La Bienvenida

So after all the goodbyes the day arrived when the four of us returned to Canada, perhaps similar to our 8 suitcases – looking somewhat the same on the outside but full of many new things on the inside. We had decided to make our first stop Saskatchewan, our collective hometown where we had not visited during our 3 1/2 years away. We were welcomed at the airport with a warm embrace from family and friends who were excited that we were back. Rolling into Waldheim (Rick’s hometown) that first night was strangely familiar and while scenic and quaint, for Rick especially, it felt quite remote, and lead to the questions, where are all the people? Are we in the middle of nowhere? We know… it just felt that way.


Over the next month in Saskatchewan we took steps to move back into our home (thanks to all who helped out), and were reminded of the blessing of good renters who perhaps cared for the house better than we would have done! Going back to a neighbourhood with good family friends, and seeing all of our kids so quickly reunited was an equal miracle. In many ways the practical aspects of moving back progressed quite well and we enjoyed many reunions with people and places, yet there were other emotional and mental ties back to Chiapas that made resettling not so easy. But time always goes on, and so…


Amongst other reasons, Grandma/pa Falk came out to Sask. to celebrate Ezra (8) and Jacquie’s (40) birthday in May.

The plan all along was to use some of our resettlement time and funds (thank you MCC!) to have an extended time in British Columbia. But would it be to visit or maybe to live? In time we realized it was to be the former and not the latter (for these next years at least). Even back in Chiapas more than anything it had been the excitement of seeing the “cousins,” and grandparents, etc., which gave hope to the kids that moving back to Canada was a good idea. And the next six weeks brought a lot of time with the cousins…both on the Block and Falk side.





Whether it was camping, hiking, soccer, baseball, swimming, dance parties, celebrating 10 year’s of marriage or just hanging out it was a vacation to remember  (I did decide to keep pictures to a minimum!) And thanks to the new-to-us CRV (bought from Jacquie’s parents) we put on some good miles between the Okanagan and Fraser Valley with some time in the Rockies and a day trip to Vancouver to see Mexican and Canadian friends.

         The Blocks united in Jasper National Park – and later in Yarrow/Chilliwack 




  The Falk’s enjoyed a great week at Ellison and many other days in Vernon/Armstrong      




And along the way we enjoyed visiting with some other extended family/friends, including… 


Our friend from Chiapas – working in BC!

We were so thankful to have this time in BC in Saskatchewan as we continued to adjust to life in Canada, but even good times can bring challenges. As Rick helped me identify over the next weeks, I felt at times like I was returning to a river flowing downstream and some of my attempts to get in the “flow” were not so smooth. Making decisions amidst an increase of options added some “rapids” to manage and perhaps the change from living 80% of life within walking distance also made Canadian living feel more hectic, complex, and yet in other ways isolating. Thinking again about the moving river, at times I just left the stream and needed to find out how to go at a more suitable pace.


Fields in front of Mt. Robson


Cascade Falls, Mission BC

And then before we knew it we were back in Saskatchewan to attend a great wedding before heading our to our MCC Reentry retreat in Pennsylvania. A retreat we received as a gift, a gift of 4 days to reflect, be together as a family, meet others in a similar experience and in the end ceremonially take off the hat of being MCC workers. The time provided helpful insights into common joys and struggles of transition, and gave us the green light to at times remain culturally different than our home countries, or as I heard a few times…happily maladjusted. What exactly does that mean? To give a partial answer I include a Franciscan Blessing  (from a Common Prayer):

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may wish for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.


At our home church in SK- “Los ChiapaCanadienses”

Finally just to say that sharing our story has been therapeutic – so a big thanks to all three western MCC offices, family, various churches, and Bill/Marriane Thiessen who gave us some initial opportunities to share, and for all who came and asked questions and listened. We came back with the hope to be a prophetic voice of God’s desire for peace and justice (in all its physical and spiritual connotations), and to serve in our old but new communities as he directs. So come early August we knew it time to get the household functioning, and to begin making decisions about what life might look like in Saskatchewan.  But still there were many moments when I just needed time…time just to close my eyes, look at pictures and/or pray and remind myself that while we have left Mexico, we carry many of its sights, sounds, friendships, lessons and memories with us.

