Respecting Mother Earth: A Plea from the Teyuna People, Part 3

by Denise R. Ames

This is the last installment of a blog about the Teyuna mamos and zagas, spiritual leaders of the Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogi and Wiwi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of Colombia. They were known as the Guardians of the World, and were featured in several documentaries, including Aluna. They visited Albuquerque, New Mexico in August and I attended their presentation. Below are my thoughts:

Teyuna 2

My Take Impressions from the Teyuna Presentation

  1. Relationships
    As Westerners, it is common to think of Earth as an object, as separate from us, and something for humans to exploit for their own needs. However, the Teyuna people don’t regard the Earth as an object, they have a relationship with the Earth, it is part of them. They give her love and when Earth is healthy humans are healthy. It is a relationship, not an object.
  2. Work
    Someone in the audience asked if we could work together to heal the Earth. However, the interpreter pointed out that the word work is a foreign concept to the Teyuna people. Work to Westerners is an act of changing an object to a different form of existence. Once again, they see Westerners as regarding the Earth as an object to be molded into a different context. They want to have a relationship with the Earth and not work to change it.
  3. Reading
    To Westerners we read written text to gather information that helps shape our views of a particular issue. However, the Teyuna people have a different interpretation of what to read. Instead, they “read” nature to gather hidden messages from the natural world. For example, the river born high in the mountains flows down to the ocean, all the while giving messages to the rest of the ecosystem. If we listen carefully, we can learn to read what nature and the spiritual world is telling us.
  4. Animistic Spirituality
    Much of the world follows a type of universal “religion” such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Greek rational thought, or others. Animistic religions (using the term broadly) offer a different meaning. They see nature as alive, and not dead and inert. The mountains, streams, rivers, water, and sky are all alive with spirit and meaning. The Teyuna speakers explained that the Earth’s rivers are like veins and if dams are erected to stop the flow of rivers it is like cutting one of our veins. This is not respect. Therefore, we need to treat Mother Earth with the respect she deserves.
  5. Wisdom of the Ancestors
    The ancestors provide a great deal of wisdom for the younger generations to follow. Their wise council is respected and carried out. The Teyuna speakers explained that the ancestors say how we think is how we see and how we act. It is an integrated system of thoughts and actions; therefore, we must think before we act. They told the story of when one of them toured New York City, he wondered what was the thinking of the people who built the high-rise buildings. They had to displace nature in doing so. The ancestors would say that we need to understand the limits of our mind and be guided by messages from nature.
  6. Questions
    Another bit of wisdom that the Teyuna speakers shared with their captive audience was a commentary by one of the speakers about the type of questions that the audience asked. One speaker stated that when asking questions there is a sense that you know part of the answer already. He wondered why we do that. Could it be the ego wanting attention? He told us to reflect on that.
  7. Prayer
    As the presentation was wrapping up, I wondered what they would want us to do to realize their goal of respecting Mother Earth. Perhaps, we would be asked to sign a pledge, write our Congressional representatives, join a campaign to resist exploiting resources, or other strategies of resistance. But they asked for none of these. Instead, the closest word I can think of to describe their plea of respect was to pray. They wanted us to change our attitude from one of exploitation to one of gratefulness and respect. This is a powerful request. Perhaps through a collective concentration of spiritual consciousness, Westerners would be able to shift our awareness to one that comprehends that there is a powerful relationship connecting the Earth and humans. It is a prayer worth our effort and understanding.

Teyuna 3

_________________

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.

Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

 

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Respecting Mother Earth: A Plea from the Teyuna People, Part 2

by Denise R. Ames

This post is the second installment of the Teyuna mamos and zagas, spiritual leaders of the Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogi and Wiwi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of Colombia. They were known as the Guardians of the World, and were featured in several documentaries, including Aluna.

…….

Speaker Two

A second speaker thanked us for taking time to listen to him and his group. He stated that as people we circle around “me”or our ego as the ruler of our actions, he says that it is hard to get out of this mindset. But they are living, thinking, and feeling in a different way, a different way of being.

Teyuna 1

Teyuna man

While the first dialogue was about respect for each other, he wanted to share with us the law of creation. He noted that between the city and mountains straddles a border of forest that offers a sanctuary for birds living in their own environment. Following the law of creation, the birds also have their own order, language, and way of life.

