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Friday, 25 February 2011 01:40

Reflections on My Volunteeering in Oaxaca Mexico

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My two-week volunteering trip this month centered on the Oaxaca Ecology Project ranch in the hills above the city of Oaxaca that former Maryknoll Lay Missioners Pat and Mary Denevan started a few years ago.  The city of Oaxaca lies in the central mountain range of the country about 300 miles south of Mexico City.

The 5-acre ecology project "combines principles of Permaculture, modern technology and the wisdom of indigenous cultures of Mexico to promote efficient uses of natural resources and organic, sustainable agriculture" (from the Ecology Project mission statement) and includes over 30 fruit trees watered by a drip system,  solar cells to generate  electricity, solar water heating system, thermally efficient adobe home, rain collection ditches and roof collection system,  composting  system, ecological dry toilet system, biointensive gardens, and raising small farm animals such as chickens, turkeys and rabbits. A center for women's integral health is also a part of the project.

The state of Oaxaca comprises about 3.5% of the country’s population but generates only 1.5% of the GNP which makes it the second poorest state (the state of Chiapas to the east being the poorest).   With at least 17 indigenous groups in the state and numerous languages, Oaxaca is one of the most culturally diverse states in Mexico. Maryknoll is one of a number of religious and social justice organizations ministering to the poor of Oaxaca.

The Denevans arranged for me to stay with friends of theirs living in a village of about 5000 inhabitants a few miles from the ranch.  Liz and Carlos and their two adult sons living with them welcomed me to their home as if I were a family member.  Their third adult child and her two preschoolers visit the family home a few afternoons a week. Her kids affectionately called Pat Denevan and me “los dos Patricios.”

Liz and Carlos volunteer in some of the poor villages near Oaxaca City teaching on social justice issues to adults and teens and advocating with them.  I was blessed to be staying with this couple who were also ministering to the poor.

As their guests, I attended family gatherings, neighborhood fiestas, and anniversary celebrations as well as visiting markets and small villages where Liz and Carlos volunteer.   Extended families seem to be more important than acquiring possessions and wealth for most villagers. Their social life is centered on family gatherings and celebrations.

Carlos and I helped Pat refurbish a storage shed at the ranch installing three windows, two barn doors and siding. However, the most important part of the volunteer trip was not how much we accomplished but rather how we became friends in the process.

All in all, working on the Ecology Project ranch and especially living with such a caring Mexican family made this trip among the most rewarding of the 10 volunteer trips I’ve taken to Latin America.  The attached photos give you a sense of our work and activities in the Oaxaca area.

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