Strengthening International Understanding

Redlands Group Photo

Guess what we are doing today at Casa de los Amigos?

Accompanying a group of 11 US college students to rural Mexico for the experience of a lifetime.

As part of our Migration and Economic Justice Field School, we’re up early to travel two hours to the farming village of Vicente Guerrero. There, we’ll spend three days accompanying this historic Casa partner organization.

Our trip is especially exciting because it is almost forty years in the making.

Sara Schoonmaker came to Casa de los Amigos for the first time as an Earlham College student in 1976 as part of a study abroad program. She fell in love with Mexico and came back the next summer to be part of one of the Casa’s workcamps in Vicente Guerrero. There she installed French intensive gardens and built rabbit hutches. Sara reflects: “These experiences transformed my understanding of global inequality and the need to work for social and economic justice at the community level.”

The lessons Sara learned in Vicente Guerrero have stayed with her. This year, as a sociology professor at the University of Redlands, she has brought her students to Mexico City with the hope that they’ll forge their own life-changing experiences here. Together, through conversations and visits to the Casa’s allies and partners in Mexico City and surrounding countryside, we’ll be exploring ways to create economic justice that prioritize human needs over profit-making. As Sara explains, “I look forward to deepening my own relationship with the Casa and to introducing my students to this transformational peace community.”

Like Sara’s personal journey, Casa de los Amigos’ current educational work includes both exciting new projects and more than half a century of international service learning. This work is a key part of our peace witness. We are striving to inspire international dialogue, create long-lasting connections between U.S. and Mexican peoples, and support community action toward global justice.

It has been a busy time at the Casa. In just the past year, we’ve organized a dozen visits for international groups to the migrant shelter Tochan and two week-long study tours with Haverford College and the University of Redlands. We have also reached out to Quaker meetings in the U.S. and hosted two of our new Quaker Social Action in Mexico Learning Tours in January and March, attracting 18 Friends from across the country.

These Learning Tours combine visits with local non-profits and community organizations, informational sessions, reflections and debriefs organized by Casa staff, and visits to historic and cultural sites. And this is just one of the many ways we are strengthening the Casa’s global community through experiential learning.

In Vicente Guerrero, these experiences continue. Today, we will spend our afternoon learning from the community’s struggle against genetically modified corn and about their exceptional political work on anti-GMO laws. Tomorrow, the campesinos will show us how to build natural terraces and teach us about medicinal plants. Sara will also have a chance to revisit this community that has affected her life so deeply. Her students are already talking about when they’re going to come back – and even more importantly – the actions they’re going to take when they get home.

As Sara’s college-age daughter says, “When you’re at the Casa, you just feel like you’re at the center of something good.”