars and sometimes force them to lay face down on the ground until they are finished. It is shameful and upsetting to think that the colour of your skin can dictate the amount of respect in which people of authority treat you with.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Today we took a trip through time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I found myself sitting in a small motorized canoe-like boat heading to the ancient ruins of Yaxchilan in Chiapas, Mexico. Wind blowing in my hair we passed families fishing and cleaning their clothes in the rivers tide. I felt as though from where I was sitting I was in the middle of past, present and future.

With Mexico’s border to my left and Guatemala’s to my right, I thought about the lives that were lost right here in this river as refugee’s tried to swim or struggle from one border to the other in hopes of something more. One side of this river was the past representing struggle and shadow, the other the future representing light, hope and accomplishment.

Sitting between these two worlds separated by a body of water and guarded by soldiers with guns, I was sitting in a dugout fiberglass canoe in the present, looking at the imaginary line that determined the fates of so many people.
It’s difficult for me to believe that circumstances can be so different for families living on either sides of this river, the distance so close but their worlds so far apart. People risking their lives to get from one side to the other without knowing what the outcome might be. I felt blessed to be born in such a great country as Canada, where I am free to come and go as I please. I do not wake up in fear and am not at risk of being harmed by those who are supposed to protect me.

I looked again from one side of this river to the other; the people on both sides and me in the middle -- past, present and future -- we all really do live completely different lives.
* * * * *
Our boat ride came to an end and we jumped on shore and headed up the massive set of stairs to the mouth of the jungle where we would begin our hike through the ruins. To avoid the clutter of tourists we decided to do the hike backwards as it was one giant loop and we would still end up leaving from where we began.

As we headed through luscious greenery under the beaming hot sun we explored what would have been the city of ancient Mayans as far back as 600 A.D. Remains of their beautiful city that had been hidden for thousands of years underground were right in front of our eyes. we could see them and touch them and could only imagine the lives of the people who would have lived inside these ancient homes.

In relevance to other ruins in Palenque these were rather small but are said to still be some of the most fascinating. We saw old temples and places of worship with faded art carved into the walls and ceiling telling stories and writing history. We walked up the steps leading to the homes of royalty and walked through the jungle paths covering what were once streets of the city. We sat on a path and listened to the sounds of the surrounding animals, woodpeckers, squirrels, birds, and there it is: the howling monkeys! This sound was incredible!! Intimidating and strong we could hear them marking their territory to their unknown visitors, us.

As more tourists approached the sounds slowly died and we continued on our way. We ended our hike at what was meant to be the beginning or the entrance to the city where we used the flashing lights of our cameras to guide our way through to dead ends and pitch black passageways. With the flicker of our lights we could see bats, tons of bats hanging from the ceilings and bunched up in groups. We saw spiders the size of our hands and couldn’t help but let out a few girly shrieks here and there. We felt as though we were back in time, wandering through the corridors the ancient Mayan people had made to distort and confuse unwanted guests trying to enter their city. We sat and admired the architecture and brilliant detail that went into every inch of these ancient structures.

Again, yet another brilliant day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Only in a Mexican Jungle ! _____________________

Friday, March 12, 2010

Long hikes and beautiful falls. Natural clay and minnows. Ancient ruins and new guests. Only in a Mexican Jungle.

When we arrived in the jungle I felt like I reconnected with nature, something that seems to be lost and forgotten living in North America. One of the first things I did when I arrived was removed all of my jewelery and put my watch away. During my stay here I was not going to keep track of time. The sun will tell me when to wake and my body will remind me when it’s time to sleep.

We woke with the roosters living close by and headed for breakfast. Soon after our friendly driver Olisio met us and introduced us to Victor, the young indigenous boy who would be taking us on our day hike through the jungle. We began the hike walking though a beautiful archway of wines with red flowers. We walked up hills, across rivers, over rocks with Victor explaining the names and purposes of certain plants along the way. We saw three different ruins that were built well over 2,000 years ago. Victor said they would have been homes to about 3 or 4 ancient families. Based on the location and construction, they appeared to have belonged to wealthy families within their time.

After the hike we came to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. Flowing crystal water with small queries surrounded by beautiful greenery with butterflies... and other little bugs... flying around. Victor bent down and grabbed a handful of natural clay and told us we could use it as a natural exfoliant. Next thing we knew we were all laughing and covered in mud, and he was right, smooth as a babies bum!

Victor, Lynne and I climbed up the waterfall and crawled through a cave until we reached the top. From there we could look down on the others swimming and resting in the sun, we took a few moments and just sat there taking it all in. This must be how it feels to be at the top of the world. To our left we noticed a small house with a man swinging in a hammock between two trees, the way one might have lived hundreds of years ago. Dressed in his traditional flowing, loose robes and living under what we might use as a boat shelter in the winter and living off the land, the little he had impressed me more than any mansion with a three door garage.

We returned home after a full day of hiking, swimming and exploring and took some time before dinner to rest. I napped in the hammock, Chrissy did some reading and writing and Lynne drew a picture of me swinging. Life here seems simple and peaceful, it’s something I believe everyone should experience in their lifetime.

I still can not believe I'm here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Into the Jungle

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This morning we said goodbye to San Cristobal and headed to our next destination; The Lacandon Jungle.

The road twisted and turned and went through beautiful valleys and hills. We passed through military zones beside Zapatista territory and stopped at a small restaurant and played with a child. Indigenous Mexican’s stood at the side of the road selling bananas, coconuts, traditional robes and more. We passed coffee cooperatives, people carrying stacks of wood on their backs up the road and spotted beautiful crystal clear rivers below.

