Friday, June 30, 2006

British Columbia CIASP

CIASP in British Columbia

Many CIASPers don't realize that students from the University of British Columbia also went to Mexico. Although it was a small group, they trained and prepared with the CIASP group located at the University of Washington (Seattle). UW students had projects in Oaxaca, and many were Triqui Indian communities. The UBC students joined the the Canadian contingent in Mexico City at the Tlalpan convent orientation; some or them were reassigned to Canadian projects. CIASP Canada also hosted a few American students in our Hidalgo projects.

I found the following article online. It's from the University of British Columbia student newspaper (Ubyssey) and describes the involvement of Harry Armstrong and Valerie Turner. Harry now lives in Toronto, and was the author of one of two articles about CIASP. The link above is a pdf file to the original newspaper stories.

Excerpted From UBYSSEY, November 1967
Two on CIASP: social reform, tortilla and beans for breakfast

In the popular student quest for social reform there is an urgent need for students to agitate within the existing social system for a transformation in public attitude. Tuning-in and dropping out may be socially elite now, but it is facile and unproductive.

Students throughout the continent have been "finding themselves" through narrow evaluations of student individuality, rights and roles. Few have given consideration to the responsibility of putting at society's service their knowledge and understanding which seem to respond so readily in unmasking the deficiencies of our so-called "democracy".

There are some, however, who find scope for expression in the programs of the Peace Corps, CUSO, VISTA, and the Company of Young Canadians. There were ten UBC students who spent the past summer trying to assert the primacy of interdependence and cooperation in a similar way, in the service of the Conference of Inter-American Student Projects, an international student development organization.

Armed with such a vague ideal and a sense of adolescent vocation these ten CIASPers attempted to tackle the challenge of community development for two months in the undeveloped areas of Mexico.

They faced the ordeal of trying to communicate through language and by the example of personal commitment the advantages of an intercultural exchange for the mutual benefit of both the Mexicans and themselves.

They were not dismayed by any failures to improve the material lot of the Oaxacans in whose villages and towns they lived. Not being technical specialists, the UBC ClASPers placed emphasis on sharing with these Mexicans the problems of the pueblos rather than offering ready solutions in typical Yankee fashion. Unique amongst student organizations, CIASP - the international, non-government sponsored movement - works on the grass-roots level through a structure of student-community projects in Mexico.

From their friendships the UBC "Amigos" discovered new vistas for personal growth, and developed a new perspective on their own culture when they returned.

They realized as Huxley said that "You accept the world, and make use of it; you make use of everything you do, of everything that happens to you, of all the things you see and hear and taste and touch, as so many means to your liberation from the prison of yourself."

Maybe the ten UBC students didn't return from Mexico with any solutions but they are in a better position to pose more sensitive questions. There is nothing extraordinary or radical in their attitudes or appearance to indicate the deeper appreciation for social reform they gained in Mexico.


Can you picture yourself arising from your straw bed, heeding the call of nature in unusual ways, and starting the day with a tortilla and beans breakfast?

This was part of the daily living routine of ten UBC students who spent last summer in rural Mexico with the Conference on Inter-American Student Projects.

CIASP, a student action group, began in 1961 when a group of Yale and Berkley University students started a project in Mexico. The organization now has branches on 160 campuses in the U.S. and Canada and last summer had 800 students working in 13 states in Mexico.

Valerie Turner, a graduate student in the Spanish department, gave two experiences which typify the challenge of the program.

"The People were not unfriendly to us but they became skeptical when we were not able to cure a child deaf from birth," Miss Turner said. She told of a bizarre experience of one group.
"They had to leave a project early when the family with which they were living became involved in a local vendetta. Shots were fired into the living room of the house."

The students each raised $200 as part of a CIASP group project at UBC last year. Upon arrival in Mexico City they were assigned projects. Their purpose was to act as a catalyst to help Mexicans help themselves. Miss Turner said.

"Los amigos," as the students called themselves, were involved in such projects as teaching hygiene, sewing, first aid and instituting adult literacy pro grams. They helped build stoves, sanitary facilities and schools.

CIASP maintains an office in Mexico City with a social worker and a student who research and assign summer projects. The conference consists of five autonomous regions which meet once a year. Al funds are raised within the regions and grants and donations supplement group fund raising schemes.

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