Watch out for: And then How Shall we Live, coming in a few weeks – Jacquie.








Posted in September 2014 | Leave a comment

La Despedida

At times throughout our MCC term in Mexico I (Jacquie) would occasionally dream of life back in Canada – and yet as our return came nearer I felt an uncertainty about leaving wIMG_4356hat seemed like “home”. Don’t get me wrong; I was more than ready to see our friends and family and experience summer life in Canada (Hilary is still waiting for the snow to fall!). But the move just seemed so permanent – and in reality it was. Perhaps Ezra expressed it best during one of our last evenings in San Cristobal when through tears he said, “we are leaving my home, my country, my friends”.

Yes, for sure, living in Mexico brought its own set of struggles, frustrations and challenges. But we were happy, settled, and living purposefully in our lives and roles with MCC. Some people have asked, “what do you miss most about Mexico?” I could think of mangos, limes, and sun, etc., but for me the first response is people. God really provided meaningful places to serve and a supportive community for all of us, and so after 3 1/2 years the different friends we made along the way became like family. In particular, there were special people that we strived to care for and support, and in leaving them behind there is a double sense of sadness and a prayerful hope that God will deal bountifully with them (Ps 13: )






Increasingly in the last weeks and months in Mexico, we gave time to saying goodbye – an important process especially in Mayan culture. For Rick this meant planning a few months ahead to take time for each of his 11 community groups he had so embraced during his time with INESIN (the rest of us were fortunate to join him for a few of those trips). Tears were shed, gifts were given, and in a little community in Huixtan I will always remember that little old lady embracing me and speaking out her heart in Tzotzil. Understanding the exact words was not important.


Then there were particular times to say goodbye to the folks at INESIN, and the various goodbyes to the kids’ schools and Yirtrak. All of these experiences left lasting impressions of gratitude, and in a spirit of humility, a hope that the seeds of peace (shalom) planted will continue to grow. And I remain immeasurably thankful for all the people who helped care for and guide our children in these precious years.












In between these more formal goodbyes we tried to visit some local spots that had much personal meaning. We also bought a few more “recuerdos” to bring back. Our last weeks coincided with a church picnic in which I finally braved a longer sharing time in spanish of things I learned, while Rick added his own words of encouragement. Other visits with friends and neighbours reminded us that sometimes it is when we say goodbye that we express more intimately our thankfulness for the friendships that had been built.










Near the end of our time in San Cristobal we were also able to host another MCC Team Mexico Retreat and were thankful to see a new team taking shape, while also appreciating the kind words and memories shared around our own contribution over the past years.



I should also mention, besides all the visits, there was a lot of work to parking up a house and leaving with 8 suitcases…and so while saying goodbye was not easy, I had no trouble leaving behind that long “to-do” list!


Now if you really want to get a sense of the highlights of our time in Mexico I would invite you to review previous blogs, but perhaps another way to reflect on the time is to express the elements of life that stand out as far as bringing meaning, peace and joy to our days in Mexico. A few that come to find would be:

  • Opportunities to serve and alongside the MCC Mexico team and its partners (a comment which does not do justice to the richness of what was received and given…)
  • Learning new ways of doing life and a new language
  • Living so much of life outdoors and being more active in going from place to place
  • Appreciating living simply, holistically, freely
  • Rich experiences together as a family
  • Being dependent on our imaginations and creativity in play
  • Caring and sharing life with others that come from a diverse background – culturally, economically, spiritually
  • Different challenges that I believe brought maturing in faith, life and relationships.
  • Meeting new friends through sports and life
  •  Hopefully gaining a lasting emphasis on being peaceful people, conscious of our call to, “to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).









What a privilegie it was to work, serve and live with the people of San Cristobal and surrounding communities for 3 1/2 years! And thanks to MCC, its supporters and to all who prayed and walked with us on our journey in Chiapas.


                GRACIAS MEXICO, vamos a extrañarte! 

Wait for Part Two – La Bienvenida in some weeks time.