The ride lasted seven hours and was a journey all of its own.

As we drove I thought back on our last days in San Cristobal. I thought about all the fantastic people we were blessed to meet, Paul and Diane Poirier from Arthur Frederick Community Builders, Nadia from Natate and The Tree House language school, the communications director and freelance videographer Sarah, Canadian journalist Dominique Jarry-Shore, Minerva the teacher of Medical Spanish or Diego from Frayba - Center of Human Rights, The American Priest Father Miquel, the dreamer from the steps Steve, Laurence the owner of our hotel or the nice man who was always smiling who served us breakfast.

All of these amazing people were brought together to share their life experiences and knowledge. All I could think about was how lucky we were to have met them and learn from them and how lucky the students of the new International Support Worker program will be to be able to meet these people or people like them next year on their Quest to Mexico.

Learning like this can become contagious.


Around 5:30 pm we arrived at our new home deep within the jungle. Our cabins were led by a limestone path and sat beside a river. Our house was made out of wooden planks strapped together, topped with a tin roof, two bunk beds with mosquito nets, no door and a wooden patio with a hammock. Shot gun!

The four of us sat and swung and talked about life and all its glory and misery as the sun slowly set and the day came to an end. Laying in bed we slowly fell asleep to the sound of flowing water and singing crickets.

I could get use to a place like this.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Canadian mining companies responsible for exploitation

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

“To be a defender of rights in Mexico is a great risk,” Center for Human Rights in San Cristobal de las Casas.

Loyalist students spent the morning visiting at Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas - Frayba, or the Center for Human Rights. This is a non-profit Civil Organization, independent of any government or political ideology or religious creed.

When we entered the school we were introduced to numerous of the staff and explained the different departments of the organizations and who covered which regions of Chiapas such as the highlands, the jungle Mayan rights, Guatemala boarder, etc. We discussed with one employee her responsibilities of immediate attention. When people come to the center looking for help her job is to sit with them, listen to their story and decide what’s the next step, whether it be directed to a certain department within the facilities or external support. The employee said a large example for this is violence against women and helping them find a shelter or alternative support system or victims of torture from within their community or by government or official figures of public authority.

Another huge topic we talked about was mining exploitation. We spent quick a lot of time discussing current mining issues taking place in Chiapas and the effects it is having on the communities and on the environment. There are over 90 mines in exploration and 60 in exploitation.

An even bigger shock and something I will never forget, is a CANADIAN mining company is responsible of such exploitation.

Blackfire Mining is a Canadian company based in Calgary and is responsible for environmental exploitation and are in a current battle over the assassination of an anti-mining activist named Mariano Abarca. To read more about this current, controversial and eye opening story please read Chiapas based journalist Dominique Jarry-Shore’s article at http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3166

Many a days I find myself bragging over the fact that I am Canadian and not American, I find this even more true when I am travelling. To hear that a Canadian company is responsible of such corruption, violence and violations of human rights made my stomach turn, my jaw drop and my heart sink. I could not believe it, I was overwhelmed in disappointment. I was disappointed in my country, in my government and in myself. I had become ignorant to such important matters that I strong stand against and could not see the truth hiding behind the red maple leaf of our flag.

Not understanding Canadian companies, companies we unknowingly support, are responsible for such evil and corruption almost makes us as guilty as the people sitting in the chairs behind the desks making the decisions. As Canadian citizens it should be our duty to hold these corporations responsible for their actions and demand all work is ETHICAL ! We should not support companies who exploit land, pollute water, don’t support fair wages and devalue and hurt others.

If you are interested in learning more about on the subject and WHAT YOU CAN DO read this article on the new proposal coming to Toronto, Ontario this summer at http://www.dominionpaper.ca/g20

The companies who are exploiting the land are from our countries and so we are already involved, let’s work together to make these efforts in the right direction.

The Center of Human Rights was something phenomenal, I learned so much and support what they are doing. They say some times finding people who understand we must fight together is hard. But they are right. We must fight together. It starts with every individual.

Yep, this means you!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"This type of treatment is common

... in communities who want the right to freedom."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mexico is known as a country that has always been in a constant state of conflict. Conflict between the people, the state, the police, the military, the corporations, the foreigners and the indigenous people. The story is no different in the specific case of 30 indigenous families living in a small independent community in the southern state of Chiapas.

One thing people must understand is that Mexican’s are not only in conflict with people of other communities or religions but also that of their own people. When people within these communities or religions want to change something about the sequence of tradition within their communities or personal lives other members can grow angry.

An example of this is took place in the small community that Loyalist College students went to visit outside of San Cristobal de las Casas.

In 1992 an indigenous community was faced with conflict from their communal authority. The people wanted to drink and listen to music and make their own decisions. Leaders of the church disagreed with this and threatened to send the people to jail if this continued.

Between 1992 and 1993 houses were burned and members of this small movement were forced outside of the community in fear of abuse.

In 1994 the people of community contacted the municipal president and said, “We are defending ourselves, this is where we live, where our families are, our houses, our animals.”

For the next four years they lived in relative tranquility with no war fare or extensive violence or abuse.

In 1998 this community decided they wanted to construct a church in order to have somewhere to go to be closer to God. They saved up enough money and in 1999 they began to build.

On May 26, 1999 members of the community were working on the church when 45 armed men, including political figured, showed up in dump trucks and surrounded them.

