Service Learning in Tijuana

Service Learning in Mexico

September 2013

Each winter for the past six years, students have been participating in the U.S.-Mexico Border course that includes a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, during spring break as part of the service learning component. This year, nine students and six faculty and staff made the trip. International Studies major and recent graduate Marissa Green reports on the program.

The U.S.-Mexico Border course is taught from a non-U.S. perspective; we learned about Mexico’s history, culture, and contemporary issues from the perspective of Mexico. Our coursework focused on issues of identity, the economy, immigration, the environment, health, and vulnerability. What surprised me most about what I learned was how a legacy of revolution and corruption has become an endemic part of Mexican society that continues to fuel the dimensions of inequality.

Two weeks prior to departure, an injury prevented me from going on the trip, so I interviewed a few of my classmates to get their insights on Mexico and to shed light on how our host organization, Fundación Esperanza de Mexico (Esperance), helps a people and a nation in crisis.

Through Esperanza, students are provided the platform for a personal experience that builds on their coursework.

Classmate Serena Perry explained that the experience “put a face to the issues...talking about Mexico’s issues in the abstract is different than seeing [them] in real life…we don’t get that in the U.S.”

According to classmate Jack Hilton, Esperanza focuses on “dependence on each other first.”

Social strategies that nurture Mexican identity, promote economic welfare and good health practices, and combat issues associated with immigration, the environment, and vulnerability are the benefits of community dependence.

Esperanza’s microfinance program provides economic opportunities to develop local businesses such as La Tortillaria and their money lending program combats immigration and vulnerability by helping local families build homes.

“Owning a home is a good enough reason to stay,” Perry explained.

Esperanza also advocates for good health care through its relationship with La Clinica Esperanza. In addition to low-cost health care, the clinic has a group of “promotoras” (promoters) who work within the larger community promoting good health care practices.

Furthermore, Esperanza supports the environment in its own way by reducing its water and sewage use and taking care of its garbage.

Hilton stressed that Esperanza champions Mexican identity by giving its community the “next steps in being successful” with the sense of pride that comes from being “all made and built in Mexico.”

Although I did not have the first-hand experience my classmates did, my experience was just as meaningful. The U.S.-Mexico Border course instilled a moral foundation of global engagement through the exploration of Mexico’s history, culture, and contemporary issues as a story of hope in which a people and a nation begin to heal from within.