This post is written by Monica Good and Natalia Penuela Gallo - Graduate Students at UBCO.
On September 7, 2017 the southern Mexican State of Oaxaca was hit with two massive earthquakes, both above the 8.0 richter scale. A week afterward, Mexico City was hit with its second-largest earthquake. This second quake hit the Aztec metropolis thirty-two years after the largest catastrophe in Mexico during 1985--same date, same city. The Mexican community came together to rescue those buried under debris; before the government presented a rescue plan, the community was already helping, all eyes were in Mexico City. Most of the devastation covered by the media was that of Mexico City; all the help was being filtered there, too. Oaxaca was left in oblivion; the reconstruction state had not yet begun, and signs of desolation were already present.
There was, what it seemed to be, a national and international differentiated attention to the two regions and to both disasters. It is important to point out that the Indigenous peoples in Mexico, as in other parts of the world, continue to grapple with having full access to their individual human rights, but also in terms of the preservation of their ways of knowing and their socio-cultural perspectives. This was yet another example, since the affected Indigenous communities in Oaxaca were not getting the same attention after the earthquake.
This was the main reason why, it was decided to do a fundraiser in Kelowna and bring local attention to Oaxaca. While the fundraising idea started with a chat about the need to provide attention and support to Indigenous communities in Oaxaca, the efforts and the end results were all thanks to an awesome organizing committee, and the show of immense solidarity from the larger Kelowna area. The local response was amazing! At the end, three events were possible, completely made out of donations and volunteer hours of the organizing committee and volunteers. The Okanagan community offered any help they could to show their support for this amazing country and this important social cause; from several departments at UBCO, many individuals, to businesses and civil societies, the joint effort created a net of support, both material and in-kind, which allowed us to raise a total of 8,346.40 CAD!!!
But, where are the funds going and why is this important? First, a disclosure about the Indigenous organization in Oaxaca who is distributing the funds, will be provided. Then, a brief description of their initiatives, will be explained. Lastly, an acknowledgement and token of appreciation to the local community effort that allowed to raise an amount beyond expectations.
WHY OAXACA? WHY CEPIADET?
Who do We Help and Why? --CEPIADET’s Approach
The Indigenous Professional Center of Advice, Defense and Translation, or CEPIADET (per its acronym in Spanish), is an organization focusing on civil liberties, that was incorporated under Mexican law in 2005. Their work focuses on human rights and access to justice for Indigenous peoples and anti-racial notions toward Indigenous communities. Currently, the Center also heads a network of Indigenous organizations in various States of the country including Campeche, Chiapas, Puebla, and Mexico City.
Oaxaca is home to fifteen constitutionally recognized Indigenous tribes. The most affected communities are Zapotec and Mixe peoples, many of whom do not speak Spanish. The region known as the Isthmus is severely affected, and the communities in the area have not reached a rebuilding stage because the earthquake replicas are still constant. Many such communities are ruled under Indigenous jurisdiction (Usos y Costumbres), thus helping them nurture a connection and understanding of the community’s needs and the best way to outline a rebuilding process that would be in accordance with Indigenous knowledge and practices.
Get Back On Your Feet When Your World Falls Apart
CEPIADET has taken action to help Indigenous communities in the affected areas. They are monitoring the areas where significantly less help is provided, and work with Indigenous authorities to create initiatives that will ease the recovery of their social structure. The center promotes the proposal of methods of reconstruction that seek to preserve the local architecture and take into account the Indigenous knowledge, cultural context, and climate, as well as the reconstruction of public space and the community’s spiritual healing.