“Who gave you permission to build?” They demanded.

“We gave ourselves permission,” they said. “This is where we live and this is what we want.”

The armed men began beating the people of the community - men, women and children.

The community got together shortly after the attack and decided they wanted to keep working. This was their land and this is what they wanted.

Rumours started spreading that more than 300 men were going to come to the village and at 6 am on May 29, 1999 men in masks showed up with arms surrounding everyone.

Families were hiding in their houses and the men destroyed the church and took all the materials. They took an elder of the community, grabbed him by the arms and legs and started swinging back and forth him and threw him. They hit the preacher with a weapon and he lost his eye. They beat everyone.

The armed men left and within days the leader of this now independent community under attack, was being charged with use of weapons and pistols and pepper spray.

“This is not true!” the man said. “My only weapon is the bible, my only weapon is the truth!”

He was sentenced to three years of probation.

The men told Loyalist students how this type of treatment is common in communities who want the right to freedom. They are being exposed and beaten.

For trying to be free the government would not let the children enter the school and in 2000 their electricity and water was shot off. These resources were being used as weapons against the community. They were forced to walk 2 km to a watering hole to get water and had to carry it the 2 km back. This water was not sanitary and once they brought it to the village it had to be boiled in order to drink. To this day this is their only source of water.

On January 26, 2003 two men of the neighbouring rival community disappeared and were never seen again. This community had so many enemies it could have been any community responsible for the disappearance, but these people blamed this particular independent community.

Wither or not these individuals ever truly went missing or if this was used as a reason for sabotage will never be known. The people of this independent community say in their cultures families of the dead mourn for 32 hours after their death. The families of these disappeared men never mourned, the very next day they entered the independent community and started shooting.

They killed the 18 year old brother of the leader of this community as well as shot his mother and other members of the community. When they released gun fire it was dark and in the process of violent warfare two policemen were killed.

Authorities grabbed seven members of the community, including a 14 year old boy, and blamed them with the death of these police men, even though no members of the community owned a weapon of any kind. Their only weapons were their bibles and the truth.

The leader of the community and his wife left their village for 3 years in hopes of limiting the violence and conflict within their independent community. They asked for help of members of the church and began demonstrations. The news became national and then international.

One of the prisoners went on a 34 day hunger strike living off water and honey and on the third demonstration over 16,000 indigenous Mexicans and supporters demonstrated in the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas. Their message was heard and after five years of injustice these seven people, wrongfully accused, were released.

Eighteen years after the conflicts began, this community remains independent and non-violent. They live together and protect their own. In ways they are similar to the internationally recognized Zapatista movement in the way they needed to stand up and march. They are all fighting for the same things, their freedoms and their rights.

Without this human rights movement the communities surrounding San Cristobal de las Casas would not exist. The majority of mountain communities exist because they were forced out of their communities and needed to start again. None of these people are asking for anything but to be left in peace and free to live as they want, to have the same rights as we do as Canadians.

Today the community remains poor and without running water. They still make the 2 km trip to and from the watering hole numerous times a day and have a collection of rain water for drinking.

They live this way not because they want to but because they have to. To protect their heritage and identity and to eliminate conflict they must be separate from those other communities. To raise free minded children and teach them about who they are and what the earth can give them and what they can give the earth and to give their children power to stand up for their rights and their freedom.

The community is a unit. They work together and make decisions together on what their community needs as a whole. No decisions are made without the contributions and opinions of all members.

This independent community has received Canadian support from different non-profit organizations with whom they have relationships with built on trust, to create better schools and will hopefully one day be able to have a water filtration system for clean drinking water. The community says they would be honoured and grateful for any help others are willing to give.

“If your hearts are ready to help us, our hearts are ready to receive.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

- Binding Together -

Sunday, March 7, 2010

- It is difficult to understand religious conflict when you don't understand religion -

In a time and place I could never have imagined, surrounded by people I’ll forget I made sense of a thing called faith.

In the village of Corazon de Maria five Canadians, an American priest and a French translator joined the community for a service. We entered the small but stunning church, decorated in flowers, candles and pine needles and were invited to sit at the front of the service. We introduced ourselves to the community and thanked them for welcoming us and inviting us to share this day with them.

“I am here,” as they would say in their native tongue.

The service was beautiful and full of music and laughter and stories of liberating figures in time. They spoke of forgiveness, community and following a path of goodness. They read from their bible and did communion. At the end of the service they asked us to share how our hearts felt.

Gary Warren, founder of Quest Internacional, said that sometimes people from the north are outsiders trying to come in. Today we were all together as a community, on the inside, together.

I thanked them for sharing a piece of their faith and tradition with us. I told them how much we appreciated it and how we would keep this faith and their faces in our thoughts and our hearts as we continue our journey and will bring it home.

We were honoured with an invitation to a meal after the service. We were privileged to sit at the same table as the priest and organizing members of the church. We shared a delicious meal of chicken in broth with rice and tortilla’s. We sat as friends and discussed our different countries and communities that seemed worlds apart.

“Do you have poor people like we do here,” the Decan asked.

Perhaps we do, I thought. But our wealth is mainly materialistic and we aren’t rich like you are. You are rich in culture, tradition and faith, something I envy.

After the lunch we spent time with the community, played with the children, spoke with the women, took pictures and laughed. It was probably the best experience I’ve had so far on this year’s Quest.

