Saturday, February 21, 2015

Change the Table, Change the Future

Just over one year ago twenty-year-old Alex Graf was studying welding at Medicine Hat College—and, then, on February 11, 2014, he was killed in a motor vehicle accident. Today, just one year later, dozens of young men from the impoverished mountains of Mexico are benefiting from the generosity of family and friends inspired by the “one of a kind personality” and the “love and laughter” of Alex Graf. As the years go by, those “dozens” will become “hundreds.”
Alex's Welding Shop
“Alex’s Welding Shop” is now one of the favorite places for students at the Champagnat High School of the Mountain to “hang out”—as long as they’re doing something constructive and as long as they are observing all the rules in terms of safety and care of the machinery.
Many of the students never saw welding tools before in their lives
I love hanging out in the shop too—even as I confess that I’m seldom doing something constructive. But just watching the students interact and learn is a beautiful experience.
It's always easier working with someone else
The education offered at this school is incredible. The 245 indigenous students “follow” the regular Mexican curriculum, but they learn about their native cultures as well: the sacred stories, the customs, the rituals, the traditions, and the struggles that have nourished the cosmovision of their peoples for centuries.
"Now what did the teacher say this was for?" seemed to be a common reaction in the beginning
In his latest book, Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth, David Korten points out that “we humans live by our shared framing stories and have a deep need for a sense of purpose and meaning. If we do not share an authentic sacred story, the void will be filled with an inauthentic story—and that is our problem. An economy, a society, built on the foundation of a lie cannot work.”
"It looks like the right length to me"
Korten also mentions that “many indigenous people use the term sacred to refer to what is most important, most essential to the well-being of the community and its members, and therefore most worthy of special respect and care. It is in that sense that I speak here of sacred stories.”
"Wow, this is fun..."
Talking to the students in Alex’s Welding Shop proves that the “sacred story” motivating these students is one of what is “most essential to the well-being of the community and its members.” The students don’t talk about making money or getting ahead just on a personal level; they constantly refer to the difference that their learned skills can make in their school now and in their communities of origin afterwards.
There is classroom learning too for welding—here with Brother Checo, master welder
It was almost funny to be present in the first “hands-on” classes. Master welder Andrés invited the students to make something small: a table, a flowerpot holder, a window frame, a small chair—one student even made a barbell for weight lifting. He let them make tons of mistakes—and some of the finished products did produce laughter (including a table with the most uneven legs I’ve ever seen). But then, building on that initial effort, Andrés slowly and surely guided the students through the construction of the same item—this time using the tools and methods that an experienced welder would take advantage of in order to produce a high-quality product.
"I think this will work; all I need is the other end"
Alex Graf’s legacy is impacting lives in this remote mountain region of Mexico. “Changing the table” is not only “changing the story” for students and families and communities here; it is in a very real way “changing the future.” The students asked me to extend their gratitude to Alex’s family and friends and to Mission Mexico for helping them to have this life-giving experience. Alex is now part of their “sacred story.” I can’t think of a more incredible tribute. Thank you, Alex.

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