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MCC Sask Learning Tour

What a privilege it was to have a Saskatchewan Learning Tour visit Mexico in March.  It had been a desire of ours since we came to Chiapas – to share our journey, learnings and experience with others from our home province. The diverse group brought a lot of energy and desire to learn, especially in relation to agricultural pracitces and indigenous rights.

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Tour Group with MCC Workers, D.F.


Aztec Display/Ceremony Downtown Mexico City








Having two members of the Cree First Nations stimulated good conversations about the similarities, differences and challenges both Mexico and Canada face in constructing peace and justice for marginalized peoples. Our days in Mexico City (aka D.F.)  created their own excitement of riding the metro, learning about mexican history and understanding the dynamics and challenges around migration/regufees in this vast country.

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Migrant Shelter, D.F.


Bonnie Leask and Milton Tootoosis after successful trip on the Metro!








The week in Chiapas concentrated on the beauty, history and complexity of present-day struggles of Indigenous life, marked by a trip to Acteal .


Remembering the over 40 women, men and children masacared here in 1997.


Hearing from the president of Las Abejas







The group stayed at INESIN for a few days allowing for time to understand the work there and the social/relgious/political/economic culture of Chiapas. And of course we had time to get to know other important things about San Cris…like where to get the best icecream.


Don Antonio´s – la mera mera!


Leaving gifts with Martin – Director of INESIN

Some time was also given to visit Ezra´s school, a Mayan indigenous autonomous university, and the Mayan Medicine Museum.  We were thankful for the interest the group took in our kids, and vice versa!


Hilary hanging out with Brian.


Observing Ezra´s class playing bingo!


Chapel of the University

 As well, another two day trip to a mountainous coffee-growing community, where Rick has worked over these past years, provided a pratical look at life in the campo and a chance to learn a bit more about .


Barrio Guadalupe – Municipality of Bella Vista

Members of the group included Erica Baerwald (former Bethany student!),  Kaytee Edwards (both MCC Sask workers), Miriam, Clemintine, and our family (MCC Mexico service workers), and 9 others from various churches/communities of Saskatchewan – Jean Cassidy, Harry and Kathy Harder (Miriam´s parents), Irene Jantzen, Bonnie Leask, Myrna Remple, Brian and Delilah Roth, Milton Tootoosis.

MexLT14 037Thank you to Elena for guiding us through a Mayan Ceremony/Closing Reflection.


Mayan Altar


Miriam and Elena (colleague at INESIN)





While some stomach issues plauged the group here and there, they took it all in stride, and we departed having learned much from each other and having developed new friendships along the way. Thankful especially for the time I (Jacquie) was able to spend with our collegue Clementine, visiting together as we helped to tour the others around!


Clem and I in Coyocan




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Acknowledging “Peace-Work”….

Greetings readers,

After a long hiatus away from blog posts, I am finally getting around to posting about an event in which a community group that INESIN accompanies was recognized for its work – see below for the original write-up, translated into English.

Ecumenical gardening group from Pablo L Sidar receives the jCanaan Lum Acknowledgement

The jCanaanLum Acknowledgment is presented in the name of Father (jTatic in local language Tsotsil) Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who was Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, and in memory of his invaluable work and committment to the protection and care of the land and people of the highlands of Chiapas. In this vein a collective group of peace and justice-based organizations select 3 recipient groups every two years from throughout Mexico to receive the acknowledgment. On January 21, 2014, the jCanaan Lum acknowledgment was bestowed on the Ecumenical Gardening Group from the community of Pablo L Sidar (Municipality of Chicomuselo), a group of 12 families that INESIN has had the privilege of accompanying for the past 6 years. According to the selection committee, this group was chosen primarily for the inter-confessional nature of their work, strengthening the community by bringing together Catholic and Evangelical families in learning to produce and prepare healthy, chemical-free food, and care for the land and water that sustains them.  In this manner the families are helping to construct a new and refreshing reality in Chiapas, promoting peace amongst neighbours (that differ in their spiritual confession) and a committment to care for creation. Congratulations!!


The photos above (left to right) – the group took a tour of a rooftop garden at a San Cristobal restaurant the day before receiving the award; initiating the jCanaanLum Acknowledgment with a Mayan ceremony; representatives of the Gardening group receiving their acknowledgment.