So far, through donations from people, other sister organizations, and academic institutions, CEPIADET has been able to support the area with food, water, and other basic necessities, but much more remains to be done. The communities are in desperate need of medicines to cure illnesses like the flu, as well as the illnesses and psychological effects derived from the constant aftershocks of the first 8.2 earthquake. It is rainy season in this area, and people are still sleeping on the streets because their houses cannot withstand the constant aftershocks, they need tarps, ropes, tents, and platforms on which to rest and protect themselves from the rain. To temporarily solve the problem, the community is considering as an initiative to purchase a hammock directly made by artisans in Northern Oaxaca and donate them to families in the Isthmus that have been left homeless or with no other choice but to sleep out in the open. These hammocks have a price of 150 pesos (1 CAD= 14 MXP, roughly). Such initiative helps both communities.
CEPIADET promotes initiatives to repair the local economy. For example, the main sustenance of these families is the manufacture and sale of corn chips, which are handmade by the women in the community. Sadly, most of the traditional ovens in which pottery was made were lost during the quakes; thus, their economy was severely affected. The manufacture of an oven is valued between 6000 and 7000 pesos, and the pots for the chips cost between 400 and 600 pesos. Consequently, the organization encourages an initiative to build traditional ovens and donate pots for the community’s working women. Another example and important activity among the Indigenous women is embroidery. They can be supported through being provided with supplies to reactivate the local economy and use of their skills, which is crucial for the post-reconstruction period.
Currently, the vast majority of the area is suffering from material losses. The communities are requesting construction tools and materials. Since many communities are ruled under Indigenous jurisdiction, the Indigenous authorities respond to natural disaster cases by undertaking the work of reconstruction on their own; allowing private construction companies inside would mean renouncing the traditional knowledge with which the town was built. This knowledge is key since it is considered to have a deep relationship with the land and the physical world.
Working with The Indigenous Community
In the communities, the authorities are obligated to prioritize the general population’s best interest. Everyone is taught from a young age to help each other and perform community service, so when natural catastrophes occur, every citizen is eager to start the rebuilding process. However, in this situation, the people are lacking basic building tools, such as shovels, jibs, tarps, wheelbarrows, hammers, etc. Allowing local reconstruction, preserves the architecture which is autochthonous to the area, and the way it stands.
Each member of CEPIADET represents an Indigenous community. As such, they are working closely with the Indigenous authorities to distribute the funds raised as well as other coming from other Indigenous communities across México.
Back to Kelowna: A local effort
After sharing the joint preoccupation for the events in Oaxaca, and the opportunity to help this organization, while also recognizing the urge to preserve Indigenous perspective towards reconstruction, it was decided to join efforts and do something in Kelowna. The call for support was extended, and it resulted in a Latin American organizing committee. They provided countless hours in putting together 3 events (a zumba night, a wine tour, and the Day of the Dead fundraiser) and several meetings for over 2 months.
We would like to give a special HUGE thanks-GRACIAS ENORMES to/a:
Organizing Committee members:
Natalia P. Gallo
Let’s Go transportations
San's Latin Market
Okanagan Mexican Folklore Dance Group
Jessica Stites-Mor from the Latin American Studies Department. UBCO
Saher Malik from the International Programs and Services. UBCO
Global Fitness Kelowna
Roxana Horna Zumba instructor
Teresa McDonald Zumba instructor
Mi Escuelita Preschool
To those in the community who helped us with Gift Cards and varied donations:
Martin Blum Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies. UBCO
Allison Hargreaves Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies. UBCO
Bernard Schulz-Cruz Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies. UBCO
Ivan Balconi from Okanagan Wine Club
John Pereira from Kelowna London Drugs
Bread Co. Don O Ray
Vibrant Vine Winery
Hector's Casa Restaurant
Olympia Greek Taverna
Central Kitchen & Bar
Save on Foods Los Jarros
Bob Mason Andesigns
Angela Trujillo’s poster and tickets designs for the Zumba and Wine Tour events
Daniela Ivonne Molina Floreán, CEPIADET’s media team, for the Day of the Dead poster and tickets’ design
RAMA-Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture
Soul de Cuba Café
Betty Hernandez & Javier Flores
Gordon food services
Okanagan quality Wholesale
Royal Anne Hotel
To our volunteers at the Day of the Dead event:
And to the many attendees & individual donations!