Melel Xojobal is a social service organization founded by the Dominican Friars of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, on February 2, 1997. Melel Xojobal means “the true light” in the local tsotsil language. Melel Xojobal’s mission is to empower the indigenous urban and rural population in Chiapas, mainly children, with participatory processes in education and communication. This is done with an eye toward improving their quality of life and reinforcing their dignity. The philosophy is based on education and a humanist vision that promotes the strengthening of the cultural identity and the social transformation of the native towns.
Melel Xojobal focuses on two project areas most overlooked in services targeting the indigenous population: education and communication.
The education initiative works with indigenous boys and girls that work on the street, alone or with their parents, to help support their families. The majority of the children in this situation in San Cristóbal de Las Casas belong to families that have been displaced from their communities by war, political conflicts, or by their precarious economic situation. Through activities both playful and educational, the Streets Education Team offers an alternative education program with two themes: self-esteem and cultural identity.
The program works to strengthen self-esteem of the children by teaching about the rights of all children, the value of all children, the risks and values of the street, and their environment. The cultural identity component recognizes the traditions and customs of the indigenous Mayan culture in an effort to strengthen the children’s cultural identity in the present social context. Furthermore, the education program works to develop motivation for reading and writing. Children are taught and encouraged to use these tools in their everyday life. All educational activities are carried out in the plazas and markets of the city.
In addition to the street program, Melel Xojobal works with students and schoolteachers in public schools in the periphery of the city, where populations with a wide range of backgrounds come together. This program addresses the topics of self-esteem, diversity, discrimination, violence, and positive resolution. Playful and educational activities are again employed in an effort to develop respectful relations among student-student, teacher-student, boy-girl, etc.
Finally, Melel Xojobal’s education program includes a center for child development that attends to boys and girls up to four years of age. The children served by this program are primarily children of single mothers, many of whom are domestic workers from the ethnic communities of Tsotsiles and Tzeltales. This component seeks to provide early stimulation for the development of these young children’s cognitive abilities, language, and physical and emotional skills. The space is divided into three areas: nursing, maternal, and first steps. Also, workshops on self-esteem and similar subject areas are developed for the mothers.
This project has as an objective to produce informative materials for the indigenous communities in the state of Chiapas. Materials produced and distributed include a daily informative summary, a biweekly pamphlet, and a bimonthly audiocassette. These materials offer news relevant to these communities, as well as state, national, and international affairs.
Melel Xojobal also is working to develop long-term communication providers. Thusfar, work with these individuals has helped to provide the tools necessary to carry out journalistic work in their communities.
A final component of the communication programming involves the design of campaigns and materials aimed to promote respect for the indigenous children working in the street, as well as the production of educational materials for peripheral school populations.
Melel Xojobal is currently working on institutional strengthening through the professionalization of the staff, the development of educational intervention methodologies, the systematization and evaluation of programs and services, and the mobilization of resources to promote the sustainability and continuity of the organization and its work. They are also planning on developing a preschool in addition to the Center for Early Learning.
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