We then sat with the priest and discussed many things including the base of religion, religious conflicts, liberation theology, women’s rights and roles within the religious community. We talked for over three hours and made sense of things I’ve only ever wondered.

The topics were broad, the conversation was deep and the meanings were real. Each individual in the room had an experience and something to share. We spoke of words like religion, faith, conformity, expression, guilt, judgement, liberation, dictation, experience, togetherness and relationships.

I could share with you what I discovered and what it meant to me or I can share with you some of the things that were said and you can discover it for yourself. -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

· “I felt it and I need to know what it meant.”

· Liberation – See with your eye and listen with your ears –read newspapers, talk with people

Think – process, debrief, reflect and analyze

Act –do it critically

· “Get the deposit --- fill the bank” --- your mind is empty and I will fill it as I choose; teacher to students, write this down, remember this, this is right, this is wrong.

· Don’t question authority ... question everything!

· “It is not supposed be sensational. It is suppose to be real, ordinary, it’s what people do.”

· -- To patronize –

· Missionaries, the idea of ‘let me save you’

· “A church should look like its face, like the face of those inside it” --- the priest says he must look like them, not them look like me, because one day I will leave and they will remain

· -- We learn together –

· “To accompany an idea.” --- to go with it

· To let them do it themselves

· “Absolutely scandalous”

· -- killing your neighbour –

· How do you know what you desire? Is it based on a model of what you want?

· “Desire leads to imitation”

· “Similarity leads to competition and rivalry”

· “Conflict comes from a desire to differentiate”

· “I spent a summer learning to kill people in the army and decided to go to the seminary”

· -- Community, argument, appeal –

· You have to feel it

· It is ignorant to history and insensitive to culture

· Indigenous theology /movement

· “Romancey of religion”

· Reconstruct cultural heritage

· -- Bringing people together without fear of prejudice or intimidation –

· “We know this from the part, but what about the future”

· “Dialogue is a key word”

· -- You don’t need to conform –

· -- CAN’T I BE IF I WANT TO BE? –

· “If the focus is right”

· Companion Soul – divine presence, someone accompanies you.

· -- Question oriented – answers will come later, if at all –

· Couching vs. Refereeing

· --Religion Vs. Faith, System and Structure vs. Relationships, Form vs. Content, Faith vs. Reason

· “Religion can bring out the worst in people”

· -- I want to save the world from obnoxious Christianity –

· Acceptance vs. Judgement

· “Express yourself to the universe”

· Zen – silence, stillness – clarity

· Healthy religion = search mode

· Quest, Questing and Questions

· Syncretism – one form mixing with others

· Religion = to bind together

· --they are wise – hold the mystery of contradiction –

· PARADOX

· The tension of exploration: Finding that which is true and devine

· “We are in a constant state of BECOMING”

· -A search for identity –

· “Humility = to be human, to be close to the earth, to be grounded, we come from the earth as dust and will leave as dust”

· Be a part of the whole, not apart from the whole

· “The ears pay attention to the worlds”

· “You can only spit into the wind for so long”

· Zapatistas 1994 –low intensity warfare

· --Vibration of energy –

· “human interaction in the purest form”

· Difference is acceptable... similarity is threatening

· -- Diversity is Biology as it is culture –

· Resemblance and similarity is threatening

· “Ethnographic”

· --I am Here –

· “The best way to help is to understand and to understand we must learn through experiences and dialogue with others”

· Politics of gain and pain are complex

A visit with the indigenous people of Monte Sion

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Today I was part of a world I had never seen and because of it mine will never be the same.

Exiled from their village for conversion of religion and forced to start a village from scratch the people of Monte Sion have gone a long way.

Where do I begin - beside an army base and a brothel, a community of no more than 300 indigenous Mexican’s live their lives the only way they know how. They’ve built homes from wood with tin roofs that leak, cook over open fires in their kitchen, eat two meals a day of beans and tortilla, can’t read or write, share a one room house with their families of over seven with chickens roaming free, have no running water, but still seem to smile and their children still sing.

We entered the property of one family and spoke with the mother, her name was Trini. We introduced ourselves and she welcomed us. The three of us Quest students came with three others, Paul from Arthur Frederick Community Builders, who has helped the community with water projects, a French women named Stephanie who lives in a village nearby with her husband and family and an older women named Diane who is god mother to one of the young boys in the village. We all sat together and listened to this indigenous families story.

Trini is married and has five children, her husband works in logging. The family lives on a small piece of land with three small buildings on it; one a kitchen, one a sleeping quarters and one an empty building of another family. When Trini and her family were exiled from their village and forced to flee, like the rest of the people in the community, her family could not afford the 1,500 pesos for the entire property and were forced to split with another family who had more money. Many families don’t have toilet and they bath twice a week in a homemade temescal or steam room and use cold collected water to rise and use the green contaminated water, which they use to drink from, to wash their clothes.

Trini was taught how to grow mushrooms and Diane said she is going to try and help her sell them to a new organic restaurant in the town. Her daughter lives in Cancun working as a house cleaner and receives only 2,000 pesos a month minus living conditions. That is equivalent to less than $200 Canadian a month to send back to her family, the daughter is only fourteen years old. This is considered a normal occurrence.

We sat and talked to this women for over an hour. Her story was real and her presence was genuine. She showed us the little she had and let us hold her new baby born in December.

Arthur Frederick Community Builder, also known as AFCB, started a project in this small village giving the town a water filtration system, school houses and a basketball court for the children. The green contaminated water used to be the only source of water for the village before the project was able to build something sustainable. Since then conflict within the community has transformed one of the water holding cells into a prisoner holding sell and often the children can’t attend school because they are needed to work.

