Catherine Ador (Switzerland, AC 09-11)
Summer projects…I remember when those familiar words were still wrapped in mystery and magic. I have always known that I wanted to travel more and now that the chance was given to me on a silver plate, why refuse it?
During this summer, I went off for three weeks in Mexico, joining the Integrando a Mexico 2010 project organised by one of my third years, Patricio Provencio. Although the adventure already started at school, planning and fund raising for what was to become a month of UWC short course, the project only felt real when we found ourselves surrounded by the colours and sounds of the Latin American culture.
On the 3 of June, I arrived at Mexico city with my finish co-year Assi, both lost and excited about what was starting that day. Some 8 hours later we drove into San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful city in the centre of Mexico which was to be the site of our short course. During that first week of planning and organisation, we still did not fully grasp the challenge we were giving ourselves.
I think the reality hit us when the first participants of a group of 40 indigenous Mexicans arrived. At that point we also understood how foolish it could seem, wanting to lead a course in a language you do not speak. However it triggered in all of us a will to communicate our energy and enthusiasm, if not our words of wisdom.
During those three intense weeks of course, we involved the youth in a wide range of activities, starting with conflict resolution workshops. Working with them on optimal communication and active listening to reach a win-win situation was a great lesson of Spanish of course, but even more of cultural understanding. Through the debates that took place I was able to question my western values but also to realise how privileged I am to come from a background that regard critical thinking as a virtue. I also realised how much the environment you develop in and its security influences your opinions.
The second week was focused on creativity and community services. The participants got to choose between a selection of creative activities (theatre, filming, creative wiring etc.) and three community services. One of those projects was the design and realisation of a mural in a centre for disabled children, which three other art students and myself led. This experience was a learning process during the whole week it lasted, being challenging in practical and more psychological terms. We had to trigger energy in a group of 12 teenagers while fighting torrential rain under plastic bags… an epic battle took place against the elements. This experience was one of the strongest I experienced there though, because of the team work and because of the result of a week of combined efforts. Beautiful.
Those creative activities were combined with workshops on democracy which involved false elections and campaigns. This part of the project opened our eyes on the problems Mexico is facing now and what seems to be the pressing issues for the young generation. There is an awareness of the corruption and the danger of drug traffic and so on, but where to start. It was a very powerful sight, the one of young adults stating what they want for their nation and how they would achieve it.
Of course, the project was not as idyllic as it sounds. We were challenged in our authority, giving orders to participants that were our age, sometimes older and it was hard to reach a balance between friendship and authority. It did also hurt each time they would forget the principals of optimal communication we tried to teach and got carried away. We were not perfect either, taking things too seriously, not seriously enough. The description I gave here is my own, although I could never tell the entire experience in so few words. The lesson learned in Mexico is beyond this story and I am forever grateful for the person that made it possible. What I found in Mexico is a culture and an engaged youth, who taught me so much. I also found friends and lived some of the greatest moments of my life, so far.
The project we did was different, maybe quite abstract in its content, but if we succeeded, and I think we did, the impact will be great and on a great scale. Seeing those kids taking over their own projects in their communities, seeing them realise that it is all a question of will and involvement was the greatest achievement we could hope for.
Perfection doesn’t exist, it would be boring anyway, but I think that our naïve idealism is sometimes more powerful than perfection.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-