It would be a tremendous understatement to say that the events of 2020 were simply unprecedented. Across the globe, everything required reinvention: The way we work. The way we educate. The way we provide health care. The way we stay in contact with one another. Political chaos went hand in hand with pandemic chaos.
But in spite of it all, solidarity across our diverse calendars and geographies made us stronger. We are profoundly grateful and humbled by your overwhelming support during these trying times.
2020 was also a year of reinvention for Schools for Chiapas. In the past, we have done most of our work in Chiapas face-to-face with autonomous communities. The pandemic upended our ability to travel, so we found new ways of working. We have learned how to organize meetings via ZOOM and send funds via the Internet (all of which was quite challenging before). When we’ve needed to do work on the ground, we have found so many among our Chiapas community willing to rise to whatever challenge. With that, we want to share that with your support we have been able to help Zapatista communities:
Confront the Pandemic
On March 16 of 2020, the Zapatistas closed all their schools, hospitals, and gathering centers and took their Mayan communities into a deep quarantine. They declared their intent to follow the best science they could find to keep their communities as safe and secure as possible.
Quarantined to our homes outside of Chiapas, we reached out to our base of support, seeking volunteers who would donate a few hours of their time to our ambitious (or so we thought) fundraising campaign. And so, the Million Peso Campaign to help fight COVID in Chiapas was born. We identified a few supporters (individuals and foundations) who could establish a matching fund and set out to raise a million pesos.
The appeal went out… and you came through! We started the campaign on March 18, 2020 and we quickly reached our goal of One Million pesos (about $40,000). In July of 2020, the Million Peso Campaign became the Two Million Peso Campaign and on October 1st, we sent 2 Million Pesos to Chiapas for the Zapatista Health System to use in its fight against COVID-19. A handful of “angel donors,” 50 volunteers and over 1,000 “small” donations took us over the top. We are so grateful!
Strengthen Autonomous Health Initiatives
2020 also saw the launch and expansion of new health-related projects to help communities continue to resist COVID-19. Both the Vivero Muy Otro (the Very Other Nursery and the Bodega de Salud (Warehouse of Health) have become central to this work.
Before the pandemic, we had established a small plant nursery to support our efforts to supply the newly emerging food forests in Zapatista territory. As the virus began to hit in earnest, we converted that nursery to the production of growing local species of medicinal plants that the communities determined might be of use either in support of the immune system prior to infection or useful to the treatment of symptoms as a result of an actual infection. That effort has now grown to include a warehouse of hard-to-find personal protective equipment (PPE) for future donation as the Zapatistas reopen schools and hospitals. With the help of local experts, Schools for Chiapas has also gathered supplies to assemble a functional DIY tincture lab which can be delivered and assembled in any Zapatista community for the production of herbal medicines that strengthen immune systems and fight off the virus.
Survive and Resist Violence and Intimidation
Unfortunately, the political situation still remains very volatile in Chiapas. The pandemic has emboldened the forces who fight against Zapatista autonomy and there has been an escalation in violence against the Zapatista communities. In the highland communities of Aldama gunshots from automatic weapons can be heard daily, and has resulted in serious injuries and constant intimidation . On August 22nd, members of the paramilitary group ORCAO (Regional Organization of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo) looted and burned the Zapatista coffee warehouses located on the road from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Ocosingo, Chiapas. Down the road, the communities of Nuevo San Gregorio and Moises Gandhi have been “invaded” by ORCAO and community members have been prevented from growing food or tending their animals.
In response to these violent paramilitary attacks, Schools for Chiapas has initiated campaigns to bring in food and medicine to these besieged communities, and to assist in rebuilding and repainting the beautiful mural that was lost when the coffee warehouse was burned down.
Zapatistas Plan Departure for Europe
In spite of all of these threats, the Zapatistas are again breaking these sieges (military, economic and media) by sending a delegation of Zapatistas to Europe in the spring and summer of 2021 “to carry out meetings, dialogues, exchanges of ideas, experience, analyses and evaluations among those of us who are committed, from different conceptions and from different areas, to the struggle for life.”
We invite you to continue your support of Zaptatista resistance in 2021, both to the pandemic and to adversity. Although we still can’t invite you to join us on a living and learning delegation to build and paint Mayan schools in Chiapas, we are again seeking volunteers and donors who can work from home to help save lives in Chiapas. When autonomous schools reopen and the communities are ready to safely receive visitors, we will do what’s needed. At this time we are working hard to reproduce the amazing fundraising successes of 2020. We hope we can do so with your help.
Por un mundo donde quepan todos los mundos
(For a world where all worlds fit),
The Schools for Chiapas Team
PS. Please join us by working from home as a Schools for Chiapas volunteer! Just fill out this form to let us know how you want to help!!