Tag Archives: education

Guest Post: Help for Oaxaca Street Children

Marla Jensen wrote to me to ask if I can help put the word out for help to support The Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots. This is the USA-based, 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit that provides funding for Centro de Esperanza Infantil in Oaxaca. Some of you know it, located on Crespo Street. Marla knows how generous our readers are because you have been so supportive of The Oaxaca Mask Project. I invited her to write a guest post to tell us why help is needed during these Covid-19 times. I hope you read through this! It is worthy of our generosity.

By Marla Jensen

They say: Give children pesos on the street and you feed them for a day. Give them an education and feed them for life.

Oaxaca is a magical destination for so many of us who love Mexican art, culture, food, history, and adventure. These charms sometimes mask the reality that Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico, with the poverty rate nearly three times the national average.

About 24% of Oaxaca people live in extreme poverty. Oaxaca’s population is about 58 percent indigenous, with many living in relatively isolated rural locations with marginal services such as electricity and clean water. Getting an education is only a dream for many children. We have seen young children in the city working all day and late hours to earn money for their families.

Families try to survive on an average daily wage of $6.00-$7.00 USD. Their future is dim without the promise of an education. Current conditions with Covid-19 make the conditions much worse for poor families.

Your support matters because we give kids a start here. Many go on to graduate from college.

As visitors or expatriates, how do we give back to a place that gives so much to us? Our tourism dollars help, we buy the beautiful crafts, and try to respond with donations to those on the streets. But what about giving a child an education?

How Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots Started

After many years of helping children in Oaxaca, in 1996 a couple from the U.S., Jodi and Harold Bauman, along with friends and supporters, created a non-profit 501-C called Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots (OSCGR) with the mission to help get children off the streets and into school. To facilitate the work in Mexico they partnered with Centro de Esperanza Infantil, which does the work on-site in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots has a volunteer board in the United States dedicated to supporting and providing funding to Centro de Esperanza Infantil. The Centro has a small staff and volunteer help who provide continual services to about 700 children and youth.

Donate Here!

The Centro de Esperanza Infantil is a warm welcoming center on Calle Crespo providing social services, a daily meal, some medical and dental services, tutoring, a computer lab, and library. If you drop by the Center, you will see happy kids, a beautiful environment, international students volunteering, and lots of energy.

Children attend public school with the donated funds. The original goal was to serve children who had never attended school and for them to complete sixth grade. Now, they serve the poorest children who need support to remain in and complete school. OSCGR takes students all the way through university. There are now almost 600 students enrolled in the program from elementary through high school. An additional 104 are enrolled in technical, university and graduate school programs.

In the Spring of 2020, they celebrated their 100th university graduate!

Marla’s Personal Story

I first visited Oaxaca in 1986, following my interest in folk art. For almost 35 years I have returned regularly and deepened my relationship with this magical place. My sister Sharon and I learned of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots in the 1990’s and together we sponsored an 8-year old child, Bryan Flores Vallejo. We met his family, took him with us when we visited sites, and introduced him to our families. He graduated from high school and now runs a successful business. I love the relationship we have had as his madrinas.

Sharon, Bryan and Marla

Sharon and I operated La Sirena Oaxaca Gallery for several years, buying and selling folk art, and donating a percentage of profits to OSCGR. We invited friends to Oaxaca with us, bringing along donations of clothing, toothbrushes, and school supplies.

Sadly, in August 2019, my sister Sharon passed away from metastatic melanoma cancer. As a way to honor her memory as a teacher and lover of Oaxaca, I gathered a group together and we sponsor Sharon’s Children. What a meaningful legacy……to educate five children!

I am so pleased to turn a personal loss into something positive. I have recently joined the Board of Directors of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots and am hoping to spread the word about this wonderful program.

Covid-19 is taking it’s toll in Oaxaca as around the world. The lack of tourism greatly affects the economy and already marginalized families are struggling. Oaxaca Streetchildren has put out requests for additional donations and the response has been tremendous, but it is still not enough!

