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 concept of hospitality forms the basis of all the work that is done in the House: create a space of solidarity, warm and welcoming where all people feel welcome; this is the main vision. The work of hospitality in the Casa has its roots in Quaker testimonies such as Equality and Community. People in the House live their values and strive to respect the dignity of every person who walks through the door. Unlike a hotel or a hostel, a diverse group of guests and volunteer team members build and nurture 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. This program also includes a wide range of activities and services available to guests and visitors to the House. These include events and activities open to the public, a community space with a library, and a meeting space for social justice organizations. The House is a place of fun and coexistence, service and learning, shelter and action.
In the Hospitality Program, the work of volunteers is the sincere practice of hospitality and the daily creation of an atmosphere of friendship, as well as other values for which the House is known. The volunteers work regular shifts at the reception of the House. This work includes receiving and supporting guests and visitors, providing tours and information about the House, acting as the “main face” of the organization, performing general reception tasks such as answering the phone and the door, taking reservations, and in general doing all that is necessary for the proper functioning of the House! While working at reception, experiences are exchanged with people of various interests and ages, including refugees and migrants, students and teachers, tourists and artists, volunteers and activists, and many more.
The work of hospitality encompasses much more than just the reception of the Casa. Volunteers organize activities such as movie nights, presentations, talks, workshops and other special events. They also participate in regular meetings to reflect, plan and make decisions regarding this work. Some prepare breakfast each morning for the community of the House or take the initiative to care for and maintain their home, which may include cleaning, gardening, painting, working with the Environment Committee, doing small errands, and many other specific projects.
The other main branch within the work of Casa de los Amigos is the Peace Programs. These programs are rooted in our community space and in the Hospitality Program and are inspired by the same values and concerns as the latter. These programs are currently focused on migration and solidarity economy in Mexico. Together, the director, the Program Coordination and the rest of the Casa staff (volunteers), study these issues and support the work of these programs.
The Migration Program seeks to support Mexican civil society in protecting the human rights of migrants and refugees in Mexico through our solidarity housing program. Through this program we work with social, governmental and international organizations to offer short- and medium-term accommodation to refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants and victims of crime. The program aims to raise awareness and educate the community of the House about issues related to the roots and realities of migration and the right to asylum in Mexico.
Another goal of the Migration Program is to provide support and guidance to those who stay in the Casa through the program of hosting solidarity in its process of integration to this country. Since 2010, the Casa has offered free Spanish classes to the refugee population in Mexico City, a joint project with other civil society organizations. Also, the House frequently receives donations of clothes, kitchen items and furniture that the volunteers organize to offer to those looking to start a new home.
In 2012 a new shelter was opened in Mexico City with the help of Casa and other organizations and counterparts. Tochan, meaning “our house” in Nahuatl, is a medium-term shelter for migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and victims of crime. The Casa is part of the Tochan coordinating team and provides advice and support to the organization.
The Economic Justice Program promotes the construction of alternative economies in Mexico, especially the solidarity economy, and seeks to promote education on issues related to economic justice in Mexico such as poverty, inequality and the efforts of the people to generate economically fairer conditions. Through this program we directly support several productive projects of Mexican communities, such as “Flor de Mazahua”, an indigenous women’s cooperative of the State of Mexico, and “Tozepan Pankizaske”, a collective of small producers in Puebla. The Casa is also part of a network of local producers and activists called “Red Tlaloc”.
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.
We have conceptualized living in the House as being part of a family that maintains a family business: here it is important to live with the family (celebrate birthdays, eat together, support each other) and work and maintain the “business”. We value the responsibilities that we have to fulfill to take care of our guest house and the peace programs as well as we value the time that we spend building our unique community.
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.
Each week is different depending on each volunteer. For example, perhaps on Monday the person works the first shift at the reception (8: 00-12: 30 hrs.) And in the afternoon cooks a big dinner for the team with the help of another person. On Tuesday he attends the weekly meeting (11: 00-13: 00 hrs.) And in the afternoon there is an on-call shift (a scheduled shift that can vary widely, from going to the market to buying breakfast items, painting a room, organizing clothing donations, working on projects for migration and economic justice committees). On Wednesday she gets up early to prepare breakfast and then goes with a group of volunteers to a meeting of the Tlaloc Network (a network of organizations and people that promote community currencies and Solidarity Economy). On Thursday he attends the weekly meeting of the Migration Committee and then works the second shift at the reception (12: 30-17: 00 hrs.). At night, it helps to prepare popcorn for “Cinemoneda” (our monthly film, conscience and coexistence event organized by the Economic Justice Committee). On Friday morning he spends several hours answering the emails that arrive at the account email@example.com and, together with the Hospitality Coordinator, he reviews the reservations of guests that will arrive in the coming weeks. In the afternoon, the person who is working at the reception is assisted to receive a large group that is going to stay three nights in the House (for example, a delegation of people who come to know organizations working for peace in Mexico). Then he attends the Cultural Talk in English where the weekly theme is “Non-Verbal Communication”. Saturday of this week is day off! On Sunday he goes for a walk with other volunteers to Chapultepec Park and in the afternoon prepares a large salad for the shared food.
Other volunteers may have a different week. On Monday morning he attends the Spanish class for refugees to welcome the new students to the Casa, then works the second shift (12: 30-17: 00 hrs.) During the shift he focuses on organizing guest registration cards. After the community dinner at 19:00, he attends a reflection of the team on the theme of hospitality. The Tuesday after the weekly meeting he meets with the Volunteer Coordinator for a “check in” about their responsibilities and activities in the House. On Wednesday he works the first shift (8: 00-12: 30 hrs.) and then meets with someone from Haiti who is staying in the House through the solidarity lodging to see how he is doing in his stay. It turns out that she needs a medical consultation for her stomach ache, so the volunteer helps her make an appointment for the next day. Before the community dinner he makes a new sign promoting Flor of the Mazahua, one of the cooperatives that the House supports. On Thursday he prepares breakfast in the morning and has an afternoon meeting with other people on the team about a fundraising event of the Environment Committee. On Friday, he reads articles for the Migration Committee, goes to the market with another person to buy food from the monthly volunteer fund and works the third shift at the reception. On Saturday, as part of the work of the Economic Justice Committee, he visits an alternative tianguis and uses a homemade bread to exchange or “barter” for organic vegetables. Coming back in the afternoon puts a coffee service in the conference room for a group of activists that is going to meet. On Sunday he attends the Quaker meeting in the morning and in the afternoon he rests!
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