Betzabe Valdes Lopez, MDES in Critical Conservation 2019
Organization: Cooperacion Comunitaria, Oaxaca, Mexico
Sponsor: International Travel Community Fellowship
“This summer, I worked with Cooperación Comunitaria in Mexico, an organization I have been involved with for two years now. I became interested in their work because they study the cultural, social and economic context of the region where they work, which is very unusual in Mexican firms. Their work focuses on the improvement of habitability in rural areas in Mexico, specifically by using traditional knowledge. After the earthquakes of September 2017, they started a project called “Social Reconstruction of the Habitat in the Isthmus Region of Oaxaca” that takes place in the municipality of Ciudad Ixtepec. At the same time, Dení López, Nadyeli Quiroz, and I started a site investigation in the urban area along the Las Nutrias (Guigu Bicu Nisa) riverbank in Oaxaca, comprised by five Zapotec municipalities, which included Ciudad Ixtepec, Asunción Ixtaltepec, El Espinal, Juchitán de Zaragoza, and Santa María Xadani.
Talking with Cooperación Comunitaria, we decided to collaborate in different ways. First, I did some additional research for them, that could also contribute to our project. This research covered various topics, and therefore would help all of us. Second, I assisted in the construction of an Arts and Craft Center in Ciudad Ixtepec. We began by meeting in Mexico City and later in Ciudad Ixtepec. They introduced us to the work they do in both places and how they coordinate work and people. It is a small group, so some of them have to rotate between the two cities.
The project in Ciudad Ixtepec is meant to last two years, and it concentrates on housing, ovens for totopos, and kitchens. One of the main concerns of Cooperación Comunitaria is to reestablish the economy post-earthquake because a lot of people depend on the kitchens and ovens. Another critical aspect for the NGO is to respect the construction technique and material used in the area; they usually use mud, but they found that in Ciudad Ixtepec brick was the primary material used, and they decided to respect that with its specific technique. They started working with the community in different workshops, forums, and a study of damages in the area. One of the things that I found very interesting is that they hired an anthropologist to do the first contact with the community and beneficiaries in the area. As of today, they have approximately 100 housing projects focused on reinforcement or reconstruction.
After receiving an introduction and talking about their work, we started the construction of the Center for Arts and Crafts which uses a traditional technique called Bahareque Cerén. This technique specifically contains mud, grass, and manure. We learned all the process of construction and got our hands to work. We went through the explanation of the center, the technique, and also a little course on how to choose the proportion of the material according to the earth you find in the area. It was gratifying to discover the techniques and to get my hands in the mud to be able to construct something from zero. One of the challenges they have found in the area is the labor. It was hard for them to find someone that knows the technique, and even harder to find people that would be interested in working with this material and technique. For a lot of the workers it becomes boring and very slow to work with, so they get frustrated. I enjoyed meeting the team and getting my hands in practice.”