On the Monday following the study tour weekend, a group of 14 Loeb Fellows and Affiliates got a small taste of what the “fronterizo” experience could be: we crossed the border again to lend muscle and creativity to some community based projects in Tijuana. The arrangements were made through Via International, a nonprofit organization headed by Elisa Sabatini, which for the last 45 years has been improving the quality of life for disadvantaged populations in Tijuana. Via provides educational and transformational experiences to connect people to community development work through volunteering and civic engagement.
On this occasion, Via took us to the Intercultural Bilingual School called Ve’e Tu’un Xavi (The House of Wise Words) an elementary and middle school that serves the bilingual needs of the native Mixteco people who speak both Spanish and their own Mixteco language, one of 68 indigenous languages in Mexico.
This effort was also supported by several Loebs who could not attend but who donated to the cause: Emily Gabel-Luddy (’91), Gene Slater (’83), Cindy Freidmutter (’92), Judith LaBelle (’90), Todd Lee (’74), and his wife Karen Dalton.
The school is a loose campus of one story hillside buildings in various states of repair, so our Loeb contingent was set to several tasks: Eric Williams (’18), Anthony Flint (’01) along with Loeb Affiliates Janet Roseff, John Robinson and Michael Mazzotta, helped repaint the peeling wainscot on several of the buildings. Former curator James Stockard (’78) and I scraped peeling paint off of the fence, keeping just ahead of a group of painters made up of parent volunteers.
One of the most entertaining moments was watching David Molander and Mathew Mazzotta (both ’18) create a large ground mural for a playground game.
Their extraordinary artistry was on full display as they sketched out the animals and conjured up a fantastic palate from the limited selection of paints they were given. Everyone was amazed–the teachers, parents, kids, and the rest of us Loebs.
At the same time Kathy Dorgan (’02) led Lisa Richmond (’06) and Affiliates Steve Burke and Wynsome Burke in painting another mural that was a kind of skills course for running, jumping, hopping, and balancing.
The instructions were painted in three languages: Spanish, Mixteco, and English! With the help of a beautiful Mexican breeze, the paint was dry enough for us to see the kids playing all over it as we were leaving.
Our time at the school ended with a fantastic home cooked meal of mole, prepared for days in advance by one of the school’s volunteer mothers, who gave us each a friendship bracelet and a hug as we left.
In the afternoon, we went to Friendship Park, near where the border wall reaches the ocean. This park was created to let families and friends have some small amount of contact with one another–talking, or perhaps touching the tips of their fingers extended through the fence. Along the fence is a community garden that we tended for the afternoon.
All in all, it was a day when we felt the kind of camaraderie and affection you only get after participating in the shared enterprise of giving and doing for others, a sort ofproof of concept for future efforts at Loeb service.
One lesson it reinforced is that a capable local partner is the most essential ingredient. In the spirit of the many emails of appreciation I got afterwards was this message: “Thanks everyone. MY SOUL IS FULL.”
Rob Lane is the founder and principal of Plan & Process LLP, a multi-faceted urban design and architecture practice devoted to building local capacity through community-based planning and design, research and education. He is also senior fellow for Community Design and Development at Regional Planning Association, which is devoted to combating sprawl and making more beautiful and complete communities.