We asked what Trini’s hopes and goals were for the next year, she said she would love to have a block house and to allow her children to continue their education and go to a nearby town and get a job.

“Here in the mountains it is difficult,” she said.

When we entered the property that was home to these people there were so many things going through my mind – we had just passed trucks filled with army men holding guns, massive walls lined with barbed wire and no more than 100 meters away was a community filled with children and there was a school built by members of AFCB with a brick wall around it to block the view of the brothel stationed for the army. The children were dirty and surprised to see white skinned people walking through their village. One young girl, Sillia, ran her fingers over my arm so gingerly, expecting it to feel like a foreign silk and perhaps to her it did.

I remembered when we first arrived and told Trini we were from Canada and Stephanie was from France.

“Canada and France, are they close?” she asked.

I forgot that these people were illiterate, had probably never seen a map of the world, or a washing machine or a shower. I couldn’t imagine what the world looked like from inside their eyes.

Today we learned a lot and it was a lot to process. We saw examples of community development, of religious conflict and exile, of international support and non-profit contributions. We learned about human rights and saw examples of community policing. It was a world we’d never seen before and one as much as we’d like to and as much as we try to, we may never completely understand. Sometimes it seems we must understand things in order to help, the more I learn and the more I grow the power may not always be in understanding it but in respecting it.

Today I was part of a world I had never seen and because of it mine will never be the same.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

First day in Chiapas, Mexico

Friday, March 5, 2010

Three girls, a beautiful city and one hell of a task – to take it all in!

We stared today’s Quest with a delicious breakfast and a list of directions around the breath taking city of San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The three of us worked together to figure out these directions, find our way in an unfamiliar area, we worked together as a team and encouraged each other. We explored not only what was around us but what was inside of us.

We saw numerous of the beautiful churches and cathedrals around the city, spent time in a public library, purchased groceries in a foreign grocery store, walked through the peoples market and the Zocalo. We spoke with strangers, encountered street kids and even ran into mutual friends of people on the trip who we would later be introduced to. We tested ourselves in more ways than we knew and it wasn’t until we got back to the hotel and started talking about it that we started to see the big picture by connecting all the dots.

We did more than just ‘navigate around this city.’ When we sat down to talk about it at our debriefing session, as we like to call them, it took more than 3 hours. We talked about our challenges and our observations, what was difficult, what we saw, what we heard, three hours later we had talked about not only what we had encountered that day but what it all meant.

We talked about indigenous rights, colonization, NAFTA, the Zapatista’s, women’s rights, children’s exploitation, education, health, social justice, individuality and personal growth. It was a conversation at home we probably never would have started but here never wanted to end.

This task brought us together and metaphorically speaking, took us from standing in the field and seeing what was right in front of us to flying over it and seeing the big picture. We started to understand how everything is connected and what roles we play.

Today was exhilarating – so full of life, learning and growth. Not only as an individual but as members of an organization and as a team. In ways it was even more than that, the day was full of positivity and filled me with good energy to continue believing in the power of people and positive change.

On our Quest today we met another group of vibrant young people. We exchanged contact information and met up later in the evening.

They are a group of about 20 travelling from the United States to Costa Rica in two vans, a truck and are pulling a trailer. The group consists of young radical people from the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica, perhaps others but those we did not meet.

They are all members of a Christian organization called Youth With A Mission. Their goal is to bring supplies and equipment to a community center called Foundations of Community Development in San Jose, Costa Rica.

It was awesome to sit down with people, exchange stories and learn from one another's experiences. I find that on adventures such as this every encounter is special and holds a certain magic.


They were a great group of people and I wish them all a safe and happy journey, enriched with adventure and well being!

Early morning, short flight, pretty bus ride, new city and new adventures!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

There is something powerful about the women at the Abbey in Cuernavaca. Something about their purity and spirit always makes leaving difficult for me. After we enjoyed our last breakfast and loaded our bags into Neil’s dirty truck to be taken to the bus we all gathered together for one last photo and then met each other in a circle. We all joined hands and Sister Alejendra said a prayer for us. She wished us all a safe and happy journey, no matter of destinations and told us they would keep us in their thoughts and in their hearts. She thanked us for our laugher, eagerness to learn and for our youth. They said they were sad to see us go, and so were we. We hugged everyone goodbye and headed to Mexico City where the majority of the students would be heading back to the Toronto airport in Canada and myself, Lynne, Chrissy and Gary would be heading off to Tuxtla, Chiapas to start the next part of our journey.

With only minor complications, Melanie’s seat being dumped, Kristin having to take a separate flight, one member losing their Visa and a broken tequila bottle in a bag, everything went ‘smoothly’ and things were taken care of.

When we landed in Chiapas I was surprised to see the trees blowing in the mind. It was a windy day and not too hot. Long time friend of Gary’s and founder and director of Arthur Frederick Community Builders Paul Poirier was there to meet us with his van, it was a comfortably interesting sight to see an Ontario License plate on the back of a GMC van waiting in the parking lot. Paul and his wife Diane have drove to Mexico together, taking them eight days, and have been here since January.

The drive to our hotel in San Cristobal de Las Casas we drove through winding roads overlooking valleys and hills of corn fields. We stopped at a stand beside the road to pick up some pop and chips and continued on. On the drive we discussed our last two weeks in Chiapas, different past experiences, mutual friends, some politics, controversy and things we will be doing during our stay.