The Teyuna speakers wanted to share with the audience that the concept of going outside this order has created chaos, disorder, and disrespect. People haven’t followed the law of creation, which has resulted in chaos. For this reason, they have been striving to stay in coherence with the law of creation, which tells them to place importance upon sacred places.

The speaker concluded by emphasizing that the tour has been about respect for all things and the balance of life. Not long ago this message was suppressed by modern people and their belief system, but now it has been respectfully received. Now is an important time to respond to this message.

Third Speaker

Teyuna 4

The third speaker wanted to share ancestral wisdom with the audience. He said that North America is very beautiful and he is happy to see everyone and to share the space with us. But the real reason why they came to North America is because their wise elders have told them about many problems today. For many years they have been told about these problems by their elders.  The reason for the problems is that if we don’t respect the rocks and water, thus they won’t respect us.  If we don’t live in harmony with the Earth, then it results in illness and an imbalance.

The speaker saaid “we now realize what the ancestors were saying a long time ago. Now we are suffering the consequences.” The speaker found that his way of understanding the Earth was very different from Westerners. “You see,” he stated, “the Earth as a separate object and not connected to your feelings.” They see the Earth as sacredly connected to humans and not separate. Even though there are fundamental differences in the two worldviews, they want to engage with us despite these different ways of thinking. They want us to be aware and be activators of a more relationship consciousness. They offer an invitation to us, to embody a mindset or attitude of respect for the Earth.

Will post the final installment of the blog on Thursday, October 11, 2018.

_____________

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.

Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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Respecting Mother Earth: A Plea from the Teyuna People

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

This post is dedicated to celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 8, 2018

10 Aluna

This looked interesting! A local interfaith group in Albuquerque, New Mexico was hosting the Teyuna mamos and zagas, spiritual leaders of the Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogi and Wiwi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of Colombia. They were known as the Guardians of the World, and were featured in several documentaries, including Aluna.

The packed parking lot of the host church indicated that I was not the only one who felt that listening to a message delivered by indigenous people who lived so far away would be an enlightening experience.  They were touring particular places in the United States, speaking and praying about water issues, while also offering healing sessions and begging us to act to save the Earth.

As I entered the commons area, I caught a glimpse of three men, along with their interpreter, sitting stoically at the front of the room. Interestingly they didn’t sit on stage, elevated above their audience, but they sat at the same level as everyone else, helping to foster an egalitarian atmosphere. Their off-white colored, wool hats contrasted sharply with their dark, black, straight hair.  As I learned later, the tall hats were as a way to connect them to cosmic energy and give them clear thoughts of the universe.

In this space, I would like to share with you a summary of their presentation and what I took away from the hour-long talk by the three indigenous men and their interpreter.  Others might have learned something different, as we all filter information through our own worldview and mental processes.  The guests were speaking from an indigenous worldview and most of us, I assume, who are reading this are Westerners influenced by a modern worldview.

Speaker One

map

map of Colombia, Teyuna on the northwest coast

The first speaker in a heart-felt fashion greeted us as brothers and sisters of this Earth. After all, he stated, we are all family on this Earth. His message was one of promoting respect, tolerance, and understanding, and for us to connect with the spirituality coming from the Earth. He wanted his message to connect with our feelings and not our minds. He “read” the audience and said we had compassion, courage in our faces, and resolution to go forward with our mission.

The speaker implored us to love each other and walk the path to love Mother Earth. He suggested different ways to express this love, but the basis of this love is respect. Of all the attitudes that we hold as humans, to him, gratitude was very important. The Teyuna people are grateful that they are on the same path as their ancestors in the region and they have a blessed relationship with the sacred mountain. They tap into spirituality connected to the mountain, since the creator has directed them to walk together.

They cannot forget this message from the creator, since it is part of them. The essence or rule of the message is “don’t disrupt the divine order.” This was the mission of the tour, humans cannot jeopardize the order. A balance of all forces is necessary.

The speaker concluded by reaffirming that his group was grateful to be in Albuquerque and to share their thoughts about their animistic religion with the audience. They feel they can “read” nature and the message is within the rocks and mountains; they, in turn, are guardians of rocks, streams, and mountains. The rocks and streams are telling them there is time to save Mother Earth, and that is why they came.

