Lessons from Teotitlán del Valle

by Gerhard Buttner and Ron Mader
related: Teotitlán del Valle, folkart, auction, artesanos, amigos

This page documents the lessons learned from the experience of the Oaxaca Amigos English classes conducted in Teotitlán del Valle during 2008. While a few of the conclusions are specific to this town, many of these lessons are relevant for similar projects elsewhere in Mexico and around the globe. Consider, for example, why artesanos may need to learn a foreign language, the resources available for adult education and the opportunities that travelers themselves have in expressing a respect for Indigenous culture and craft.

BACKGROUND


The weavers from Teotitlán del Valle proposed the idea for Oaxaca Amigos. This is the way to work with communities in an effective and respectful manner. Some history. During 2006 Oaxaca experienced social tensions that caused a sharp decline of visitors and the sale of crafts. It was during the fall of 2006 that artisans told Planeta.com's Ron Mader that they wanted to improve their English as a way of engaging with visitors on the ground and via the Web.

There were two challenges - finding the appropriate teacher and finding the financing for the course.

In discussions in 2007 we had two substantial breakthroughs - Gerhard Buttner came on board as the instructor who was also involved in the entire project, from fundraising to keeping donors informed, preparation visits to the community and regularly updating the wiki and Instituto Amigos del Sol gladly provided the curriculum and its backing to the project.

Ron and Gerhard got stuck into searching small-time donors online using Chipin.com and promoting the course through social networking on planeta, wiki, facebook and more. Another of Planeta.com's Ron Mader's involvements was to personally invite weavers, starting with the very families that approached Ron during 2006 with the course would take place and would be open to all interested weavers.

DEVELOPING THE COURSE


It was important to be inclusive in this project, to ensure that the classes are open to everybody. The neutral venue and having announced it by loudspeaker and posters throughout town helped in the inclusivity.

In small communities there are often local rivalries or jealousies and Teotitlán del Valle is no exception. This must be accepted as part of the context, and it is quite probable that such rivalries might cause some potential students not to participate.

It is important not to be aligned too closely to individuals for promotion especially if there are divisions in the community, to ensure wider access.

Personal contact before and during the classes is definitely a great help. Some of the students have had contact with planeta.com for an extensive period. This creates trust in both directions.

English classes sounded like a good idea to just about anybody we spoke to in Teotitlán del Valle. However there is still a large step between liking an idea and acting on it and actually committing to participate for an entire course.

We could far more easily have filled the class with children, but the original request was from adults working directly with visitors. The decision to accept only ages 16 and above was taken in collaboration with several people in Teotitlán del Valle. A class of only children could have changed the dynamics to such an extent that the actual target audience decides to stay away, a risk we managed to avoid by setting the age limit.

While the pace in community life is relaxed, people are always busy, and one has to accept that students might miss classes due to other work priorities including travel to events to sell their weavings. The annual village festival was also an essential break for classes.

THE COURSE


The course began in mid-May it was conducted on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. The course was split into two parts. For the first 6 weeks we used the tried and tested method of Amigos del Sol of introducing students to new common verbs on a weekly basis and creating basic sentences right from the start. The second part of the course had its focus on different topics about the need in their potential visitor contact. Topics included basic introduction to visitors, explaining the weaving process and the natural color creation, weaving designs, talking about prices and sending weavings.

Educational materials included verb posters of the Amigos del Sol curriculum, adapted by adding some weaving-related verbs, photos from flickr and elsewhere, student-drawn vocabulary cards and the actual loom and material during special classes in the workshop.
Students expressed an interest in learning ... Gerhard observed that ...

FINANCING


Outside financing was assured by promoting the project online - including the use of innovative social networking and inviting interested individuals to donate US$50 or more via the fundraising website chipin.com or by contacting the organizers directly.

Those donating US$100 or more received a special gift, while all received a thank you note (in English) from one of the students. All contributors were also entered into a raffle of a very special Teotitlan bag.

OUTCOMES


Those who completed the course were satisfied that their knowledge of English had improved and their anxieties diminished. Students were also happy to have made new contact.

Beyond the course, other advances included the editing of an inclusive directory of weavers and a first draft of a Zapotec-Spanish-English dictionary. Planeta.com attended and covered community events, including the Danza de la Pluma and the Tamale Fair. For the Tamale Fair, we created a dictionary of indigenous foods. These resources are all included on the Oaxaca Wikispace and will be updated in the future.

CONCLUSIONS


Taking a traditional English language class from Oaxaca City to the country-side ...

Outside financing or innovative financing is a must as the artesanos lacked funds to pay for a traditional education.

Using place-specific resources and photos was helpful

QUESTIONS



Will the course continue?
There will be follow-up activities. Among the proposals is a visit by some of the weavers to Amigos del Sol for an opportunity of further English practice with foreign students at the school and other interested visitors as well as the chance to sell a rug. For the students and other visitors this is a chance to help the Teotitlan English students keep their English language active and even improve further.

What communication tools were used to communicate with the students? With the donors? With the public in Teotitlan? With the public around the world?

How was Flickr used?
Flickr was the main way of visually documenting the course for the participants, funders and anybody else interested. Flickr also served as valuable source of visual class material.

How was the Oaxaca wikispace used in developing and documenting the course?
The wikispace served as homepage accompanying the chipin.com fundraising period. Material for promotion in the community were designed in a collaborated fashion. There were regular updates and photos online during the 3 months of classes. The final conclusions are once again collected in a collaboration effort which also serve as basis for an overview powerpoint presentation of the project.


What recommendations do you have for visitors coming to Teotitlan?
Visit more than one weaver! If you are ambitious, learn a bit of Zapoteco before you arrive so you can attempt to say "good day" and "thank you." (If you don't get it right on the first attempt, ask the weavers for some help!

What did the weavers want to learn to say in English?


parts of the weaving process in Teotitlan
parts of the weaving process in Teotitlan


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The weavers from Teotitlán del Valle proposed the idea for Oaxaca Amigos. This is the way to work with communities in an effective and respectful manner.


Teotitlan English for weavers 6
Teotitlan English for weavers 6

Ron and Gerhard got stuck into searching small-time donors online using Chipin.com and promoting the course through social networking on planeta, wiki, facebook and more.


English classes Teotitlan
English classes Teotitlan

There will be follow-up activities. Among the proposals is a visit by some of the weavers to Amigos del Sol for an opportunity of further English practice with foreign students at the school and other interested visitors as well as the chance to sell a rug. For the students and other visitors this is a chance to help the Teotitlan English students keep their English language active and even improve further.
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postcards and English classes in Teotitlan
postcards and English classes in Teotitlan

finding verbs in Teotitlan
finding verbs in Teotitlan

Teotitlan English for weavers 5 Luis
Teotitlan English for weavers 5 Luis

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