SEEDS Field Trip: Hope from Chiapas

A week ago, I had the honor of participating in the SEEDS field trip to Chiapas. I had been to two past field trips, and just couldn’t pass this one up, especially because it was in southern Mexico. I’m a Mexican student finishing my B.S. at El Paso, TX. I have always been proud of being Mexican and have always dreamed of going back to Mexico and helping with the conservation of our natural resources. Mexico is an incredibly biodiverse country, and it saddens me that these resources aren’t given the importance they should, especially now.

As hopefully most of us have noticed, climate change is finally getting some of the attention it needs. We are seeing changes in the environment that we didn’t expect to see so fast. All these changes, and the fact that the US government isn’t doing enough to prevent further damage, made me kind of lose hope. My thought was, if the government of one of the most powerful countries in the world, which is also one of the biggest contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere, is not doing big enough things to slow down climate change, how can we expect to stop this? The economy and government of the country basically control how the citizens live. These were my thoughts before this field trip. I was excited about learning more about my country, and seeing what type of research was done in Mexico especially because I wanted to go back; I didn’t expect, however, to find things that would move me so much as they did.

Aside from the incredible people I lived with for a whole week, and seeing friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while, this field trip has been one of the most amazing and inspiring experiences I’ve had. It saddens me to accept the fact that when I thought about coming to Chiapas, I thought about learning what scientists were doing to help the people and environment of the area. When I thought about the indigenous people here, I could only have the stereotypical image of the lady carrying her baby, or the father waiting for the income of the day to go spend it on alcohol. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In contrast with the past SEEDS field trips, we only spent about half a day looking at the university and the research that the scientists of this university (ECOSUR) were doing. We spent the rest of the week talking to the indigenous people of the area and learning about how THEY are the ones protecting their environment and taking on experiments to see how they could practice agriculture while preserving the biodiversity of the area.

During our visit to Simojovel, we were received by the CIRSA committee, which is a cooperative that is exporting organic coffee to the US and Europe. These were a group of indigenous people who fought for their land just a couple of decades ago, and are now in charge of a big exporting company. They treated us as if we were there to teach them something, but we were the ones who learned from them. I still get a knot in my throat when talking about this group of people. Imagine being in a room with some of the most humble people you have seen, and listening to them talk about the pain they went through to start their company, and how they grow the coffee, harvest it, package it, and export it all while preserving the biodiversity of the area. These are tasks you don’t see in western civilization without the use of several professionals and big amounts of money. These people, though don’t have but the most basic education and support their families with their land and what they can grow in it.

This experience in Simojovel is only an example of the many touching experiences we went through that week, but it was the most touching for me. This experience gave me hope; if indigenous people in the poorest state of Mexico are able to sustain themselves and protect their environment, we can do it too. They helped me regain the strength to keep trying, and this was the biggest gift I got from this field trip: hope.

Contributed by Fernanda De La Cerda, University of Texas at El Paso

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