The next installment of this post will be on Friday, October 5, 2018

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.

Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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Divided: Colliding Ways We See the World


by Dr. Denise R. Ames

A very troubling discord that was simmering below the surface boiled over in the 2016 election. Deep divides among the American people, and the Western world, were starkly revealed. This blog post will summarize a way of understanding these divides. I feel that before divisions can be mended and solutions worked out a deeper understanding of people who hold different viewpoints than we do are necessary.

It is part of my work as president of an educational nonprofit, Center for Global Awareness, to write and teach about the colliding ways we see the world. I have used Jonathan Haidt’s six moral foundations—care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression—to explain how different groups of people see issues in these six categories differently. Personal experiences, education, geographic location, personality type, and other factors influence how a person can act in and see the world.

I have found in my research, however, that another layer of explanation is helpful in clarifying colliding viewpoints today. I have developed a model to explain how people throughout the world can be clustered into five different worldviews. A worldview is an overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world; a set of simplifying assumptions about how the world works. The five overarching worldviews in the world today are …

1) Indigenous: the ways of life and values of a dwindling number of native people throughout the world.
2) Modern: heralds scientific knowing, materialism, and technological advancement.
3) Fundamentalist: values their own traditions and often religious customs.
4) Globalized: promotes a philosophy of economic growth and prosperity.
5) Transformative: characterized by integrating diverse ideas and fostering collaboration.

Each of these five worldviews has subsets and differentiation. I will elaborate on them briefly.

The indigenous worldview is any ethnic group who shares a similar ethnic identity and inhabits a geographic region with which they have the earliest known historical connection. They have tight-knit social bonds and social mechanisms to reinforce group solidarity, a high-regard for the wisdom of their elders, and clear demarcations between male and female roles (at least in the past). Their religious practices, rituals, and customs are interwoven into their everyday life. “Mother Earth” and sacred geographic locations are integral to their worldview.

The modern worldview started to take shape around 1500 in the West and ushered in tremendous changes in how modern people see the world. The scientific revolution sparked different modes of thinking from religious/spiritual knowing to technical, materialist thinking. In different guises capitalism took shape and transformed the ways of working, living, and being of all people. Political changes swept away monarchies and led to representative governments, although totalitarian fascism and communism made their mark on the political climate as well in the 20th century. The environment was made a commodity, tied to capitalist output and growth. Socially, especially among the middle class, the nuclear family displaced the extended family, while the father became the “breadwinner” and mother assumed domestic duties. Liberalism, as a political philosophy—freedom of speech, press, and religion among others—still forms the bedrock of political systems in Western countries. Even though liberalism seems to be seriously challenged in the 21st century, its fate is far from determined at this point.

Although the modern worldview continues today, a subset—the postmodern worldview—developed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and has gained more followers in the early 21st century, especially among the educated elite and young people. Some of the characteristics include the concept that boundaries have become more fluid as the distinction between male and female has blurred. Divisions between nation-states are challenged, and some even advocate for open-borders. There is great empathy for the “victims” of oppression—people of color, women, homosexuals, and native people—for what is considered to be the oppressive and colonial policies of modernism. Post-modernists tend to be more politically on the left and advocate for a very active role of the federal government in the realm of social welfare. Many eschew religious traditions and take a more secular, even atheistic, stance.

The fundamentalist worldview also has different subsets and belief systems. Primary in this worldview are those who hold to traditional religions, such as Christianity in the U.S. and Islam in the Middle East. They believe in authority figures and hierarchical structures, summarily dismissed by post-modernists. They believe in the sanctity of their religious beliefs and the primacy of their holy scriptures. Many have strict demarcations between genders. Some in this worldview turn to authoritarian political ideas rather than religious beliefs, such as supporting a strong leader and eschewing democratic customs.

The globalized worldview has emerged out of the modern worldview and taken a commanding stance in the 21st century. Those holding this worldview believe that progress can be realized through more sophisticated technological marvels, connecting the world into an intricate, technological and economic web. Poverty can be eliminated by growing the economy to include more people into prosperity and abundance. Globalization also influences social structures, with an elite, educated class more connected to people who hold a similar worldview around the world than their less-educated, fellow citizens. Culturally, the emphasis on consumer experiences and material wealth is more important than religious connections.