The Centro has been able to give out several hundred “dispensas”, or food packages. There has been additional help given as needed for utilities, water, medical needs. The center has been modified to provide physical distance and safety so services may continue.

There are several ways to support Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots. Your donation of $250 a year will enable an individual child to get an education. A $500 -a-year-gift will support a university student. You will be assigned a specific child and receive information about them and their academic progress. You will be able to visit and develop a relationship if you choose.

Your donation gives the child a pair of shoes, a pair of tennis shoes, a school uniform, a P.E. uniform, a backpack, school supplies, inscription fees, guidance and counseling. In addition, the child may come to the center for a daily meal, use the computers, library, take extra classes, get tutoring and help with homework.

You may also donate to the general fund and the gift will be used for children who do not have a sponsor or for other program expenses.

Please make a gift. Your support has a direct benefit to make a difference in a child’s life. And, your gift is USA tax-deductible.

Thank you.

Together We Will Change the World Through Education!

Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast Offers Biodiversity for NC State University Students

After five days around Oaxaca city and into the rural Tlacolula Valley, our group of 13 people boarded the Little Airplane That Could — the 13-passenger AeroTucan, for a 35-minute flight to Puerto Escondido.

Over the next five days we would immerse ourselves in the the bio- and cultural diversity of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast.

Beach food: shrimp and snapper tacos

There we would meet meet a mango grower and an organic peanut butter cooperative, participate in an baby sea turtle release of endangered Ridley hatchlings, swim in the bioluminescent Laguna Manialtepec, explore the delicate ecosystem that supports mangrove trees (worldwide mangroves contribute to 30% of the earth’s oxygen), climb seacoast rocks in search of rare murex snails that give up purple shell dye, understand propagation and cultivation of native pre-Hispanic brown, green and cream-colored cotton, delve into genetics and plant hybridization of corn, coconut, and beans at a federal research institute.

Protecting endangered Ridley sea turtles
Rock climbing in search of rare murex sea snail

A highlight of this part of the study abroad experience was the day we spent in Tututepec, the ancient Mixtec capitol, in the mountains overlooking the ocean. From this vantage point, 8-Deer Jaguar Claw, the most famous and powerful Mixtec warrior, ruled a vast territory before the Spanish conquest.

Tututepec murals depict history, ethnic diversity of Oaxaca coast
Luis Adan incorporates murex purple shell dye into traditional cloth
Fresh seafood makes up local diet; the daily catch

After visiting the archeological museum and murals at the cultural center, we went to the home of 27-year-old weaver Luis Adan, who is rescuing the traditions of his people. Luis Adan is researching and reproducing ancient textile patterns using traditional back-strap loom weaving techniques, and native cotton that he grows, cards and spins by hand.

Genetic seed breeding creates a healthier, more productive coconut tree

Luis Adan traveled two hours by bus to Puerto Escondido to take us along the rocky coastline searching the crevices for the allusive caracol purpura. Sustainability, we learn, comes in many forms. Luis Adan milks the snail to extract the purple color, applying the liquid directly to skeins of hand-spun cotton or silk. The snail is then return to the rocks, alive, to regenerate. The purple color is woven as as accent color into local cloth, rare and costly.

Oaxaca native cream, green and coyuchi cotton before it is carded and spun
We ate our fill, just picked, ripe and delicious

At the Mango Orchard: most of the mangoes grown along the hot, humid coast of Oaxaca are organic. Farmers use no insecticides and apply a bio-fertilizer mix of molasses and rice flour. Water from wells is pumped using a microaspersian watering system. Along the coast, farmers plant mango, papaya, peanuts and sesame. Whatever they grow depends on market demand.

Mango farmer Gil, with a bundle of ripe ones; he ships to Puebla and Oaxaca city

Growing papaya takes more of an investment because it requires pesticides. Small scale farmers can’t afford organic certification because it takes four years to get a field certified as organic. Farmer Gil told us he pays field workers 200-300 pesos a day when the Mexican minimum way is 100 pesos a day; he has a hard time finding labor.

