The Casa de los Amigos, A.C. is a Quaker Center for Peace and International Understanding founded by the Quaker community of Mexico City in 1956. We are a non-profit peace organization, a community center, the meetinghouse for Mexico City Friends (Quakers), a social justice-oriented guest house, and a home. The practice of sincere hospitality, rooted in recognizing the human dignity of each person, is at the core of the Casa de los Amigos.
Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Casa, and the Casa’s programs are largely volunteer run. Volunteers currently commit from nine months to a year of full-time work (40-45 hours per week) shared between the Hospitality Program, the Casa’s other Peace Programs (currently focused in Migration and Economic Justice), and other Casa projects.
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The Hospitality Program is the essential core of the Casa and the volunteer experience. The Casa’s Hospitality work is rooted in Quaker testimonies like Equality, Simplicity, and Community. People at the Casa live their values. They strive to respect the dignity of each person who comes through the door. The center of the Casa’s Hospitality Program is its Quaker guesthouse. In contrast to a hotel or youth hostel, at the Casa a diverse group of guests and volunteers create and nourish a unique and organic community in a social justice-oriented environment. The Hospitality Program seeks to support Mexican civil society and all those who work for peace and justice in Mexico and the world. The Hospitality Program also includes a wide range of activities and services that are built on the foundation of the guest house. These include many events and activities that are open to the public, a community space with a library, and a space for social justice organizations to meet. The Casa is a place of fun and fellowship, service and learning, refuge and action.
In the Hospitality Program, the work of the volunteers is the practice of a sincere hospitality and the daily creation of the friendly environment for which the Casa is famous. Volunteers work regular shifts in the Casa’s reception. This includes receiving and attending to guests and visitors, giving tours of the Casa, acting as the first face of the organization, performing general reception duties such as answering the phone and the door, taking reservations, and in general carrying out the set of tasks necessary to keep the house running! While working in the reception Casa volunteers interact with a wide range of people from many backgrounds and of all age groups, including refugees and migrants, students and teachers, travelers and artists, volunteers and activists, and many others.
The Hospitality work extends far beyond the Casa reception. Volunteers organize activities such as film nights, presentations and discussions, and other special events. They participate in regular meetings to reflect on, plan, and make decisions regarding this work. Some volunteers make breakfast each morning for the Casa community. Casa volunteers also take the initiative to care for and keep up their house; this may involve maintenance, cleaning, gardening, painting, working with the Environmental Concerns Committee, running errands great and small, and many other specific projects.
The Peace Programs are the other principal branch of Casa work. Our Peace Programs are rooted in our community space and Hospitality Program, and are inspired by the same values and concerns. These programs are currently focused on Migration and Economic Justice in Mexico. Working with the director and other Casa staff, volunteers study these issues and perform the majority of the work of these programs.
The Migration Program directs the resources of the Casa to three areas:
1) “Hospedaje Solidario,”or providing housing for a certain number of refugees and migrants referred to the Casa by partner organizations,
2) Attending and participating in migration-related events and activities in Mexico City,
3) Through our own events, activities and information, performing educational and consciousness-raising work in the Casa community (including ourselves) regarding the realities and roots of migration.
The Economic Justice Program also works in:
1) Promoting and strengthening economic alternatives in Mexico, especially economies of solidarity (economia solidaria), which includes maintaining a point of sale for the products of the Flor de Mazahua, an indigenous women’s sewing cooperative, Tozepan Pankizaske, a collective of small producers in Puebla, and participating in a network of local producers and activists, the Red Tlaloc
2) Through our own events, activities and information, organizing educational and consciousness-raising work in the Casa community (including ourselves) regarding the realities and roots of poverty, and various local efforts to create alternative economies.
Outside of the Peace Programs, volunteers run our Environmental Concerns Committee, which focuses on ways to reduce the Casa’s environmental impact, such as managing our recycling and compost centers, and organizes educational events throughout the year on raising awareness about the environmental issues in the city and how we can respond.
The work and witness of the Casa, like all Quaker organizations, is rooted in the Quaker testimonies (values) of Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Community, and Equality. These are the pillars of Casa life and provide a context for our work, reflection, interactions and decisions. The Casa Programs, house, and community are living examples of these testimonies, or values, in action.
These are universal values not at all limited to Quakers. Casa volunteers must be committed to these values, but it is not necessary to be Quaker or to profess a belief in any religion to be a Casa volunteer (about half of our volunteers are Quakers). Volunteers do need to be comfortable representing a Quaker organization.
LIVING IN COMMUNITY AT THE CASA
Casa volunteers live together in community. Unlike sharing space in a college dormitory or an apartment or house, living in community goes much further towards communal life, and involves new ways of treating issues like food, cleaning, house tasks, decision-making and resolving problems. We live and work together in the same place. This requires a strong and supportive community, sustained by active effort and participation on the part of volunteers. We hold weekly house meetings, make group decisions, reflect on our work, confront issues and work out differences together. Keeping our community healthy, cohesive and empowered is as important as the rest of the work in the Casa. By creating a strong community in the Casa we are mirroring the kind of world in which we would like to live.