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Las Guacamayas (Selva Tropical!)

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Rick and I headed out to a region of Chiapas (one we had not yet visited) this past week for a 2 1/2 day trip – thanks to Gerry and Shirley (and Miriam) for taking care of our kids! On one hand it was part of celebrating our 10 year anniversary this year (July 3rd), but also completing a desire to simply get away from it all, just ourselves, and explore, talk and dream of what may come next. We decided to head to Las Guacamayas – a centro ecoturistico – which borders the Montes Azules biosphere reserve of the Lacandòn Jungle. The 7 hour trip (one way) by combi was a bit long, but well worth the day and a half we spent in this beautiful and tranquil setting. Here is an overview of the different flora and fauna we saw while on a 3 hour boat tour down the river and in and around the center.

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The lighting in this tree made for a beautiful picture, but can you spot the monkeys and a toucan?

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We saw a whole variety of  vegetation and birds – often two together as its the start of mating season.

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Our driver even took us up and down some small rapids, so the vegetation changed a bit as we headed up river.

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One of a few crocodiles we saw, felt funny to later swim  downstream in this same river, but they told us they wouldn´t attack!

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We saw both howler monkeys and spider monkeys, this one was right in front of our cabin – have you ever heard a howler monkey? They give off quite an impressive sound for a fairly small animal.

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The scarlet macaw (La Guacamaya Roja)  is an endangered spieces, this one is being cared for by the ecocenter but we did see a pair flying in the wild.

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 Sometime was also spent visiting, relaxing, swimming, reading, and dreaming. We also took a walk in the community, a well cared for and quaint pueblito, one I think we could both easily live in. Can you spot the Iguana in the left picture?

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La Piñata

I remember well our first Piñata experience here in Mexico, back in 2010….and now, three years later, I can not count how many times I have sung the “Dale, Dale, Dale” (yes, there is a specific Mexican Piñata song) nor how many dulces (candies) have made their way home. The kids have definitely come to identify the Piñata as a symbol of a Mexican birthday party, or perhaps other festivies as well, and even enjoy the “con chile” candies that often dominate the candy bag.   And yet despite all these good memories, I have come to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Piñata. Let me explain…

Piñatas come in all shapes and sizes, and typically here in Chiapas they are still made with a clay pot in the middle. You can find all  kinds of piñatas, there are the traditional colorful, star-shaped piñatas, or you can find characters from the latests children´s movie. But one thing is for sure: Mexicans love their piñatas, and Mexican children (and adults) know best how to hit, dive-for and collect its falling candy. Does this not sound so fun and idyllic? Well yes it can be, and has been…but then again lets think about how this party tradition actually works itself out.

First of all a Piñata is all about taking a stick and trying to beat to a pulp some adorned object. Then at the moment the candy starts falling (at times with the stick still swinging), there is the dive and scramble to get as much for yourself as one can possibly gather.  It  is not important if this requires jumping on another child or leaving the less aggressive child crying because they were left with just 2 items, while the other child is gloating about his/her full bag. Okay maybe I`m exaggerating a bit, but not too much.

It has been interesting to see how my children, and myself, have adapted to this cultural experience. First of all, yes the children always ask for a Birthday piñata, although Ezra played a funny joke on his friends last May when he filled his piñata with bags of veggies (the expression on the kids’ faces were priceless!).  Hilary, now almost at age 5, has learned to get her fair share of candy,  but often Ezra enters with low expectations (at least at larger gatherings), looking only to pickup a few things. I typically try to prepare myself mentally so as to not get too angry at the seemingly unfairness of it all, and admittedly at times try to grab candies to divide them up more fairly.



But you know what, there is more to this all than simply being critical of a tradition that I feel tends to teach children to look out for only themselves.  For on a much more global scale is this not what we all do? Sure, I may think how good I am to encourage my children to share their candies with those around, but how much am I encouraging myself, my communities, my government to work towards a more economic equality. I know this is a very complicated issue, but, those Piñata experiences sure do make one think.




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A Year in Review (a blog post link to our Christmas newsletter)

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

While some family and friends have already seen this review of the past year – here is a link to a newletter of pictures and thoughts reflecting on our days, events, and experiences of 2013…..