The transformative worldview is developing ideas and actions distinct from the other worldviews. It is about integrating the valuable characteristics of the other worldviews but also creating some unique beliefs. Although technology is important, there is not as much of an obsession with technological fixes as in the globalized worldview. Instead of an over-reliance on a globalized economy, there is an emphasis on the local economy, especially regarding food and the benefits of organic products. Even though multi-culturalism is important, allegiance is given to the nation-state as a viable political structure as well. Though there is recognition of the suffering by victims of past discrimination, there is a renewal of an ethic of personal responsibility to cope with the situation. There is more of a focus on spirituality than organized religion. Although in a nascent stage, this worldview has the potential to blossom into an influential force.

Understanding the characteristics of each of these five worldviews can help in addressing the deep cultural divide in the U.S.

About the Author …

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.

Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

 

 

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Transformative Understanding

Welcome to our Inaugural Blog Post: Transformative Understanding

by Denise R. Ames

The Center for Global Awareness is changing!

We are in the process of developing our newest and third program called TURN, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network.

We are continuing our other two programs—Global Awareness for Educators and GATHER, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection—but all things must change and we feel it is time to turn our attention to a program near and dear to our hearts. (See the About tab for more details about TURN).

About Turn

Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network encourages lifelong and transformative learning—an engaged and reflective process—to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being.

CGA defines transformative understanding as a process of expanding our consciousness to become more aware of our being in the world. This non-linear process may include recognizing and integrating into one’s awareness— holistic thinking, diverse worldviews, cross-cultural perspectives, experimental wisdom, spirituality, and a mythic journey—with the ultimate goal of promoting personal and global well-being.

By fitting in these seven dimensions or “paths “of transformative understanding into our belief system, we have a greater capacity to achieve a deeper sense of the meaning of our life and engage in the world more thoughtfully.

Why Our TURN Program

We at CGA feel that the human species is at a critical juncture in our long human history. The present is plagued by contentious disagreements and rapid changes in our way of life; the path forward is unclear and uncertain. Our past way of thinking isn’t capable of helping us navigate these murky waters. What can possibly help us make sense of and thrive during these tumultuous and challenging times?

CGA offers the Turn program as a way to help concerned individuals sort out our bewildering situation. We believe that in order for a more enlightened spirit to become a reality, a shift in individual consciousness to one that enfolds different ways of thinking, acting, and being is necessary for real transformation to occur.

About the Turn Blog

We strive to bring attention to and share with our blog readers the seven paths to personal and global well-being. We hope the blog posts will be a way to experience the seven paths. Our blogs will go into more depth about the seven paths, discuss how they can be integrated into our everyday lives, and how these paths can be shared with others. With our blogs, we aim to stimulate conversations, create a network of like-minded people, and inspire individuals to create positive change in their inner and outer worlds.

The primary author of the blog posts is Dr. Denise R. Ames. She is a long-time educator, president of CGA, and the author of seven books. She is eager to share with you the insights she has discovered in developing the TURN program. However, her views may not be shared with all people associated with CGA.

Please consider following our blog and sharing with us and others your thoughts and impressions. We hope that blog posts may contribute to reaching greater awareness and understanding, and the ultimate goal of personal and global well-being.

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A Cooperative Business Model That Works

By Nancy Harmon

The angular structure of the South Valley Economic Development Center (SVEDC) stands out against the vivid blue Albuquerque sky. Located in the South Valley of Albuquerque, a traditionally poor and Hispanic section of the city (see our last blog article), the SVEDC’s new building has a bright, modern design. Together with the flamboyantly colorful mural celebrating valley agriculture that greets visitors, that design signals that this part of the city has been feeling optimistic about its future. Denise and I, as part of our “good news Albuquerque” efforts, set out to discover what it was that was inspiring that optimism. We made two visits and interviewed the director, Josue Olivares.

1 Josue Olivares

Josue Olivares

SVEDC has evolved over several decades from an organization designed to tackle local challenges—such as drainage in the South Valley—to one with the role of economic catalyst for the community, a role that is now extending into the county and the state. Its strategy for growth is a community-centered one that began with Josue, the new director, who came from Monterrey, Mexico. To get things going, he walked the streets of the South Valley, talking with more than 80 people about what they thought the community needed. 2From there, SVEDC programs grew from one new client a year to 75, with a waiting list of more.

