Lately I (Jacquie) have been thinking that I´d like to do a new series of blogs that are more intentional in sharing about my volunteer placement and/or daily life routines and what I appreciate about the various places, ministiries and people God has brought into my life here in San Cristobal.
So let´s begin with Yirtrak, a.k.a Pinguinos (Penguins)…the former being the civil association which runs the kids schools and where currently I work part time doing administrative type duties. Behind the word Yirtrak is the idea of “turning to transcend” (perhaps a poectic way and mystical way to talk about transformation) and has as a basic mission – creating spaces of holistic personal and community growth in harmony with the environment. The association is about 8 years old and its first project was a school that started with 3 preeschool kids, and has most commonly been known as Pinguinos. Change has been a constant in both the volunteers, local and work of this organization, which at the moment has 3 specific projects, a primary school (best described as a family-focused holistic education “colectivo” for kids), a preeschool (ages 2 to 5), and another project which focuses on the emotional dimension of one´s being (which at the moment runs a weekly women´s support type group, many of whom are single mothers) and provides art therpay for some of the kids and parents that attend the schools.
I do not feel shy to say that working in the project and its team has been a very different experience for me, it has taken time to feel comfortable with a largely alternative, fairly youthful/utopic/bohemian crowd of Europeans/Mexicans many of whom appreciate various forms of eastern spirituality. And it has taken time to find my role and ways in which I have been able to contribute. But after 2 years I feel confident to say that I bring a different perspective (both cultural and spiritual) that is accepted and respected and a different skill set (organizational, administative, right-brained thinking) that is needed (as are others) and much apprecaited.
With that amount of background what I really wanted to share in this blog post (and another future one) are the elements of this proyect that I have really grown to admire and appreciate and speak to the reason I asked to do my MCC volunteer service their to begin with (besides it being a good fit for our family).
Yirtrak has three fundamental philosophies: Love and Respect, Freedom, and Permaculture, and while all are evident to different degrees and in different ways, I have especially come to admire the ways in which this community shows, and seeks to teach the children/families involved, mutual love and respect. Given the diversity of this group of people – culturally, spiritually, and economically – there is much effort in trying to live in harmony, respecting the voice and personality of each, not desiring to judge but to show love and use peaceful solutions in times of conflict. While the culture lends itself to much more physical signs of love and care, I am also impressed with the amount of patience the “teachers/volunteers” show to all the children, taking time to listen and encourage as they care not only for their academics but the whole person. The children themselves are encouraged to voice their opinions, make decisions together and help each other to learn positive ways to resolve their conflicts.
As for a more concrete expression of this love and respect I note that each family in Ezra´s school (the primary school project) was given the ability to choose how much they could contribute montly to cover the costs of the school, some give an equivlent to 15 dollars a month for their child, while others up to 95, and yet we are all given the same ability to give our opinion and thougths during the monthly family meetings (yes really the project runs on a very low budget, partly because their workers belief in its mission and live on an monthly honorarium). This isn´t to say there isn´t difference of opnion, frustrations- likely on the parts of all- for diverse reasons, but still these principles remain and continue to be sought after. On a personal note, I am thankful for the openness in which myself and our family have been received into the family of Yirtrak, and while all relationships take time to develop I continue to feel a strong sense of acceptance and appreciation in both the work I do and the person I am.
Finally, we as a family, also try to prayerfully bring love and respect to this community. Both Hilary and Ezra have really integrated themselves into their friendships at school, Ezra brings a kind hearted, disciplined, and gentle spirit to his teachers and classmates, and Hilary often loves to give big hugs to her teachers and while she has her best friend, spends times playing with different kids. I continue to be so thankful for Rick´s openness and friendliness that he displays in whatever context he is in, and also his giving heart to serve, attend meetings and work in differents ways in the schools. While I feel more reserved, I make attempts to show love by speaking kind words, accepting people for who they are, being committed and faithful to my tasks, and having patience and flexibilty in dealing with money matters and different personality/work style types.
I end with a few “wise words” that I shared at a recent Yirtrak meeting at our home…
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always persevers. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13: 4-8)
(Due to organizational changes this year their web site it a bit behind but if you want to read more about the history of the project, here is the link – you can even find an english version – http://comunidadyirtrak.org/)