DAILY LIFE IN THE CASA
From a guest’s point of view, there is breakfast every morning, which is a great time to meet and chat with others that you haven’t had a chance to talk to in the guest lounge or kitchen. The Quaker Meeting for Worship is on Sunday morning, followed in the evening by the Sunday potluck. There is a Spanish class on Wednesday, and there may be a documentary film, discussion or presentation on Thursday. Friday evening is the English discussion group, followed by dinner out. Throughout the week, the George Fox Library is available for reading and quiet study. There also may be other groups at the Casa who are using the house meeting spaces. Finally there are other special events like seasonal parties, open houses, fundraising events, and more.
For a volunteer, the week looks different. For example, you might work a morning shift on Monday morning (8:00 – 12.30), and then prepare to facilitate for the weekly volunteer meeting that evening. On Tuesday, you make breakfast in the morning, followed by a Migration Program meeting, and then the second reception shift (12:30 – 5:00). On Wednesday you run a few Casa errands downtown before you work the afternoon shift during which you are able to get some Migration program reading done. After that you have a bi-monthly check-in meeting with the volunteer coordinator. On Thursday you work another shift, then set up and run a documentary film followed by a presentation with a speaker and a discussion. Friday you accompany a refugee staying at the Casa to his meeting at Sin Fronteras, a partner organization. You take advantage of the opportunity to get some tasty tacos in the Colonia Roma. Saturday you have off! You check on the compost and then go to the street market. On Sunday you cook up something good for the potluck.
Another volunteer might start the week by making breakfast for the guests in the morning. Then she works the second shift in reception before the volunteer dinner that night. Tuesday she has free, but she comes to watch the Mexican movie that evening. On Wednesday afternoon she attends a meeting of the Red Tlaloc, a network of organizations involved in economic solidarity, and then heads back to the Casa to attend the Economic Justice Program meeting and give a report-back. On Thursday she updates our events bulletin board with another volunteer, spends a couple hours responding to reservation emails, and gets some Economic Justice program reading done. On Friday she works the morning shift and then has to help several guests; one who needs information about buying a plane ticket and one who needs to find a homeopathic doctor. That night she attends the English discussion group. On Saturday she visits an alternative market to do research for a resource guide for people who want to sell local products. When she gets home she sees that the guest kitchen is a mess and asks those chatting in the lounge to clean up their dishes, then she sees that a bulb is out in the third floor hallway and she changes it. On Sunday she goes to the Meeting for Worship. In the evening she works the third shift (5:00 – 9:30), but they bring her down a plate of food from the potluck.
Casa volunteers, like Casa guests and visitors, are a diverse group of people with a variety of skills, experiences and interests. All Casa volunteers, however, share some specific abilities and qualities required to work and thrive in this environment.
- They have a sincere interest in peace and social justice, including issues around migration and economic solidarity, and a commitment to the values contained in the Quaker testimonies. They come here prepared to work hard on social justice issues, and to study those issues in order to do that work.
- Casa volunteers genuinely enjoy working with and meeting lots of people. They are sincerely interested in connecting with and participating in the house community. While here, volunteers’ commitment to the Casa is their full time, first priority.
- Living and working in community in the same, shared place with the same people can be very challenging. Casa volunteers have to be conscientious about the ways that their actions (even the small ones) can have an effect on everyone else in the community. They are willing to work patiently with each other to maintain productive relationships and work out problems and differences.
- Casa volunteers work independently and in teams. Because much of their work is self-supervised, they are responsible and take initiative to carry out the work of the house and organization. They are flexible and ready to problem-solve new situations every day.
- Casa volunteers are eager to learn new things, have a sense of humor, enthusiastic, and hopeful.
SOME BENEFITS OF VOLUNTEERING AT THE CASA
Volunteering at the Casa is demanding, challenging work. It is also rewarding and fun! Few other organizations bring volunteers into direct contact with as many different social actors, organizations, and diverse communities as the Casa de los Amigos. Volunteers have the opportunity to attend a range of social justice events and activities while representing a half-century old Quaker organization in the Mexican capital. In this work, volunteers become familiar with the layout of civil society and social movements in Mexico City and in Mexico. They gain and further develop skills as activists and project organizers. Volunteers also learn valuable community-living skills. In addition, the Casa strives to create an atmosphere where volunteers are able to practice living in a way in which their actions are consistent with their beliefs. All of this work takes place in a celebratory and supportive community, full of food and fun and conversation, in which Casa volunteers fall in love with Mexico City and make lifelong friends.
- Casa volunteers work 40-45 hours per week, divided between work in hospitality and other programs and projects.
- Casa volunteers must speak fluent Spanish and be at least 18.
- They must be able to commit from nine months to one year of service.
- They must commit to refrain from drinking, smoking and using illegal drugs inside the Casa.
Casa volunteers receive:
- Small private or shared (with another volunteer) room with shared bathroom.
- A stipend of $1000 pesos a month
- A shared food fund for basic staples (rice, beans, oil, salt, etc).
- Use of the Casa space and facilities.
- Free breakfast.
Casa de los Amigos, A.C.
Revised January 2014