Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Worst of Times, The Best of Times

It wouldn’t be hard to find evidence that this is one of the worst times for many families in the mountains of Guerrero. It is almost a month since forty-three students from the rural teachers college in Ayotzinapa were “disappeared”: no one is still sure if they are alive or dead. The search goes on. 
One of the many posters requesting information about these students' whereabouts
And in Tlapa three young women from different schools were “disappeared” last week. One of the students was later found: she had been sexually assaulted, murdered, and dumped in an empty field. The search is still on for the other two young women.
A classroom in one of Tlapa's junior high schools
But good things are happening too. Indeed, great things, I daresay. Mission Mexico has been supporting the Champagnat High School of the Mountain in Potoichan since its beginnings ten years ago. The Marist Brothers (a religious congregation here in Mexico) that operate the school are doing an incredible job with the 244 students. The students will be going home tomorrow for a “Day of the Dead” break, and when they return, they will begin participating in “community service” in the poor villages around their school. This service will involve many tasks: religious education with the children; remedial education with children; literacy or sewing or embroidery classes with women; painting or maintenance work in schools or churches; etc. It’s one way that the students “pay forward” the assistance they receive from groups like the Marist Brothers and Mission Mexico.
A list of the groups from the high school who will offer services in different villages

Since the Day of the Dead is approaching (November 1), students from the three native cultures (na savi, me phaa, nahuatl) of the Mountain prepared altars in the school for the deceased. Students from each of the cultures then explained to other students and teachers (and to me) many details about the way their culture celebrates the Day of the Dead. It was amazing to learn many details about the understandings of this tradition in the different villages of the Mountain.
This altar from the nahuatl culture has different levels; the ground level is for the "lost souls"
who have no one to remember them; the foods are for the dead who come to share with their families

Students from the na savi culture explain their Day of the Dead altar; the photo on the
altar belongs to Brother Manuel, former director of the school
And the actual hands-on training in welding at the high school workshop will get underway after the students return from their break (on November 3). This workshop, called “Alex’ s Welding Shop,” was started with funds donated in the memory of Alex Graf, a 20-year-old welding student at Medicine Hat College who was killed in a motor vehicle accident in February of 2014.
This Spanish sign states (in English): Alex's Welding Workshop
Before actually beginning hands-on classes, a Marist Brother named Checo came from Mexico City to help set up the workshop and to “prepare” the students. Brother Checo taught the students about electricity, about the uses of different pieces of equipment, and about the importance of cleanliness, orderliness, and safety in the work place. Together with Andrés, the school’s maintenance man, he organized the workshop.
Brother Checo helping to set up the welding workshop
The students are thrilled to have this opportunity to learn about welding. Undoubtedly, some students will make this their lifelong occupation. Others—even women—will be able to offer service in their communities. From here in the poorest part of Mexico, in the name of the students at the Champagnat High School, I want to thank Annette and Roy Graf, Alex’s parents, his brother, Daniel, and the family members and friends—especially people at McCoy High School—who are making possible this wonderful experience.
A student at the school praying the Our Father for the families of the
forty-three missing students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college

To close, I would like to encourage readers to read a recent article (October 23, 2014) by Cochrane Eagle columnist Warren Harbeck at Coffee with Warren. The article refers to the importance of education for girls. Mission Mexico’s support for the education project at the Champagnat High School—among many projects assisted by Mission Mexico—is helping young men and—especially—young women to imagine and achieve new hopes for their own lives and for the future of villages in this impoverished region. Thank you, Warren, for reminding us of the value of what is being done.
Huipi (which means "butterfly" in her language) and Margarita cleaning the shelves
in the welding workshop before storing tools


  1. My deepest condolences to all. May God strengthen all the family members and the community and Bless you all.
    May Jesus have Mercy on these students and their families. May these evil people by the grace of God be brought to justice and stopped altogether.

  2. We are so happy to see "Alex's Welding Shop" all set up and ready to go for the students. Our son, Alexander, was a special young man and is deeply missed. Only God could take a tragedy and turn it into something good that will benefit so many , while at the same time honouring the memory of our son. We are grateful to all the people who have donated in his name. God bless all of you.
    Much love,
    Annette, Roy and Daniel Graf