Despite setbacks, work with Tarahumara children continues

SIERRA TARAHUMARA, Mexico – The high rolling plains of Chihuahua are waiting for rain. Bare fields suck gusting winds, fanning spirals of red dirt that reach skyward. Parcels have been burnt in readiness for planting, adding to the haze that stretches from horizon to horizon.

Farther on, the Sierra also waits. Here it is thick white dust that coats the roadside pines, oaks, and madrones. Emaciated rivers barely flow, or are reduced to occasional pools spotting sinuous, dry beds. Cattle and horses, skin stretched drum-tight over ribs, scour the land looking for sustenance. Grass is clipped to the nubs or worse, exposing bare ground.

In the ranchitos, the Rarámuris (Tarahumaras) have harrowed their fields, usually with the help of a scraggly horse pulling an old plow. Planting will be done using a stick to punch a hole into which a single kernel of precious maize will be dropped.

El 24 de junio, día de San Juan, the rainy season officially begins. Rain represents feast or famine, quite literally. I can see, and know from our own country, that last year’s rains were good. The signs are there to read. The future rests in the hands of the gods.

But for now, everything is in suspension, thirsting for life-giving moisture. I have gazed on this scene with skepticism that life could ever rebound. And have been incredulous, witnessing the power of the land and its inhabitants to recover and thrive. What doesn’t kill you makes you strong.

I’m here to check on our project; to connect with the students we are supporting and their advisors. There is a huge difference between phone and internet communication and actually being present. We’ve had setbacks, and we want to continue helping where we can.

In December my son, Isaac Lutz, spent twelve days in a hamlet called Guahuachérare. He, with help from staff and students, painted the exterior of the school and also some of the classrooms. He rebuilt their chicken yard to keep it safe from predators, and re-hung doors so they would close properly. Winters in Guahuachérare are cold.

Isaac had his welder with him, and in addition to small repairs at the school, helped villagers with their needs. Word got out that a Gringo welder was present, and folks came from miles around to seek his aid. Sleeping in an empty classroom, eating in the cafeteria with the kids, he was accepted into the community. They are clamoring for his return, and he left a chunk of his heart there.

The town of Carichí is similar to Alpine in size, character, and even topography. The learners I came to visit are graduates of the Bacabureachi school where we worked for four years. They now attend middle and high school in Carichí, and board in a state-sponsored facility. But they are altered! Formerly wild, scraggly ragamuffins, these thirteen have transformed into mature youngsters. They listened attentively and answered questions in a mannered and forthcoming way. I’m used to speaking with Rarámuris who can’t make eye contact and mumble their responses to the floor. Neat and tidy in appearance, they asked for a place to wash their hands before we ate (!) and took extra care that the dirty cups, paper napkins, etc. didn’t blow all over our host’s yard. Attention to detail and mature engagement. It was exciting to actually converse!

Our hope is to follow these students and encourage them to continue through high school and beyond, to university or to pursue a trade. It won’t be easy or simple. We’ll need to find and probably pay a small salary to a liaison who can help them with the myriad logistics required. They will be hugely challenged to muster the courage, self-belief, and stamina to go the distance. If only one or two make it, we will be successful.

What we have in our favor is that they know us, especially me. We have been part of their lives, in the background, since they were small. They know that I have health challenges, and I relate what I am facing to how they need to apply themselves in order to overcome. We have a bond. The Mexicans say, Échele ganas!” (Try hard!) I hope they can. The rhythm of life, death, and renewal here in the Sierra marches inexorably on. In this place change creeps slowly. The great exception is the advent of fear and violence bred by the insatiable hunger for drugs here in the north, and perpetrated by those who manage the trade. Education is one sure path that reaches forward into a future that is worth striving for. So, the Carichí Thirteen: If we continue to support these self-selected few, we will have truly impacted lives that can grow and help others. Thank you for standing with us. For more information about the initiative or to donate to the cause, visit www.amigosdekorima.