Fifteen years ago, Brophy College Prep of Arizona trekked down to Oaxaca for its first service-learning trip with Community Links International. Even after our transition to a new site in Puebla in 2006, Brophy remains one of Enlaces’s most dependable delegations, and its teachers some of our oldest friends. For ten days in July, a group of junior and senior boys broke up the dog days of summer to hop the border, pick up a shovel and change their worldview.
Tom Danforth, the same teacher bantering with the students as they sifted clay this summer, and Tim Brogles were the very first to bring their high school students to Mexico in February of 1996. That was back in Oaxaca, before Enlaces was even an official organization. They brought another crew again that summer, and kept returning up through 2000, when Enlaces attained official status as an NGO. Brophy was one of two groups (along with Notre Dame) to participate in a service-learning trip the following year. With word of mouth as the program’s only form of advertising, the number of trips jumped to ten in the third year of operation, and continued to grow exponentially up until 2006. The Brophy boys were one of eight groups that followed Enlaces to Puebla in 2006 after political violence in Oaxaca became too great a risk to remain there. You could say that Enlaces was established with the friendship and trust of Brophy engrained into its very foundation.
With enthusiasm, open arms, and enough food to feed a small army, we welcomed the Brophy dudes back this summer. Unlike previous trips for which we have been based at Calpulle and other sites in Cholula, this was our first delegation that was focused wholly on our own projects in Tecuanipan. The boys were scattered among a number of different projects, mostly involving getting very dirty. (This did make for a rather smelly house, with all forty of us firmly committed to conserving water and taking turns showering every other day).
They sang to Journey while leveling out the floor of the classroom, which they endearingly dubbed “the pit,” and fought over who got to stay there the longest. They made cob to construct a small storage unit for Doña Rosa’s new cob oven (see her post under Projects). They gladly took off their shoes to help Don Alfredo plant his endless rows of beans, and enthusiastically carted excess earth to fill in our neighbors’ battered and washed-out road.
When they weren’t covered in mud or gulping down Imelda’s delicious cooking, the guys were listening to presentations on economics, water, permaculture and immigration. This is always a particular favorite for the Enlaces staff. Not only do we get to practice our translation skills, but we witness the students wrap their minds around lifestyles and problems both drastically different, yet in some ways very parallel, to their own. They then carried their reflections with them on their home stays with families in Tecunípan, tying true stories and real people to the water issues and the immigration statistics they’d viewed on the screen.
As for the cultural aspect of the service-learning trip, of course the students visited the pyramid in Cholula and the town square of Puebla. But most importantly, they ate. They tried traditional tacos arabes at La Oriental, and homemade nopali salad but that fare didn’t hold a candle to the carnitas that Arturo and Miguel’s father prepared on Sunday afternoon.
Starting early that morning, he brought a whole half a pig into the house and held the snout over the open flame while frying the skin in a huge vat outside and slicing the thigh into juicy chunks for tacos. Add some chopped onions and cilantro, and a dose of extra spicy salsa, and you’ve got yourself a feast fit for a fiesta. The meat kept coming for hours and hours (and the flies for days and days) until everyone slumped into a full stupor on the floor to watch the FIFA youth national championships (Viva Mexico!).
The boys continued to work and play in Mexico for another three days after they recovered from the barbeque. We are so grateful for the work of the students and the good-natured support of their chaperones, Tom, Andy and Chad, and for an incredible 10 days. Thank you to all of you who came, and all of the families and administration who supported Brophy in another successful trip with Enlaces. We are already looking forward to next year.