2013 Block Christmas Newsletter


                                                  Peace to you all,

Rick, Jacquie, Ezra and Hilary.


Posted in december 2013 | Leave a comment

Practicing “Agroecologia”

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According to wikipedia (english)….”Agroecology is the study of ecological processes that operate in agricultural production systems. The prefix agro- refers to agriculture. Bringing ecological principles to bear in agroecosystems can suggest novel management approaches that would not otherwise be considered. The term is often used imprecisely and may refer to “a science, a movement, [or] a practice.”[1] Agroecologists study a variety of agroecosystems, and the field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be organic, integrated, or conventional; intensive or extensive.

Mmmmm, what I find very interesting is that the wikipedia definition of “agroecologia” (spanish) results in…”La agroecología es una disciplina científica relativamente nueva (década de los setenta del siglo XX), que frente a la agronomía convencional se basa en la aplicación de los conceptos y principios de la ecología al diseño, desarrollo y gestión de sistemas agrícolas sostenibles.”  In a nutshell (for those non-spanish speakers), “agroecologia” is a realtively new scientific discipline that is based in application (i.e. practice) of sustainable agricultural principals, and is a front (or alternative) to conventional agronomy.

I had never before done such a search on a particular terminology but via two cultural perspectives.  The reflection below on my recent experience in a training/gathering event that we (INESIN) hosted perhaps reveals a bit more of the “agroecologia” perspective that many in Latin America hold to…

One of the most rewarding and encouraging activities for us at INESIN is when folks from communities gather together at our site/home-base/office. Upon arrival, one thing that is always very evident is the diversity that makes up Chiapas.  Whether its geography, food, language, customs, ethnic groups, etc., the mission of INESIN to work towards peace in a diverse context encounters an opportunity. The fotos above remind us of this diversity….the spectrum and abundance of food that is produced from the rich volcanic soil; the other, my friend Abi, co-worker at INESIN, descendent from the Zoque indigenous people, a philosopher and wonder-worker with words…alongside Sebastiana, a Tsotsil woman from Huixtan, committed to keeping her traditional ways, to growing native corn and beans, to maintaining her garden of vegetables and medicinal plants, and one who makes a most-tasty “caldo de gallina de rancho” (somewhere between a homemade borscht and chicken soup).

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The gathering was called “Mejorando Nuestras Semillas Criollas y Otras Practicas de La Agroecologia” or “Improving Our Native Seeds and Other Agroecological Practices”. We had 20 people present from the various community groups with which we work. As we see the difficulties experienced in rural communities, we realize the need to focus on providing accompaniment not just in relation to vegetables, but now more-so in relation to basic crops, such as corn, beans, coffee, peanut. These crops are the bases of the family economy; yet many, many families have become very dependent (over the past 30 years) on an agriculture that requires heavy chemical input in combination with hybrid seed, decreased margins for profit, and increased risk on the farmer.  Alas, this type of system is not working for millions of small-holder farmers (and don’t call them peasant – they are wise, thrifty, and concientious stewards of their land!). Especially damaging has been the widespread (and misleading) promotion of hybrid corn seed, which has resulted in the lost practice of maintaining the diversity of native corn varieties, which has formed the basis of mesoamerican culture for milenia. True, in the Altos of Chiapas, there has long been resistance to the introductions of foreign methods of production, and the practice of seeding “criolla” or native varieties continues. Other regions have certainly lost much  in terms of seed variety and the knowledge that goes hand in hand with managing a host of seed varieties, each with their own particular agronomic and ecological (or agroecological) niche. Those other two fotos above give some reference of the reverence that farmers hold for corn, and the milpa system.

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INESIN’s methods are always participatory, that is, we base our work from an understanding that each person has a unique experience that is to be valued, and one that can be shared and learned from. Our facilitated sessions typically blend small group discussions, plenary sessions where information is gathered and folks have a chance to react/analyze/question the content that is shared, and occasionally moments of demonstrations or presentations of agroecological theories and/or practices that may be adopted or adapted to one’s context. See above photos….