To Be, To Build, To Give

The motto of SVEDC is: “To Be, To Build, To Give.” In order to make that happen, they have a well-planned program, whose purpose is to revitalize the economy of the community through supporting and nurturing small-business entrepreneurs. The program comprises three steps.

The first step is called Virtual Incubation, which is a program to help selected entrepreneurs verify a viable business model. To begin, entrepreneurs fill out a comprehensive assessment, through which their skill level is assessed by trained staff members. Each individual is charged an $80 fee for the assessment and evaluation, although prospective low-income entrepreneurs are subsidized for half of that. The goal is to empower people with sound entrepreneurial ideas with the self-confidence and skills to carry them to success.3

Once an entrepreneur’s skill level has been evaluated, he or she is channeled into different programs in order to reach competency in skills such as marketing, accounting, food safety, or distribution. There are different milestones that each individual must achieve before graduating to another skill level.

At the second step, entrepreneurs apply for registrations and permits and fine-tune their business plans. They continue to be guided by business consultants, who aid them in their training. Through all these steps, they can use computers and printers, meeting rooms, copy machines, and other equipment at the SVEDC site.

The Mixing Bowl

One of the most popular programs at SVEDC is a food-industry business incubation program called the Mixing Bowl, a third-step program. The SVEDC building houses one of the largest commercial kitchens in the country. Currently there are 40 Mixing Bowl entrepreneurs, who are at different levels of their training. Different niches in the food industry are represented, ranging from potential caterers to food truck operators, coffee shop owners, vendors at farmer’s markets, and future restaurateurs. Their ideas range from grandma’s salsa recipe to farm-to-table products. Participants pay a $25 membership fee and reasonable usage fees for the equipment in the commercial kitchen. 4 industrial kitchen.JPG

A professional food consultant assists and advises the entrepreneurs through all the milestones of their development. Typically it takes two to eight months to reach the third step, but since many of the clients have full-time jobs and families, it may take a little longer.

Graduating from the Mixing Bowl program may take up to five years, because product development is a lengthy process. Health inspectors regularly make inspections, and it’s not unusual to have to go back to square one in the development of a food item. The cost of the Mixing Bowl program is subsidized at 50% the first year but only 10% the fifth year, motivating the move to independence. Once the entrepreneurs are finished with the program, they are well on their way to entrepreneurial success—without heavy debt to burden their future success. Examples of success that can be seen all over the state—and nationally in some cases—include Heidi’s raspberry products, the New Mexico Pie Company, and Jardines de Moctezuma, a small farm that now sells its products from a storefront. 5 Heidi's jam

SVEDC businesses will soon have a downtown store to showcase their products and are moving ahead into e-commerce. SVEDC support and expertise in packaging and distribution have been crucial as these businesses grow.

A Supportive Business Community

SVEDC has an expensive mission, but it doesn’t have a huge budget. While it gets support from the Kellogg Foundation and the McCune Foundation, it has had to be innovative with staffing to keep costs low. Josue decided to approach business and nonprofit leaders to ask them to volunteer one or two hours a week to mentor these new entrepreneurs. These leaders have been so enthusiastic about the SVEDC mission and its programs that they now contribute many more hours than they were originally asked to give. SVEDC entrepreneurs also get support from a national program called One Million Cups, where local business leaders gather regularly over cups of coffee and tea to share ideas and help one another.

As Denise and I learned more about SVEDC, our admiration grew for the mission of the organization and its community-based approach to making it happen. Not only are carefully planned businesses being created by well-trained owners, but the business community surrounding them now has a stake in their success because of the mentoring process. It is not the cutthroat, competitive business model we often hear about, and it is a beacon of hope in transforming the economy of Albuquerque’s South Valley. 6 SVEDC.JPG

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South Valley, New Mexico, USA

By Nancy Harmon

If you listen to a lot of news coverage and often despair for the future of our country and our world, you are like me—and many of our fellow citizens. While being aware of what’s going on around us is essential if we want to be active, involved citizens, I recognize the dire consequences of news saturation on my mood and sense of well-being. The best panacea for the doldrums of the bad news cycle is some good news, and there’s plenty of it that gets little notice. Denise and I have intentionally set out to discover inspiring places and people here in Albuquerque, where we started in South Valley.South Valley 1 South Valley, New Mexico

