Youth Learning from Youth: The story of “¡Integrando a Mexico!”

Patricio Provencio (Mexico, AC 09)

It was a Sunday evening. We were on our way to Mexico City. The traffic was heavy, so we were going at a very low speed. Everybody except Clemente, the driver, was sleeping. We stop in the middle of the traffic. Suddenly, we get hit. We wake up. We get pushed and hit the car in front. We are shaken once again. We are lucky to escape tragic results, as the car only gets some scratches and the passengers only suffer from whiplash. We move out of the highway to a safe zone in order to check the consequences of the crash. The car that hits us has its front part destroyed and a 70-year old woman with wounds in the head. Our car and the one in front suffer minor damages and nobody gets severely injured. About 10 minutes after the accident, the policeman arrives to the scene. He checks out what happened. We all believe he will help speed up the legal arrangements of the accident. However, we were wrong. From the outset, he makes his position clear. He wants money. He asks for a bribe. “If you don’t want to go to the ministry and go through the pertinent investigations, you have to pay me $5,000 Pesos. Not one peso less,” he stated. Everybody agreed on the one version of the story, and believed no such investigation was needed. The cop disagreed and insisted on the bribe. He knew nobody wanted to go through the lengthy, bureaucratic process of going to the ministry, and offered an “easy” escape where he would be economically benefited for his “troubles”. The insurance agents came. Hours went by, but an arrangement of the damages’ payment was finally made. However, the cop was still unhappy. He said, “You still haven’t dealt with the legal issue. Again, either you pay me or you go the ministry. Let’s fulfill the law, gentlemen.” That truly irritated me. Here was this dishonest cop who was trying to gain some benefit out of this event instead of complying with the law. One of the insurance agents said to me, “Look at this. The only people benefited from this and many other similar situations are them, and the country is so affected by it. He is the perfect example of the state of our judicial authorities these days.” Indeed he was, and he also turned out to be the perfect example of why I had embarked on the “¡Integrando a México!” adventure in the first place.

After months of work, “¡Integrando a Mexico!” 2010 started on the 12th of July in the city of San Miguel de Allende, with 29 participants from 11 different cities in Mexico and 13 facilitators from 10 countries around the globe. This very diverse group was full of energy and excitement to get things started, and after a very short but important Introduction Day, it was time to get things started. The course’s first stage was the Conflict Resolution Workshops Week. For the facilitators, these workshops were new territory. None of us had led any of them. Ever. So imagine what it felt to lead them. They were pivotal to the success of the course. Do them well, and the course will lead onto greater things and will fulfill its objectives. Do them badly, and lose control and purpose. After a nervous start, we started getting confident as we fed from the participants’ energy and enthusiasm. With theoretical and practical activities that directly connected to daily life aspects, participants took in values and skills such as active listening, effective dialogue, respect, and teamwork. Seems common sense to you? To them it wasn’t, and to many Mexicans it isn’t. In a country marred with lack of education, poverty, and inequality, these are underestimated values that are crucial to becoming a better society. It was a tiring but ultimately very rewarding week, as we had attained our goal. At the end of the week, the workshops set up the tone for what came afterwards, and gave the participants many lessons far more valuable than they would have imagined. As Daniel, a participant from Mexico City, put it, “Now, we know how to solve problems, but more importantly, we know how to properly listen and engage in dialogue If we do this, we can prevent many problems, and if we spread it out, we will prevent problems from happening around us and solve the ones that exist. It is a privilege to understand and appreciate these values.”

The first week was over, and an atmosphere of trust and friendship had been established. Now came the second week, where we would put in practice the values learnt in the workshops of the first week. The first part of the day dealt with Community Service Sessions. Since leaving Atlantic College, I have always questioned the fact that helping out members of a community is an exception nowadays rather than a norm. “Why doesn’t more people lend a hand, if the feeling you get from it is tremendously inspiring and rewarding?” I asked myself. Well, now it was time to thrust participants and facilitators into 5-6 days of sessions where they would participate in different community projects in San Miguel de Allende. Assistance was given to the local Botanical Garden and to the construction of a Community Centre in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town, in addition to a mural being planned out and drawn in a local centre for disabled children. If you think about what tangible things were achieved, you would probably say nothing much was managed. Participants, collaborators, and the NGOs that we worked with were satisfied with the collective effort, but the best sensation I got was that of the intangible results these sessions brought upon. However different the activities were, everybody coincided in one thing that was that their own session had been motivating experience that gave feelings of reward and satisfaction. Many of the participants told me, “Helping out is great and pushes to me want to keep on helping.” This motivation, I felt, wouldn’t disappear. It would be of much use afterwards, when the time to develop community projects came.

Every day, immediately after those sessions, the participants would take part in Creative Workshops. Film allowed some participants to learn about filmmaking and create a well-crafted short film. Furthermore, in radio and newspaper, other participants had a great opportunity to learn a set of skills to bring to life media that reflected upon the course and their personal experiences and emotions. In another hand, improvisational theatre members learned various dramatic techniques and how to freely express oneself through the body. Also, the group of the workshop was able display their learning whilst creatively raising awareness in San Miguel’s central plaza about corruption and the war on drugs, two topics of big importance in Mexico Finally, Creative Writing became a space for imagination to be let loose through the use of the pens and paper. All in all, participants learned a set of valuable skills while exercising their creativity and bringing to life expressions of their experiences in the course. As Yunuel from San Miguel mentions, “Through the work we did, we understood how we could use each of our individualities and own creativity to paint collective images about who we are, what we think, and how we see the world around us.”