An ancient-but-resurging practice in many regions worldwide is the exchange of native seed, seed of all kinds, as a way to diversify production (can improve diet, AND provide income generating opportunities) as well as the genetic-base and resilience of a particular crop species (via cross-pollinization). For this gathering we decided to ask all participants to bring some native seed of whatever they happened to have on hand. At first we thought our “seed exposition” would be a bit on the thin side, but slowly each person brought out what they had, and the table became a focal point of enthusiasm and energy which we certainly under-estimated! The exchange of seed was an activity that participants thoroughly enjoyed (see fotos immediately below), and commented via the evaluations that they would like to do more of this, as a way to enrich the farmer-farmer exchange (not solely via words of experience, but via actual germplasm!).

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Our 3-day event also included discussion around the need to conserve the soil, and we have a small (very small!) plot demonstration within INESIN’s growing area that provides an example of maintaining a thick mulch year-to-year in the milpa (see photo below left). As was typical for 80 years in Canada, the traditional concept of a good farmer is one who works his/her field til there is not one blade of vegetation, nice and black, ready to seed. With very heavy rains in the first weeks after seeding corn (at times on very sloped land), erosion will carry away enormous amounts of topsoil. In one area, the farmers told me their capa-negra (topsoil) was around 40 cm thick 30 years ago, and now it is about 10 cm thick. Thats a lot of lost fertility, which they now have to buy in the form of fertilizer. INESIN, as well as MCC in other regions and capacities, are working to change this traditional concept, and working to provide a viable, non-chemical alternative – keeping a mulch-cover on the field – to reduce erosion, supress weed growth, and maintain soil moisture, which may allow for an additonal short-season crop to be grown. Finally, we went on a tour to a place called Casa del Pan (House of Bread), where we heard of the growing movement to support local farmers in their efforts to retain traditional agroecological practices and native seed varieties. After that we toured their roof-top garden, amazed by the diversity of heritage vegetables and medicinal plants that are used by the restauarant below (photo below right). Many of the folks from communities were abosutely surprised to see that city-dwellers would go to such pains to grow food. One fellow said later “we now have no excuse in our community to say there is no space to plant a garden!” Thanks to Sophie and Casa del Pan for the great experience (and coffee/tea/cookies!).

In summary, our experience was very enriching for all involved. It has given INESIN a strong base to continue its work in communities in Chiapas. And to speak personally, this gathering, along with many other experiences, has given me a perspective that I could not have attained by remaining within the borders of Canada. Its like as if I never thought of checking out the same definition on Wikipedia Español……
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Posted in October 2013 | 3 Comments


This post is a follow-up to one I (Jacquie) wrote in April – It´s All About Love –  it continues a series of blogs on explaining more about the philisophy and life of Yirtrak, the organization I volunteer at here in San Cristobal.

 Libertad – The Basic Idea

“Libertad” – a spanish word, which while obviously related to the idea of liberty, is perhaps better translated freedom. It is also one of Yitrak´s fundamental philosophies.  I am still in the process of understanding what is meant by this word, at least in my current cultural context (of the organization I mean, and yes to some extent Mexico), but still I feel up to trying to explain how this idea of “Libertad” is lived out in the various educational projects of Yitrak.  Considering this words close connection to the idea of liberty and the fairly fluid, lets just say “hippy” influenced culture that I often find in Yirtrak, it was initially hard to not wonder if this quest for Libertad stemmed from the desire to have the freedom to do whatever one wants,  without thinking of others. But no, I was misled, there is another spanish word that speaks to this type of attitude – libertinaje (in English liscentiousness?), although perhaps reminding ourselves regularily of the difference of these two simliar words is an important exercise.

Here is a summary of Yirtrak´s philosophy of Libertad, a.k.a. Freedom.

Its an education in and for freedom, and refers to the idea of accompanying the growth of childen within their own personal natural development, respecting their desires, interests and affinitys, while also taking into considering some basic principles of living in harmonia with one´s community.


The description goes on to focus on the need to be responsible for one´s owns actions and the consequences they have for oneself and others, and also of the importance of knowing one´s owns limits for the well being of oneself and others.  The goal of such an education  is to develpment independent and autonomous persons that can be “change agents” in the social/cultural context they find themselves in.