Green beans add nitrogen to the soil, a natural fertilizer at the experimental institute

We are planning our 2020 and 2021 programming and want to offer similar study abroad opportunities to universities in the USA. Please contact us if you are interested. norma.schafer@icloud.com

Textile Flower Bouquets of San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapas

Zinacantan is about thirty minutes by taxi from the center of San Cristobal de Las Casas. They grow flowers here. Large greenhouses dominate the landscape like a checkerboard rising from the valley to the hillsides.

Flower growing Zinacantan garden embroidered on cloth

This is a prosperous community that exports this produce throughout Mexico, as far as Mexico City and Merida.

Toddler cradled in an embroidered rebozo carrier with scalloped chal

Local dress reflects this love of flowers. Women’s skirts and chals (shawls), men’s pants and ponchos, and rebozos to cradle babies are densely embroidered with flower motifs.

Machined cross-stitch embroidery. Can you tell the difference?

It used to be that this work was all done by hand. Now, the embroidery machine has taken over the life of the cloth, which is often completely covered in intricate flower motifs so dense you can hardly see the base fabric.

Family shop together on market day

It used to be that the base cloth was woven on a back strap loom. This is now rarely the case. Most is either woven on the treadle loom or by commercial machine.

Bling blouses–machine embroidered bodices on shiny synthetic cloth. Beautiful.

It used to be that the village was identified by its hot pink cloth. Now, we see purples and blues. It’s common to see shiny colored threads in both the woven cloth and the embroidery thread. Fashions change and the Zinacantecas innovate new designs, use new color variations, and new embroidery motifs.

Woman working her needle by hand on the street, a rarity

Far beyond Mexico City, Mexican women love their bling.

Sheri Brautigam and I went early to Zinacantan yesterday on a discovery trip to check out new places to take the next Chiapas Textile Study Tour group. Sunday is Zinacantan market day but you have to get there early. The women with textiles have spread out their wares on the street at 6:00 a.m. and start putting their things away by 10:30 a.m.

New designs this year, short scalloped collar shawl

Our best advice is go there first before Chamula.

My find of the day: hand embroidered chal, front and back

2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Taking reservations now.

Wander the streets off the Zocalo. There are homes and stalls that sell good new and vintage textiles. The old pieces might be ten, fifteen or twenty years old. People stop wearing them because the colors are outdated not because the cloth is worn.

Costume is worn with cultural pride everyday

You can easily spend an hour here.

A rainbow of threads for embroidery machines in the market.

Here you will find hand embroidered cloth woven on back strap looms. This could include cross-stitch (punto de cruz) and French knots, in addition to other traditional needlework. How can you tell? Turn it over and look at the underside.

Meandering the streets we come across handmade leather shoes

The embroidery machine has come to Chiapas and can replicate cross-stitch and everything else. The village women now wear the work made by machine and it’s beautiful, too. Everything is a personal choice!

Market day goes on under the destruction of San Lorenzo Church

The obvious tragedy is the damage to the Church of San Lorenzo during the September 7, 2017, earthquake that rattled Chiapas and the southern Oaxaca coast. The destruction dominates the horizon. The church is closed until further notice by INAH. People say it may be impossible to repair. There is talk in the village about building another church.

Saints in temporary corrugated home. Photo by Carol Estes.

I remember entering the candlelit space in years past where all corners were adorned with flowers, abundant, fragrant. The altar was like a floral arrangement unlike any other I had seen. The aroma made me swoon. Now, the saints have been removed to a corrugated shed. INAH is responsible for all historic churches in Mexico. Few in and around San Cristobal de Las escaped damage. There is years of work to be done. Will Mexico have the will to repair?

September 2017 earthquake toppled houses, too.

Back on the street we find hand-woven and embroidered bags, silky polyester blouses machine embroidered with complementary colors, belt sashes and skirt fabric. Since it’s market day, tarps are also covered with piles of fruits and vegetables, and staples for the home.

