This coming July, Maria Herrington, who teaches Spanish part time at HNU, will head to a remote corner of Mexico for the second summer in a row to bring English — and more — to a small ejido (indigenous communal land granted by the government) whose 750 or so inhabitants are Ch’oi, direct descendants of the ancient Maya. Herrington’s “Teach English in Chiapas Project” came about because of a meeting in San Francisco with Don Alfredo, a native of that ejido, Ignacio Allende. Alfredo has been working to bring economic and educational help to Ignacio Allende, and Herrington, 26, who was working on her masters in Latin American Studies at UC-Berkeley, determined that she wanted to help.
“The goal of my project is to help this marginalized indigenous group compete in Chiapas’ tourist-driven economy,” explains Herrington, “and also help them preserve their native traditions. At HNU the service learning portion of my education and my work in student government gave me focus and a foundation. I learned to be not only a member but also an activist in the community. I hope my project espouses that: serving as well as teaching.” Herrington’s project began last year and included a single two-week session during which Herrington and five other women taught English lessons for two hours each day to students aged 12 and up and also helped two families with their tourist-based business plans. At the end of the session, the community asked the group to return. “This year, we have a pair of two-week sessions planned and a goal of 12 participants per session,” Herrington outlines. “Also, in addition to teaching English, we’ll be introducing a community literacy program, basic hygiene and sports for both girls and boys, and a journal project that involves the students writing and making their own books.” For more information or to sign up for one of this summer’s sessions, go to myspace.com/chiapasproject. As of press time, there were still 10 openings available out of a total of 24 spots.