Reflections on Volunteering in Oaxaca (Mexico) January 2014

Pat Bader is a member of the Seattle Chapter of the Maryknoll Affiliates.

The Oaxaca Ecology Project ranch where I volunteered for two weeks recently is located in the hills north of the city of Oaxaca that former Maryknoll Lay Missioners Pat and Mary Denevan from Portland Oregon started about 10 years ago.  The city of Oaxaca lies in the central mountain range of the country about 300 miles south of Mexico City. 

The 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, and biointensive gardens. A center for women's integral health is also a part of the project.  

Pat and Mary have recently formed a partnership in this Project with Carlos Gonzalez and Liz Ramirez from a nearby village.  Carlos and Pat Denevan work at the ranch (where I helped repair a storage building).  They teach newer ecological farming methods to farmers in the area while Mary and Liz address women’s health and life issues.  Next month, construction will begin on a small multi-purpose building for classes, meetings, therapy and healing sessions, and small community events.

Staying at the home of Carlos and Liz along with their three adult children and two young grandchildren was a highlight of my trip.  The family members knew me from my previous trip and were comfortable having me there.  The grand children like to call Pat Denevan and me “los dos Patricios.” 

My conversational Spanish was enough to get me by with the family and neighbors (since few speak English in the village).  Carlos and Liz spoke slowly and distinctly to me so I understood most of what they were saying.  I understood the 5- and 7-year old grandchildren even better! 

Together we attended family gatherings, neighborhood fiestas, and anniversary celebrations as well as visiting markets and small villages.  Extended families seem more important than acquiring possessions and wealth for most villagers. Their social life is centered on family gatherings and celebrations.

Working on the Ecology Project ranch and living with such a caring Mexican family made this trip so rewarding.  The most important part of the volunteer trip was not what work we did but rather being in solidarity with the Denevans and my host family as well as the Oaxacan people I met. 

The Oaxaca Ecology Project is a 501 (c) (3) organization under IRS regulations. Donations are gratefully accepted and tax-deductible.  Please mail to —Oaxaca Ecology Project, c/o Kevin Denevan, P.O. Box 83293, Portland, OR, 97283.