Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Culture Changes and Brings Sadness

The culture changes and brings sadness We have been in the very lovely town of Los Barriles for a week now, and are quite charmed by it. I’d be happy to stay another month if we didn’t have commitments that call us to leave. I bought a cookbook of Mexican recipes the other day which is published by the East Cape Guild, a non-profit group which raises funds to provide scholarships to students who want to continue their education beyond 9th grade but cannot afford it (the last level funded for all children by the Mexican government). Students hoping to receive a scholarship must re-apply each year, must keep their grades at a very high level, and must be financially in need. It’s a very competitive process, and many students who apply are turned down. It appears that perhaps 100 or so students receive scholarships each year. The scholarship can cover all of their costs, or some of their costs, like transportation, uniforms and books, but not tuition. Most of the students who receive scholarships go to school in La Paz, and thus are leaving their homes, at least for 5 days per week, and living with relatives there or having to pay for housing in addition to school. Many students report suffering considerable adjustment difficulties having left behind their families, a small-town life, and adjusting to a big city. Nonetheless they persevere because they want to become teachers, nurses, doctors, veterinarians, own their own business, get a job in the city, or otherwise benefit from the additional education. Today we talked with a local resident who said the East Cape Guild has become controversial among some families in Los Barriles. She explained that students and their families are initially very excited about receiving a scholarship. Then, after the student has been gone to La Paz for a year or two, the parents and other family members realize that the student is unlikely to ever return to Los Barriles to live and work in the family business, whether that be a taco stand, a small farm, a fishing boat, or some other small specialized business. At that point, the parents and family become unhappy about the scholarship, while the student has typically adjusted to big city life, living away from home, and developed “big plans” for the future. This story struck as terribly sad, for both the student and the parents/family, as we would always wish that additional education was highly valued by all people, but understanding why the parents and families would feel the great loss of their child to the old way of life, living together and continuing the long traditions. The Guild is run by Gringos, and all the beneficiaries are Mexican, so it reminded us of stories we heard in Africa last Fall about how Americans and others can, at times, be mis-guided in trying to do some good and be helpful, as the thing they are providing that they think is so valuable is not always welcome.

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