The South Valley is a lovely part of this high-desert city. The Rio Grande meanders through it on the east, lined by the longest cottonwood forest in the world. Acequias provide communal arteries for pumping water from the river to the many family farmers in the area. To the north is Route 66 and to the south Isleta Pueblo, a Native community dating back hundreds of years. The West Mesa is burgeoning with housing developments for young families and one community that somehow survives without basic infrastructure like water, electricity, and paved roads. These geographical features help to create the South Valley’s unique identity.South Valley 2 Acequias

You can drive for miles through the South Valley along Isleta Boulevard and see signs in Spanish for tailors, car-repair shops, restaurants serving menudo, paleterias (shops selling popsicles of fresh fruit, lime, and chile) and other locally owned businesses. Brightening the sides of buildings are colorful murals of the Virgin of Guadalupe, flowers, chiles, and peaceful farms. El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) parade has grown over the last 15 years from a small local parade with floats created by school kids to an attraction with floats covered in marigolds and festive skeletons. The parade is so popular that it creates traffic jams on the bridge into the Valley. The one-of-a-kind National Hispanic Cultural Center anchors the culture of the Valley with an art museum, gardens, restaurant, and performance spaces. The rhythms of flamenco and world-beat music reverberate from the stage, and the latest exhibit in the art gallery featured the history and craft of piñatas!South Valley 3

In amongst the rural peacefulness and thriving culture of the area are the homes of residents, many of them Mexican American, who often struggle to make a living. Some work two low-paying jobs and send their children to under-performing local schools. Others work small farms and sell their crops at local farmers’ markets. A few have never left the familiarity of the area to cross the Rio Grande to the main part of the city to the east. Many people on the east side of the city have never visited the South Valley because of its isolation and a reputation for crime. But the unique identity of the Valley and the economic struggles of its residents have led to some interesting and successful innovations.South Valley 4 Rio Grande River

I worked for six years at South Valley Academy, which began in 2004 as a charter high school and now has expanded to include a middle school as well. In spite of the fact that 95% of its student body qualify for free breakfast and lunch, it has a reputation for academic rigor and requires a lot of its teachers and students, many of whom speak English as a second language. One of its most powerful programs is service learning. Every Thursday afternoon, the school commits to sending all students out into the community on school buses; students go to the same site throughout the entire school year. Freshmen tutor in elementary schools, sophomores are placed in nonprofit organizations, juniors are required to find their own placement based on career goals, and seniors research a social-justice issue and create a project with a community partner that contributes to efforts in that area. They present an exhibition to the community in the spring, showcasing their work and reflecting on the process. South Valley 5 South Valley Academy

The program is powerful for a couple of reasons. Because a majority of SVA’s students are immigrants living in this isolated, rural part of the city, the program offers a unique chance for them to explore the wider community and make a contribution to it. The sense of being valued at their site builds self-confidence and a feeling of belonging, and the real-world experience exposes them to skills needed in the workplace. School seems more relevant.

While their work in the community is the most important part of the program, the follow-up back at the school helps students to fit it into a bigger picture. Regularly scheduled classes and activities offered by service-learning staff help students to explore questions that deepen the experience: How does learning happen? What makes a community? What is justice? What factors influence change? Students also write résumés, practice phone and interview skills, and learn about budgets and setting financial goals. The entire school faculty and staff become participants during two site visits each semester that not only provide feedback on each student but also foster a connection between school and community partners. Those partners are invited to a celebration at the school at the end of the year, to thank them for their mentorship. At that time, the bond that has developed between the two is usually very apparent.South Valley 6 South Valley students

While South Valley Academy still has work to do on its scores for PARCC (the achievement test required by the state of New Mexico), I believe that service learning plays a crucial role in SVA’s high graduation and college attendance rates. When students have an opportunity to gain meaningful work experience in their community and feel a sense of consistent contribution to an important effort, they no longer need to be told that education really is important.

Our next blog post will continue the exploration of what works in Albuquerque’s South Valley, with an article on the South Valley Economic Development Center.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider:

1. What is the difference between service learning and community service?

2. In what other ways might educators bring schools and communities together to support real-world education?

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