1930s wedding, San Lorenzo Zinacantan

The Aztecs ruled this territory before the Spanish. They dominated as far south as Nicaragua. The Zinacantecos had strong links with the Aztecs, and enjoyed a privileged trading relationship. The village served as political/economic center for Aztec control of the region before the Spanish reached Chiapas in 1523. Our friend Patricio tells us that many locals intermarried with Nahuatl speaking Mexica’s.

The Zinacantan feathered wedding dress is a carry over from this past.

Leaving San Cristobal at 9:00 a.m. for Zinacantan

Taxi to get there, 150 pesos from San Cristobal de Las Casas.  Taxi to return, 100 pesos. Get it at the back corner of the church before you enter the market street.

On our hotel street, end of day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It costs about 150 pesos to get there.

Cultural Meaning in Magdalenas Aldama: Chiapas Textile Study Tour

Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.

Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa

Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.

Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom

This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.

Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom

On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.

Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes

Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.

A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make

Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:

  • The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
  • The sacred forest — pine trees
  • The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
  • The Toad — harbinger of the rainy season
  • The Vision Serpent  — to guide the way
  • Plus any personal designs preferred by the weaver

The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas

During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.

  • How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
  • Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
  • Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
  • Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?


First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).

Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth

Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.

The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo

After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.

Young nursing mother waits for a sale

Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.

Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)

  • Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.

Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough

  • Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different. 

Children entertaining themselves. No television here.

  • Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.

Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes

  • Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?

Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes

Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.

Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children

Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.

Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes

Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz

2019 Oaxaca Textile Study Tour: San Mateo del Mar and the Purple Snail

Saturday, January 5 to Thursday, January 10, 2019 — Six days, five nights immersed in the weaving and natural dyeing culture of Oaxaca’s southern coast. You can take this short-course independently or add it on to the front end of our Costa Chica study tour. 

Itinerary

  • Saturday, January 5, arrive in Huatulco on Oaxaca’s mid-coast. Overnight in or near Huatulco (D)
  • Sunday, January 6, spend the day on the rocky shore line to see how the native snail — caracol purpura — that gives off the purple dye is protected and cultivated. Our expert is Habacuc, a member of the Pinotepa de Don Luis community authorized to harvest this rare crustacean. Overnight in or near Huatulco (B, L)

Caracol purpura dyed cotton thread before it goes to the loom

  • Monday, January 7 through Wednesday, January 9, travel and stay in to Salina Cruz where we will be based to explore the nearby Ikoots coastal village of San Mateo del Mar. Here, fine cotton gauze is woven on the back strap loom.  Turtles, fish, crabs, birds, palm trees are incorporated into the cloth that show the area’s relationship to the sea.  Our visit to several weaving cooperatives includes a contribution to the 2017 September 17 earthquake relief fund that is helping restore village services. (B, L)

Cloth embellished with figures from the natural world

  • Thursday, January 10, we return to Huatulco where we will drop you off at the airport for an afternoon departure time or you can continue up the coast with us to Puerto Escondido. Its a five-hour drive from Salina Cruz to Puerto Escondido along MEX 200. We’ll have lunch in or near Huatulco to break up the trip. Lodging on the night of January 10 is on your own. (B, L)

Finely woven blusa from San Mateo del Mar

What the Trip Includes:

  • 5 nights lodging
  • 5 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 1 dinner
  • Guided boat trip on Huatulco coast to harvest the caracol purpura
  • All van transportation from Huatulco to San Mateo del Mar and back to either Huatulco or Puerto Escondido
  • Donation to San Mateo del Mar earthquake relief fund

What the Short-Course DOES NOT Include: Airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service from airport to hotel.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Resources, Glossary of Terms


Cost to Participate

  • $1,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $1,895 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

Who Should Attend

  • Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
  • Those interested in natural dyes, cultural preservation
  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
  • Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last 50% payment is due on or before November 15, 2018. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 15, 2018, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before November 15, we will refund 50% of your deposit.