We arrived at Hotel Baron de Las Casas, unpacked, had a bite, discussed tomorrow’s tasks and fell asleep. One thing I always find about ‘travel day’ is they are always long and exhausting. We were all in our rooms reading, writing or sleeping by 9:30 pm.

Our last night in Cuernavaca - a true Mexican Fiesta

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

When North Americans think about a night out or a party it usually consists of nice clothes, fancy cars, loud music, flashing lights, dance clubs, beer and booze. Today we did it a little differently.

For our last night at the Abbey members of the celebration committee got together and planned a fiesta of a life time. All members of Quest met in the dining hall around four o’clock and sat down with the Sisters of the Abbey and shared veggie trays and soda. Quest leaders and facilitators said thanks to the Sisters, to each other and to the group. We shared stories and jokes, laughed together and sat down to eat breakfast for dinner – something we thought the Sisters would find interesting and enjoy. It was fruit salad with French toast and bacon.


We had about an hour intermission for students to clean up the dining hall, do the dishes, do any last minute necessities and prepare for the second half – the talent show!


We all met again in the larger hall down by my room on the other side of the Abbey, to our surprise the Sisters had spent the day decorating. They had Canadian flags, and Mexican flags, sombreros and balloons. They had even set up a projector to share a slide show with a song of the different states of Mexico and their importance. Some of the girls in the group sang and so did the Sisters. Sister Guatalupe sang a song she performed in front of Pope John and all of Mexico. Other members of Quest danced, played the guitar, we even did camp games and two other Sisters performed a skit.



It was the most fun I’d had in a long time. To get such a great group of from different dynamics together to share such a special evening was phenomenal. Everyone was laughing and singing, sharing stories and making new ones. It takes a special group of people to get together and enjoy these activities as much as we did and I’m so grateful I was able to be part of it. Its times like these that strangers become friends and friends become family. I can honestly say I will miss the presence and company of every person in that room when Thursday comes and it is time to leave.


Friday, March 5, 2010

One blue rose

Written Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Today a close friend of ours and member of Quest lost a family member from home. Unfortunately she will no longer be able to join us on the rest of our adventure to Chiapas. This experience was not something anyone had expected and was not something anyone was prepared for.

Our professor told us that when someone passes, even if they are not related to you, it is natural for people to think of death and to remember people they’ve loved and lost. It’s difficult to explain the sadness one feels when they know someone they love is hurting and at loss.

Gary told us how when people pass their spirit stays on Earth for at least 24 hours and is present to anyone who is thinking of them and keeps them in their thoughts. He told us of how in Italy there are women who are actually professional weepers and they show up at funerals dressed in black and morn outrageously at the funerals. We talked about how some cultures have a wake and celebrate life.

Today was a day that changed many people’s lives and for them we mourned. For myself I thought of those in my life I love and have loved and how each individual have made my life that much richer.

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

That you can’t live without them

That their smile brightens your day and their beauty opens your soul

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

Their thoughts count

Their opinions matter and the world wants to hear them

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

That they’ve changed your world

Made it matter, made it count

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

They will never be forgotten

That they are thought of often and are always in your heart

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

That life isn’t always easy

It isn’t always simple

But it is ours, this we own and it is worth it

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

That you need them

Now and always

People make us stronger and pain makes things real

Tell everyone you’ve ever loved

Not to give up, not now, not ever

Because everyday

They touch someone’s world

Make someone smile

And make it all worth while

Tell them they’re loved.


I love you <3

A visit to Silver City


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winding cobble roads, streets the size of sidewalks, constant honks of passing cars, beautiful cathedrals, shops on every corner, people of every colour, this is Silver City.

Taxco is a small city and municipality located in the Mexican state of Guerrero. It is the largest producer of silver in the world. There is a silver mine there where the silver is taken from the rocks, mixed, melted, shaped and sold.

Many people throughout Mexico and across the globe base their livelihood off the sales of silver while the rest of the world may be more concerned with where to get it. From a consumption point of view, Taxsco is a consumer’s delight. Silver on every corner, silver bracelets, silver necklaces, silver rings, silver rattles, silver cups, silver plates, silver toothpicks even silver lined and plated horse saddles.

Loyalist students and Quest participants planned a visit to this shiny city and paid a visit to the silver plantation where they learned about the creation process and how to tell real from fake.
“If it is shinny, supper shiny, it is probably fake,” they said. “Real silver is shiny but not compared to the fake and all real silver will be stamped somewhere with the percentage of silver, 9.75 means it is all real silver. The lower the number the higher the percentage of bronze mixed with the silver.”

Silver is flexible and not very sturdy and so it is mixed with copper to make it more durable. Many street vendors and stores will claim their silver to be real and sell it at a high prize, especially to tourists and new comers who are not familiar. In certain circumstances, the place where you purchase your silver can be extremely important because it is common for people to use stamps on their jewellery to claim it is still silver but it still may not be, or may only be silver plated.

“But not in Taxsco, here it is the real thing,” they said.

A night to remember

February 26, 2010 ---- catching up the past weeks blogs to start you all on new ones :) !!!!

Today after visiting with Kelly at Little Brothers and Sisters in a near by town of Cuentepec (for more information on this organization copy and paste the address below into a new window http://www.ideals.nu/?q=node/258 ) we met with Gary at Carol’s house for dinner. Carol is a good friend of Gary’s who he met many years ago during his adventures in Mexico. They’ve worked on many projects together, attended the same church and have become great companions over the years.

