Week 1 in Chiapas

On Sunday night, I took a flight from San Francisco with another GPP student, Lucy, and arrived in Chiapas, Mexico on Monday morning. One of the staff members from Fundacion Cantaro Azul, Sergio, met us at the airport in Tuxtla Gutierrez and traveled with us on bus to San Cristobal de Las Casas, where the FCA office is located. He took us to the cabin where we had arranged to stay to drop off our luggage, and then he showed us around the city. Although I was sleep deprived, I was excited to see the city we would live in for the next 6 weeks. As we walked around the city, we encountered the director of FCA and met him in person for the first time. We had skyped and communicated with him throughout the semester to discuss logistics and plan for the practice experience, so it was great to finally meet him in person. Sergio, Lucy, and I ate a restaurant and then walked to a casa de cambio to exchange US dollars for pesos. As we ate and walked around the city, we had a conversation with Sergio about various topics. We talked about hometowns in California, the GPP minor, life in San Cristobal, the media’s representation of violence in Mexico, and the Zapatista communities in Chiapas. After that, we thanked Sergio for his help and returned to the cabin to take a nap because we hadn’t slept well on the airplane. After we woke up, we walked down the street looking for groceries and found some tiendas de abarrotes. That was our first day in Chiapas.

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San Cristobal de las Casas

On Tuesday, we walked to the FCA office several blocks away and met most of the FCA team. Then we had an introductory meeting with Fermin and Moises, the person who would guide and assist us throughout the 6 weeks in Chiapas. We met the FCA technician and helped prepare some of the material for the Mesita Azul, one of the water filtration technologies the NGO designs and implements in rural communities in an effort to improve access to safe drinking water. We also met Lindsay, a UC Berkeley alumna who had been living in Chiapas for 9 months and working with FCA as part of the Fullbright Scholarship. I’m glad we got the chance to meet her and learn about her experience in Chiapas before she returned to the US the next week. On Wednesday, five of the FCA staff and the GPP students traveled to the municipality of Sitala to hold educational workshops with an indigenous community that was in the process of adopting the mesita azul technology. The purpose of the trip was to discuss teamwork in the communities, ensure that the community members understood how the mesita azul functions, what each part of the mesita is used for, and how to diagnose technical problems in order to fix the mesita themselves. On the way there, we passed signs that had messages about EZLN property, taking care of mother earth and not littering, and signs that read “Selva Maya.” Throughout the trip, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the community members who speak Tzeltal and are part of a Mayan indigenous group living in the highlands of Chiapas. Chiapas is one of the states in Mexico with the highest percentage of poverty and also one of the the largest populations of indigenous people who are often underserved. This week, I gained a better understanding about the work FCA does in practice and why it’s important for them to exist as an NGO that strives to increase access to clean water in rural communities when the government does not ensure that safe drinking water is a human right for poor, marginalized communities.

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Paintings in the Fundacion Cantaro Azul office

“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world” -Dr. Paul Farmer

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