Responding to Mexico’s Cries
The Practicum Tale of Luther Student Katie Bergman
It’s winter in Saskatchewan, that’s a euphemism for “the bane of our existence,” a synonym for a sixth-month headache. Its most preferred remedy: ten days of refuge in Mexico, the “suntan sanctuary” of the Americas. While marinating on the beach outside of a five-star resort in Cancun, it’s easy to place a sort of mental embargo on thoughts of black ice and wind chills, of dynamics at work and all-nighter study sessions. Wearing rose-coloured sunglasses, it’s even easy to ignore the miles of dilapidated tin houses and orphaned children eating out of garbage cans on the drive between the airport and beachfront resort.
Before my departure to Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, the most popular remark from my well-intentioned acquaintances was “wow, a semester in Mexico? You’re going to get such a great tan!” Although the purpose of my three-month pilgrimage was to serve at a rural social justice agency in order fulfill the requirements of my Human Justice practicum, I was seldom told “wow, a semester in Mexico? You’re going to have such an eye-opening experience.”
While it is often perceived monolithically as nothing more than a tourist destination for Canadians, Mexico is hurting. Poverty rates have increased by 68% due to questionable NAFTA policies in the early 1990s that sequestered over one million small-scale farmers from their land (Sierra Club, 2009). Of all Latin American countries, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) classifies Mexico as experiencing the least improvement in human development, with half the population living below the national poverty line (Olivera & Furio, 2006; UN, 2010). Agricultural crises, low salaries and high unemployment rates, mass migration (and deaths) of migrants flooding the U.S.-Mexico border, femicide, and rampant poverty renders Mexico a country in crisis.
For three months, I have the opportunity to observe and respond to the reality of such issues as a practicum student at Foundation For His Ministry, a multi-faceted organization—founded initially as an orphanage—located along the Baja California peninsula. Although I’m not yet halfway through my service, I’ve witnessed and been moved by a tremendous number of local Mexicans’ heartbreaking experiences of poverty. Working in a centre for children with special needs, and I’ve seen the daily struggles they face as a result of the intersections of their families’ socioeconomic status and their developmental or mobility incapacitations. Most of these niños only have the opportunity to eat and learn during school hours at the learning centre, returning at the end of the day to crowded and crumbling one-room houses often devoid of the warmth—both physical and emotional—that they need. One little girl with Down’s syndrome lives with her family of four in a hut the size of my closet back home. It has only two walls and a dirt floor, and it is fashioned out of plastic bags.
Yet even with this daily exposure to such harrowing circumstances, feelings of discouragement would be almost irrational when working with such driven and uplifting people at this progressive, positive, productive agency. Here, we have had children with brain damage learn how to ride a bike. We have seen orphans rise out of inconceivably tragic circumstances and become college graduates. Last year, in conjunction with one other organization, the on-site soup kitchen distributed 15,000 meals to destitute locals. Offering a medical centre, day care, learning centre for children with special needs, rehabilitation centre, literacy programs, outreach to migrant workers, counselling services, a Bible college, and a church responding to spiritual needs, it’s nearly impossible to work without faith that needs will be met and that prayers will be answered. Mexico is hurting, but Foundation For His Ministry is responding to its cries.
Olivera, M. & Furio, V. J. (2006). Violencia Femicida: Violence against Women and Mexico’s Structural Crisis. Latin American Perspectives, 33, (2), 104-114. Retrieved 23 January from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27647925
Sierra Club (2009). Sierra Club International Programs: Addressing the Root Causes of Migration. Retrieved 23 January 2011 from http://www.sierraclub.org/population/downloads/migration.pdf
United Nations (2010). Population Below National Poverty Line. Retrieved 23 January 2011 from http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/SeriesDetail.aspx?srid=583&crid=484
Katie Bergman is completing her final semester at the U of R, and will be graduating with a Bachelor of Human Justice this spring. She is primarily drawn to the social justice realm with a particular interest in gender issues, especially human trafficking. She is a passionate traveler and spends part of her summers as a tree planter.