Bringing The Trees Back to Oaxaca – Part 2

5586 Pine seedlings for reforestation project at a community nursery in Alta-Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

5586 Pine seedlings for reforestation project at a community nursery in Alta-Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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But the tide might be turning. CEDICAM and its farmers have planted more than 150,000 trees in the last five years in the Alta-Mixteca municipality of Tilantongo. As well as reforesting the hillsides, they have experimented with new food varieties both to sell and to improve their diet, where corn and beans were the staple. “The children are healthier since eating extra fruit and vegetables. You see it in their faces and sparkling eyes”, said  Fidel Cruz Pablo, a local volunteer promotor living in the aptly named village of El Progresso. They eat lettuce, tomato and broccoli, grown with organic compost all year round whereas previously the only greens they had were wild cactus and herbs.

5594 Boy watering seedlings Alta-Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico.


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Bringing The Trees Back to Oaxaca – Part 1

by Sean Sprague

5587 Farmer with pine seedlings in a community nursery in Alta-Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

5587 Farmer with pine seedlings in a community nursery in Alta-Mixteca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

“My dream is that one day all these hills will be covered in forest!”  declared 40-year-old Aron Santiago Cruz. We stood on a hillside of Alta Mixteca in Mexico’s Oaxaca State. Looking out across a valley, several of the barren slopes had been scored with anti-erosion ditches and planted with pine seedlings in an attempt to hold back the tide of erosion that had gone on for centuries. Santiago Cruz is a poor farmer and he cares greatly about the land. Along with other farmers, he has planted thousands of trees over the last 15 years.

The Maryknoll Lay Missionary Society is involved with this ambitious project thanks to the expertise of Phil Dahl-Bredine. He lives in Oaxaca with his wife Kathy who works with an urban children’s project called ‘Nino a Nino’. Phil works with CEDICAM (Centro de Desarrollo Campesino de la Mixteca) and its small staff of ecologists and volunteer promoters, who have been encouraging reforestation and crop diversification throughout the region. They have established…
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Maryknoll and the Mayas of Yucatan – Part 3

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Read Part Two

by Sean Sprague

5556 Dancing in front of Tzacala church, Yucatan, Mexico.

5556 Dancing in front of Tzacala church, Yucatan, Mexico.

Father Gene regularly visits his communities, celebrating mass on the weekends and attending Legion of Mary sessions during the week. He is very good at humouring the locals, doing his best at Mayan and sometimes reverting back to Spanish to make his point. He obviously relishes getting his tongue around the guttural gymnastics of Mayan, wherever possible. A girl celebrated her “quinze anos” at the village of Tzacala. This 15-year-old coming of age ceremony is very important in Mexico. Like a bride, the girl was led down the aisle by a brother and a cousin dressed in ill-fitting suits, to take place of honor in front of the altar during the mass. Father Gene wore a white cassock and Indian stole, and his sermon, in Mayan, was on the baptism of Jesus. A girl choir sang and strummed along on guitars.…
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Maryknoll and the Mayas of Yucatan – Part 2

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by Sean Sprague

7426 Poor Mayan family in front of their home, Yucatan, Mexico.

7426 Poor Mayan family in front of their home, Yucatan, Mexico.

I visited the villages of Tzacala and Ticimul. They were poor, dusty communities which had been in economic decline for decades. The local monocrop of sisal which had dominated the economy since the start of the 19th Century has come under pressure from cheaper Brazilian and Tanzanian competition, as well as the invention of synthetic fibers. Fields which had grown sisal are now barren and exhausted of nutrient, while the small processing factories in each village lie idle, their remnant workforce often sitting around drunk on cheap aguadiente. The subsoil of porous limestone rapidly absorbs any rainfall, while the thin topsoil occurs in meager patches between the rock, making any farming very difficult.

This rural poverty has lead to a massive urban migration and its attendant problems, as described to me by Father John Martin MM ofMerida: “ Many of the migrants to the city historically settled in the socially marginal parish of…
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Maryknoll and the Mayas of Yucatan – Part 1

by Sean Sprague

7428 Mayan woman of Yucatan, Mexico.

7428 Mayan woman of Yucatan, Mexico.

Largely indigenous Mayan people inhabit the state of Yucatan in southern Mexico. Forming about 70% of the population, they are the descendants of civilizations which built great pyramids in the jungles over a thousand years ago. With their hiatus around 800 AD, these cultured people excelled in art, architecture, stone carving, mathematics and astronomy, at a time when Europe floundered in the Dark Ages. The reason for their eventual demise remains a mystery, but the decline of their culture was accelerated by the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1500. Rich landlords and hacienda owners enslaved the poor Indians, a tradition which continued after Mexican independence. They struggle to assert their dignity to this day. But in these more enlightened times, there is today a growing appreciation of their culture and language. Maryknoll has had a presence in the region since the 1940s, working mostly with indigenous people and in many cases having a direct affect on their cultural revival.

7423 Mayan old couple of Yucatan, Mexico.


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