Carol says in her past she has lived many lives, she has been a school principal, a world champion triathlon champion, a social justice lawyer, a wife, a mother, a teacher and a friend.

She currently lives in Cuernavaca and works at a small English school for international students. Tonight we met with four of those students and discussed culture and language, hardships and friends, different housing systems and interests and desires. It was interesting to get such an incredible group of people from all different backgrounds around one table and see how much we actually have in common. We talked about life lessons, listening to people and helping others, about marketing and politics. We discussed our pasts and what we hope for our futures.
I feel that in every person there is a story waiting to come out and change the lives of those who hear it all you need is the time to tell it.

Together we explored Carol’s home, which is also a bed and breakfast, learned some of the history of Mexico through Carol’s art collection, met her massive dog named panda and her donkey Petunia. I took a moment to myself and went outside to sit and reflect. I looked at the sky with next to no stars and saw this big, beautiful house in front of me, listening to the voices and laughter of those inside.

This for me - the house, the laughter, the donkey, the art - was tangible proof that magic can happen if you follow your dreams.

It was a beautiful night.

A day with the Lopez family

A visit to VAMOS and a dinner out with the group!

Monday, March 1, 2010

As always, today was a learning experience and another opportunity for us to grow. Just as we did last year, the Quest group met with members of the Lopez family. The Lopez lives in a small village with no running water or toilets and all work as street vendors, selling jewellery and baskets. Each year Quest meets with this family to discuss their life circumstances, conflicts and experiences and to sell us their work.

Similar to last year we met in a public place and sat with the family. There was the father, mother their oldest son and his wife and children, their younger daughter, son and his wife and small child. Unlike last year I walked away from this experience feeling more frustrated and overwhelmed than empathetic. The family began by telling their story, same story as last year the only difference was it seemed that this time they were focused more on the negativity of their circumstances and offered small amounts to hope.

The father spoke of how neither he, his wife or daughters could read and how their entire family shares a one bedroom home with dirt floors and a tin roof in their small pueblo.

The oldest son spoke of how he had spent time in Canada working on a farm to make money for his family as many Mexicans do, but had to come home because of complications with his wife’s pregnancy. He spoke of how he can now no longer return because he has spots in his lungs and cannot afford treatment, he said he was hoping to pay for it with the money we spent on bracelets and jewellery but now could not because he didn’t think we were going to buy any.

Of course their situation is unfair and there is no doubt they live in sufferable levels of poverty, but there meeting with us this year definitely gave a different experience. This year they were invasive and pushy. They were handing things off to you and pressuring you to buy them. They would up the price and change them around, take the money and not return the change. At one point one of the daughters said to me, “please buy this so I can eat.”

Many member of the group did not feel comfortable with this for many reasons, some being we had already pre-ordered over 50 bracelets from them at 30 pesos each guaranteeing them at least that as a minimal sale. On top of that people were purchasing necklaces, baskets, hair wraps and rattles. Many members of the group had chosen not to buy off other families because they wanted to wait and give that opportunity of sale to the Lopez family. Many people felt that they were taking advantage of the situation by forcing people into things they didn’t want and that they were not respecting personal limits.

Other members of the group walked away with a deeper picture. They recognized the disparity in their actions and even though they didn’t enjoy or agree with the way they were presenting themselves and exploiting themselves and their children as useless, they recognized that for some this the way of life. In economic crisis and less and less tourists visiting they are desperate and none of us can say how we may or may not act if we were put in the same situation.

After the visit we went to see a non-profit organization called VAMOS. It is an organization working with street children in literacy, artisan skills, health and nutrition and among other things. We spoke with the director of the home in Cuernavaca, received a tour of the building and were introduced to the children. Many people agree this is a great organization who promote family inclusion and use a different systematic approach then organizations as Casa Hogar and Little Brothers and Sisters. VAMOS encourages families to stay together and work together. They offer meals for the children and mothers in the morning, health care and skills workshops. They have an open door policy and understand if and when the children come and go as they please.

This day was filled with many different things and people were given the evening off to process and reflect. A group of us went for dinner at a restaurant called Maninita’s. It was nice to sit down, relax and enjoy the company of the group. We discussed the day’s events and shared our opinions. For some people it was difficult to go out for dinner and spend money on an expensive meal when just that day they were faced with the Lopez family who have next to nothing. We were reminded of balance and how acknowledging the circumstances of others, respecting them and growing from them are different than taking them on and living them yourself.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pequeños Hermanos y Hermanas

Day 8. Friday, February 26, 2010

“No child should go hungry,” Reverend William B. Wasson.

Pequeños Hermanos y Hermanas, or Little Brothers and Sisters, was created by Reverend William B. Wasson with the hopes that no child should suffer or go hungry because they are poor. It officially became an organization 55 years ago.

Little Brothers and Sisters is a non-profit group home for Mexican children whose parents are unable to take care of them or are orphaned. Although some children are put into the group home by their parents in hopes of a better future for their children, some children come from broken and abusive homes and have been sent by the state. There are currently 500 to 550 children being housed by Little Brothers and Sisters.

Little Brothers and Sisters has two houses in Mexico, five Loyalist College students met with an International Volunteer from the United States named Kelly for a tour of one of the homes.

Kelly explained that many of the children who have been sent here come from abusive families. Some were victims to prostitution, torture and child slavery and many arrive with social, mental and physical disabilities.

