Cara E. McKinney, Global Mission Intern
How would you describe the mission of our partner in San Cristóbal de Las Casas?
Melel's mission is to better the lives of indigenous girls, boys, and teenagers in Chiapas, Mexico through the promotion, defense, and exercise of their rights. Melel strives to be a sustainable organization that focuses on education and the generation of knowledge, specifically about human rights and gender.
In other words, Melel's mission is to encourage and engage young, indigenous people to know their rights so that they can overcome the specific obstacles that they face because of their indigenous culture.
How do you fit into their mission?
My job is to empower young people between the ages of 13 and 20 to be protagonists in their own lives and to break the social systems of poverty. We do that by leading workshops and events focused on human rights, alternative forms of conflict management (other than emotional or physical violence), life planning, and sexual health.
What led you to engage in this calling?
I’ve always felt called to work in human rights and, especially now, I find it is ever-more important for people in the U.S. to be in other countries sharing, learning, and experiencing the world from other points of view. I care deeply about understanding other cultures and about sharing experiences—sharing what skills and abilities I have learned in my life while also learning from the skills and abilities other people have obtained in their lives. What better way is there to improve the world than by sharing what I have and learning from what others have?
Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?
"Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
1 Timothy 4:12
What are some of the challenges facing the people of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, our partner, or yourself?
San Cristóbal is a city that thrives on tourism. Tourists come from almost every continent and region in the world to visit the city, learn about the indigenous cultures, and delve into the history of pre-Hispanic Mexico by visiting the ancient ruins in the surrounding countryside. One problem that faces the people of San Cristóbal as a result is a sense of dependency on tourism and on foreigners giving and spending money. This dependency creates problems when things like an 8.1 earthquake (and thousands of aftershocks) happen and tourism drops off for a few months. It also makes the city center in San Cristóbal expensive, so expensive, that many locals are unable to shop in the area, let alone own and run businesses. Am I, as a foreigner who comes from an outside organization hurting or helping the local economy and the development of local businesses? How am I working to support the long-term inhabitants of San Cristóbal? What can I do better? These are questions I face and attempt to respond to every day.
What is a lesson you have learned from our partner that you feel should be shared with churches in the U.S.?
I have learned to include children and teenagers in decision making processes. I am learning what it means to be inclusive of all people--not only adults who express themselves the same way I do--and how to present information so that is accessible to relevant parties.
My vision of the world before coming to work with Melel was very adult-centric. I believed (more or less) that child labor was wrong, that children didn't always know what was best for themselves, and that children don't want to be involved in "adult things". Now, I am learning to view children as people who are capable of and should be encouraged to make decisions about what happens in their own lives. Melel has the stance that children have a right to work--if their work is dignified and if they make the decision themselves to work. I am learning that by outlawing children from every type of work, we ignore their desire to have work and to contribute to their family’s income, and we are also ignoring the fact that most children who work have a need to work--to make money to buy their schools supplies, to help put food on their tables, to contribute to society.
This lesson can be transferred to any organization or church that includes children in their community: ask children and young people for their opinions and listen, don’t just assume that because they are young they don’t know what they are talking about. If they don’t understand the issue, find a way to make it accessible. We cannot claim to be a sustainable, all-inclusive community without including ALL members in decision making processes.
Which books have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology?
- Our Word is Our Weapon by Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, edited by Juana Ponce de León
- El Viejo Antonio by Subcomandante Marcos
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
- Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It by Robert D. Lupton
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Which videos, films, or t.v. series have influenced your understanding of your country, work, or theology?
- Ingobernable (Netflix series)
- Hasta los Huesos (https://youtu.be/VR_hPPV8td8)
- Zapatista (documentary)
- La Jaula de Oro directed by Diego Quemada-Diaz