A Bit of Contextual Background

Yikes, now that I type that out in English I realize the depth of that philosophy and the loftiness of trying to achieve it.  So yes, there is the potential to critique both this concept in general or how well this organizaton is reaching its goal, but I don´t think that will be my point in writing. Instead, I´d like to share some specific examples of how this principle is being lived out in the educational projects of the organization. First, I´d like to clarify that we are living in Mexico, which has a diverse and beautiful culture.


Yet, historically and to the present time, the structure and culture of the public school system does not overly promote a diverse or child focused development, and is very standardized.  For example, children where uniforms, national wide circulum and materials are provided for each subject, regular exams begin in the first grade, and state-wide testing in the fourth grade.  Furthermore, from what I understand this type of education encourages people to memorize and perhaps understand things but not provide tools how to think, analyze or problem solve for oneself. Finally cultural expectations and salaries, make it hard for teachers to bring much creativity to their students. That´s not to say there are not many dedicated, good teachers…I know, because I know some. But these are many of the reasons that Yirtrak, its schools proyects, teachers and the families involved are looking for and wanting to offer a different style of education.

Putting the Theroy in Practice

One clear example of this type of education “in and for freedom” is the level of input that students have in the life of their school and in to some extent in what they want to study.


One specific example is the use of projects and “conferencias,” which means that  as parents we are encouraged to have an on-going project that we work at home with our child. They are allowed to pick whatever theme they would like (sometimes within a general topic, ie. animals) and we are given some age appropiate guidelines in how to help the child research the topic and prepare a presentation for his/her class (aka a “conferencia”).  Last year Ezra chose a number of different topics including – hamsters, How to make a Video, Killer Whales and The Mayas, which allowed him to learn a variety of things while also praciticing his research, writing and public communication skills.


Another example is the weekly student asamblea. It is a space for the kids to discuss issues going on in the school, to share their opinions or feelings and to hear from others and try to offer solutions to conflicts. While guided by the teachers (or the word they use more is acompañantes) it clearly is student orientated. While the preschool does not host asambleas they do highly value children´s input and encourage and teach them in basic principles in resolving conflicts or being respecful and peaceful with others.

In both Hilary´s preschool and in Ezra´s primary school this focus on Libertad is also evident in the personal care that each child receives, the high “teacher” to child ratio (on average about 8 to 1) and focus on holistic education allows the adults to really understand and help each child to mature in all dimensions of life  – cognitive, emotionally, socially, personally, etc.- with love and acceptance being the basis for appreciating each child`s differences.  Parent/teacher interviews are more focused on the holsitic development of the child rather than talking about grades or academic acheivements.

IMG_1987Finally,  I just wanted to mention that another elemenent that we really appreciate is how gender equality is encouraged and supported, whether that be through developing the emotional aspect of all the children, the high level of cross gender friendships or encouraging and giving equal opportunities to boys and girls to be involved in a wide spectrum of activities – bascially, the school´s try to free kids from fairly restricted gender/culture norms or expectations  (and remember we are living in Mexico!).

And to End things Off…

While every organization or projects has its weaknesses, Yitrak definitely encourages and educates its students and workers to be themselves, while appreciating each persons differences.   It inspires creativity, promotes interest in learning, self confidence in sharing one´s emotions and opinions, and aims to teach good principles about living peacefully in a diverse community.


Posted in October 2013 | Leave a comment

Letting Go and Acting Out

September 2013

September 2013

Note: While many MCCers perhaps have much more peacemaking training or experience before heading out as service volunteers, I have been thankful for the practical and personal ways I am learning about peace buliding during this assignment in Chiapas, Mexico.  Jacquie.

Last month I picked up a new book to read from our MCC Office in Mexico City – Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action by John Dear. I didn´t realize until later that this author is the editor of a previous book I have mentioned in other posts – Road to Peace, a compilation of writings of Henri Nouwen.

What first attracted me was the two words in the subtitle of the book, contemplation and action, which speak right to the heart of what I have been learning about during these years in Mexico with MCC.  In these two words I am finding much truth in what it means to live and work for peace. (Interestengly on a personal note,  I think these two words describe a bit of Rick and mine’s personalities or tendencies, and give many reasons why we both compliment and challenge one another).