“Little Brothers and Sisters offers the children help, we have psychologists, sociologists, doctors, dentists, volunteers and teachers to work with the children in hopes of giving them a better future,” Kelly says. “Sometimes the children will choose to talk with us about their abusive pasts.... my response is always I am so sorry and I am here for you.”

The organization offers all 500 to 550 children free education, regular check-ups, self-esteem workshops and encourages them in sports and all other areas. The properties housing is inside a gated community with all school, dental, health, fitness and extracurricular activities on the premises including basketball nets, pools, soccer fields, play sets and an area for group bonfires and sing alongs.

The organization is self sufficient in the way that there is a farm on the property where they harvest their own corn and crops in the fields, grow fruits and vegetables, have ponds for fish and pens for pigs and goats. There are paid workers specifically for the farm and the volunteers and children are also given chores to help out where capable and necessary.

Kelly says the school has an open door policy, meaning once you have stayed at Little Brothers and Sisters you are a member of the family and are always welcomed back. There have been times where children decide they want to leave the home, usually around the age of 16 to 18 Kelly says, sometimes they will end up homeless and within a few months return. When this happens they are given a place to stay and accepted back into the group home community, they are given chores around the property like the rest of the group and volunteers and paid staff help them try to find work and let them stay until they are ready to leave again.

“We never leave our family out in the dark,” Kelly says.

Volunteers work closely with the children, teaching them English and playing smaller supervisor roles. Even though there are so many children Kelly says you make special connections with all of them and although everyone might not always get a long, it is like a family.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a mother to over 30 children,” she says. “You can’t help but love them all.”

Little Brothers and Sisters receive the majority of funding from sponsors in the United States, Canada and across Europe. They also have numerous homes in other countries including Haiti, El Salvador, Peru and Guatemala.

A controversial issue that arises from this organization is the difference between being referred to as an orphanage or a group home, as some of the children still have parents and there for are not orphaned. Some people feel this is a marketing scheme and is not right. They feel that organizations such as this, and Casa Hogar, are fragmenting a system that has worked for years; family. They are taking children away from their mothers and fathers and putting them into a group home.

Others say it is giving these children an opportunity for a better life and a stronger future, one their parents could not offer without the support of this organization and organizations like it. Kelly says the children are the main priority, and although there is over 50 paid staff at some of the organization the focus is always on keeping the children happy and healthy.

“We really are brothers and sisters... we take care of each other and care about each other,” Kelly says. “Sometimes there are problems but these children are looking for love no matter what.”

The school also offers education to children living in squatter settlements outside of the gated community. They send buses to pick the children up from the garbage dump, now turned into a landfill, where they live and bring them to Little Brothers and Sisters each day where they are given the opportunity to shower, given something to eat and are part of the daily classes by trained educators.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Friends in beautiful places.

Day 9. Friday, February 25, 2010

Mountains, badgers, pizza, silver and car ride conversations ... what a good weekend!

Something I’ve always liked to do is get to know people living in the town I’m staying. When I was 18 and living in Europe I used a common website called CouchSurfing to help me find people in the area who are willing to get together, show us around and share the secrets of their city. Wonderful experience after the other, it was obvious why I kept going back. I used this with my best friend while backpacking through 10 different European countries and still have nothing but good things to say about the people I’ve met and the experiences we’ve shared.

Naturally I decided to check it out in Cuernavaca to see who was on and how popular it was in Mexico. To my surprise there were over 1,000 people signed up on the site in the town of Cuernavaca, Mexico. I did a refined search; female, close to the city center, etc.

This is where I found Aleta. A Mexican girl living in Cuernavaca who’s lived in Canada, speaks English and would love to meet new people! PERFECT! I messaged her telling her about myself, what I’m interested in, why I’m in Mexico, which days I’m available and my email.

Turns out she lived in Oshawa, Ontario for five months as an Au Pair, which is the town my father lives in and what I was doing living in Europe. She brought two friends and her boyfriend along and we headed to Tepoztlan which worked out since I had missed out with my group.

Like it usually is when you meet new people, the conversation is small and a little uncomfortable but this shortly ended. We grabbed a bite and as a group headed to the top of the beautiful mountain in this magic town.

Huffing and puffing me and my new friends did the trek, stopping for air and encouraging each other the whole way up.

“I remember it being easier last year,” I’d say laughing and half dying.

People would pass and then we would pass them, its a beautiful climb and something you have to do at your own speed. A friend of mine told me a life can be like climbing a mountain. You have to take it one step at a time, push yourself to the top but know your body and know when it needs a break to rest. If you just keep pushing and pushing and never stop you’ll get tired and you may not make it. But if it you take it slow and one step at a time you’ll make it.

Aleta and her boyfriend Sergio were behind us, one friend in front and Rodrigo and I in the middle. I’d stop and he’d reach for my hand and help me up. I’d stop and he’d wait. Two older women were headed on their way down, Rodrigo asked them if we were close.

“If they can do it...” he’d say.

“I can do it,” I’d laugh. And we would continue the climb.

Reaching the top of that mountain was one of the most rewarding feelings. Dripping with sweat we all sat down, waited for the others, had a look around, made jokes, took pictures and tried to figure out the English work for these badger-raccoon-mountain-creatures.

It was difficult to believe the pyramid at the top was once used by a culture of people we’d never meet. They’d wake with the sun as it’s light woke the city below from darkness telling the people a new day has arrived.

We slowly began the descend back to reward ourselves and confirm our new friendship with a bite and a beer.