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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!


Major programs:

  • early childhood reading and family literacy programs

  • science in the  villages program

  • computer literacy

  • 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

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