My two-week volunteering trip this month centered on the Oaxaca Ecology Project ranch in the hills above the city of Oaxaca that former Maryknoll Lay Missioners Pat and Mary Denevan started a few years ago. The city of Oaxaca lies in the central mountain range of the country about 300 miles south of Mexico City.
The 5-acre ecology project "combines principles of Permaculture, modern technology and the wisdom of indigenous cultures of Mexico to promote efficient uses of natural resources and organic, sustainable agriculture" (from the Ecology Project mission statement) and includes over 30 fruit trees watered by a drip system, solar cells to generate electricity, solar water heating system, thermally efficient adobe home, rain collection ditches and roof collection system, composting system, ecological dry toilet system, biointensive gardens, and raising small farm animals such as chickens, turkeys and rabbits. A center for women's integral health is also a part of the project.
The state of Oaxaca comprises about 3.5% of the country’s population but generates only 1.5% of the GNP which makes it the second poorest state (the state of Chiapas to the east being the poorest). With at least 17 indigenous groups in the state and numerous languages, Oaxaca is one of the most culturally diverse states in Mexico. Maryknoll is one of a number of religious and social justice organizations ministering to the poor of Oaxaca.
As their guests, I attended family gatherings, neighborhood fiestas, and anniversary celebrations as well as visiting markets and small villages where Liz and Carlos volunteer. Extended families seem to be more important than acquiring possessions and wealth for most villagers. Their social life is centered on family gatherings and celebrations.