Glimpse into the PI villages
PI brief history: Proyecto Itzaes (PI), a 501c3 non-profit organization is a free, community service based, educational program in Yucatán, Mexico, founded in 1995 by Cynthia Wilber. Proyecto Itzaes serves communities where traditional subsistence lifestyles dependent on farming and seasonal fishing can no longer support families. We are currently serving the villages of Cholul, Chicxulub Pueblo, Ixil, Mococha, Dzemul and have just opened a new program ( this month) in the village of Too. Our original village of Chicxulub Puerto became fully self sustaining in 2005!
early childhood reading and family literacy programs
science in the villages program
health and environment programs
cultural and language preservation
bio-intensive gardening programs
Successes: Since 1995, thousand of families have participated in PI programs and the number of children staying in school through middle school is now almost 100%, with most going on to prepa (high School) and many now continuing to university education. These young students are academic pioneers and many are the first in their families to have more than a primary school education. Through the early reading program many of the parents are increasing literacy skills by reading with their children and some parents have gone back to school (adult classes) to finish middle school. All programs rely on community service and parents and older children teach in their communites.
Challenges: Some of our biggest successes have led to our biggest challenges. Programs are extremely popular and resources are scarce. Books are read until they are memorized and new titles are always in need. Basic supplies like paper, pens, pencils, glue, didactic toys etc are always in short supply and bigger ticket items like computers must be shared by hundreds. Now that we have students excelling through high school and gaining admission to universities we are faced with finding scholarship money. Although the universities are very inexpensive most of our students cannot afford the bus fare to Merida (~1USD each way, $2/day) In 2008/09 we have funded 6 students at $1,000/year + $100/month for college.
In 2007, we received a grant from the Foundation for Global Community for $36,000 to install wifi systems in our six villages using technology provided by Solitech. Four of the six towers were installed and four systems put in place which worked for approximately two weeks before failing. Solitech has since gone out of business and we are left with programs, including our farming, ecology and biodiversity programs that are not able to access the internet for information or communication that is essential to the programs.
Our Milpa/Bio-Intensive gardening project based in Ixil needs to be able to communicate with a garden/ creek restoration project here in the SF bay area. The gardens and the Ixil flora project where students are taking digital vouchers of plants by scanning the specimen, then adding information in Maya, Spanish, English as well as genus/species and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) all rely on internet for locating scientific information and for sharing data. The garden project has generated a tremendous amount of learning excitement in recent months and the parents in our program are realizing that in just one or two generations they risk losing knowledge of a way of life that their families have always known.
In just two or three generations people in the rural Maya villages that PI serves have experienced rapid life style changes that are threatening their health and perpetuating a cycle of poverty. For thousands of years the indigenous people of the Yucatan have farmed and fished to support their families. Traditional milpas including the triad of corn, beans, squash, plus an amazing array of other vegetables and tropical fruits. The culture and language is rich with information about food and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and the vast majority of people in the villages over 60 essentially lived their young lives in a self sustaining world that for the most part rarely included cash.
Some key immediate issues that the garden/milpa project addresses include:
production of food, both for families and for sale
conservation of native plant species ( especially those species that may not be intentionally re-planted after devastating hurricanes or fires.)
hands on science education
improved health for communities