Now, if you talk about uninteresting things, politics for youth in Mexico has to rank very high at the top. A few of the participants grumbled, “Why would we be ever interested in politicsIt is not only their sentiment, but also the sentiment of many other young people all over the country. However, we believed that we could show them how important it is for them to get informed and participate in the country’s political arena. Youth Participation and Democracy Workshops would be our means to do so. Through the simulation of a political campaign, they engaged in a profound process of teamwork and research where they came up with their own party and policies. Afterwards, they presented their party to the members of the course and then debated their policies on different areas. Disagreements and discussions were a consequence of this, but as one of candidates pointed out, they were constructive, as everybody learned from each other’s point of view while understanding the importance of listening actively and communicating effectively in these processes. Someone told me, “Why don’t politicians take a course like this to understand these values?” That, I will always wonder, but I didn’t have to wonder about the impact of these workshops on the participants. In the final discussion and the conclusions, a thought resonated in the minds of the participants. They became conscious of the need to participate actively in the democratic life of the country. “We have a role to play,” Jesus, from Victoria, said, “as we are not citizens of our communities when we turn 18, but when we become aware of the role we can play in shaping our community through the exercise of informing oneself to elect representatives wisely and put pressure on them to work for the benefit of the people.” A renewing feeling of the need to involve themselves in politics was in the air, and consequently the participants of the course had suddenly gone from mere teenagers to more aware Mexican citizens willing to take part in the country’s political life.

The second week flew by before we could even catch our breath, and the last week was upon us. The first three days of the third week dealt only with Social Issue Activities. With a wide range of activities, participants became more aware and knowledgeable of different serious social issues of our communities, our country and our world. First of all, Politics reinforced the beliefs of the Youth Participation and Democracy Workshops, Secondly, Ecology engaged the participants in a process of environmental awareness in a time where this is utterly crucial for the stopping of global warming. Thirdly, Photography, which might not have seemed as deeply connected to a social issue as other activities, let participants see the reality of a town and its people, one that few of the many thousands of tourists that come to San Miguel de Allende see. All in all, they all learnt valuable skills and became aware of a variety of issues. “By looking at the past of these social issues and analyzing their present, I can see how big of a task do we all have in working to deal with them,” Joaquín, from Mexico City, said. With these thoughts in everyone’s minds we arrived to the final stage of the course. The most important part of the course for me had come. What would the participants do with their creativity and interests in addition to the numerous lessons learned in this course? The answer lied in the Social Project Development Workshops. With a very basic method, the participants were taught to design a project of their own. After the last theory lesson of the course, planning for projects started. Here were some of the difference-makers of tomorrow, planning how they would start to make such difference. “It’s easier to do than I thought,” somebody said. I knew from experience that it wasn’t, and I let them know. They started with vague ideas, but I pushed them to insert more substance to the surface of their ideas. “You are playing the Devil’s Advocate,” somebody told me. I was, but with good reason. I wanted them to let out their true potential and use their smarts and creativity to develop the best possible project. And they all did. In a short period of time, nine projects had emerged. Nine projects that can make difference in communities around Mexico. Thrills of excitement and happiness ran through my veins at the thought of all the benefits and smiles the projects can bring. The best thing, however, was not this. Belief in capacity as agents of change, participants concluded, was the best thing they acquired in these workshops. In a country were people stand back waiting for government to take action and fix their lives, here where a group of young Mexicans who saw what I had been saying all along. “I can be an agent of change,” more than one of them said to me, “All it takes is standing up and taking action, and through these workshops, the course, and the example you guys have given us, I feel inspired to do so.” With this the course had ended, but its effects had just started to show.

The participants had done multiple presentations of the course throughout the Open Day. Sponsors, participants, and parents came to the exhibition and, at the end of the event, approached me to congratulate our team for the work we had done. However, I will remember the words of one man in particular, the father of one of the participants. “Thanks for giving my daughter the chance of living this wonderful experience,” the man told me. “Before the course, she was a shy and introvert person who didn’t believe in herself and who had. Now, she seems to be the most confident person in the world, and I am amazed at her motivation for her community project and for everything else that lies ahead of her. I can see it in her eyes. I can see it in the other participants’ eyes. This course has made a world of difference to them. I hope more young participants can keep on receiving this life-changing opportunity.” Motivated by this and by this amazing experience, I told him, “We will do so. Your daughter and the other 28 participants have proven to us an incredibly valuable thing. We can change Mexico. They can change Mexico. Anyone can change Mexico. It is just a matter of growing aware of such capability and making it happen with passion and dedication. It’s time to make agents of change a norm rather than the exception in this country.” With passion and dedication, we and many other young people can help to create a future in which any person who tomorrow stands in the position of the policeman dealt with our accident acts according to principles of honesty, respect, and responsibility, and consequently takes the right choices. It’s time to make such future a reality.

-United World Colleges Student Magazine-

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