As opposed to giving a review of the book, I wanted to share some thoughts that have impacted me.  The first comes in the section  of the book that Dear describes as “The Inner Journey” of peaceamaking. In particular, a chapter  entitled -“Letting Go” – left me reflective and challenged.  Throughout this chapter Dear encourages his readers to find peace by letting go – to what you may ask? Here is one of his responses:

Our First World culture socializes us to cling to our possesions. Through fear, insecurity, and faithlessness, we aculumate a wide variety of paraphernalia. We carry on our shoulders a lifetime supply of material goods, as well as anger, jealousy, bitterness , and violence. These weights prevent us from coming to God as we truly are–vulnerable, ordinary human beings. They prevent us from diving deep into our own spiritual wells.

Vulnerability (and weaknes) – a character trait that is not highly encouraged or desired – he goes on to say, is the key to learning dependence on God, as it is so well exemplified in the life and death of Jesus. Again to quote Dear: “Jesus manifests utter dependence on God. He has let go of his very life. He focuses completely on God. There is nothing left but God. In this perfect letting go, within his heart and now in his death, he not only finds peace, he incarnates it. ”  Now while these words resonate within, I am left wondering – what would such a life really look like, as a mother, a wife, as someone who finds purpose and enjoys this present world?  How do I balance finding contemplative ways to let go of all the baggage -of material goods, of emotions, of concerns, of responsibilities, of the struggles of this world – and gain more freedom and peace in God, while also engaging in the realities that I am faced with on a daily basis?

And yet, I am learning a partial response to this answer, for God is not only teaching me to find peace by more fully and continually contemplating who I am as his child, but he is calling me to act for peace. While Dear highlights numerous different possibilites as how we can actively work towards peace in a public forum, I still find myself wanting to start at home, which for me means challenging myself towards identifying and removing violent words or actions from my own daily life. Not to say I see myself as a really violent person, but most of us all have our moments and/or outbursts of violence which perhaps stem from anger, jealousy, anxiety or feelings of defensiveness. Not to say these emotions are wrong in and of  themselves, but when they result in words or actions that threaten or harm others, we, perhaps unconciously, perpetuate violence amongst each other.  As the Bible challenges us…”But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander,and filthy language from your lips…. clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentelness and patience…Let the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Col 3:8,12b,15).

In reading this book I am pushed further than seeking to be a peacemaker solely in my own context – and instead feel moved to find ways to work for the “peace for all of humanity,” recognizing that, as others have said, without justice, true peace is dificult to attain.

While not a new concept, I am learning more about the idea of Active Nonviolence, a chapter title of Dear`s book, but also words which remind me of a Gandhi movie I watched this past month. In this particular moive, Gandhi is portrayed more as political activist than a religious guru, yet clearly his ability to live simply among the poor and stand for peace seems to stem from his own religious beliefs and disciplines. On one hand the movie speaks of Gandhi as a small, simple man, but also one with great courage, determination, and love. A man who stood up to local and foreign policitans both in South Africa and India; in the latter country he mobilized the people of India to bring about their independence from Britain, all the while being extremely commited to nonviolence even if that meant being jailed, beaten, fasting for days on end or calling on his followers to do the same.  In a likewise manner, John Dear also stresses the need to not think of a life of nonviolence as something passive, but include such things as getting involved in local peace groups, or through just and active means to publicly speak the truth, resist evil, love enemies, work for reconciliation and care for the poor. All are actions that are based on the principle of the equality of all, equally loved by God, and all in need of his peace.

Now while these thoughts are fairly basic peacemaking principles, I still find the challenge of actually living them out at home and in this world somewhat humbling. They leave me with many questions as to the manner and ways I am or am not currently involved in such “public peacemaking”.  Or questions such as “how will God continue to guide me in this path in my future?”. Regardless, I am left with the clear understanding of the need to root my longings for peace in Christ, and that my own desire for peace inevitably forces me to act towards such peace for others.


Posted in September 2013 | 1 Comment