Jason Mann, class of 2020, spent his summer in Mexico City interning for Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) where he focused on monitoring and evaluation efforts related to two reconstruction projects supported by the PepsiCo Foundation donation.
I arrived in Juchitán, a small town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca on a Sunday evening. As I stepped off the bus, my guide, Heriberto, greeted me.
Heriberto took my luggage, and we hopped into his small moto-taxi, one of thousands in Juchitán, where streets are narrow, in bad condition, and often impossible to navigate by full-sized vehicle. In September 2017, Juchitán was heavily impacted by two devastating earthquakes that shook the southern part of Mexico, killing hundreds and leaving infrastructure, roads, and bridges in shambles.
As we drove to the hotel where I would be staying the next three days, Heriberto explained the itinerary for the week. He told me that we would meet tomorrow early in the morning to visit the Centro de Atención Multiple (CAM) No. 8, the school for children with disabilities that was rebuilt by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) after the earthquakes.
Heriberto explained that we would be meeting at 8 a.m. but asked if I would be following the horario de verano (summer schedule) or the local time used by the Zapotec indigenous people.
Juchitán is a majority indigenous community, he explained, where more than 70 percent of the population speaks Zapoteco instead of Spanish as their native tongue.
When we arrived to our destination, we agreed to follow the horario de verano. I said goodbye and walked into the hotel. As I closed the steel wire mesh door, I noticed the church in ruins that sat across the street.
Over the next three days, I would travel to CAM No. 8 with Heriberto and another colleague of mine, Jose Luis. In the mornings we spent time conversing with parents, teachers, students, and staff at the school about the earthquakes, the devastation they caused, and reconstruction. Jose Luis recorded our interactions to later produce a documentary video about the project carried out by PADF.
I undertook my first interview with the school’s principal. Jose Luis and I sat down with her in front of a large, colorful mural, donated by PADF and painted with the help of parents, teachers, and students at CAM No. 8. As Jose Luis recorded, I asked a series of questions to guide the discussion.
We first chatted about the condition of the school prior to September 2017. The CAM No. 8 principal explained that it was in decent shape, had the necessary supplies for teachers to perform their duties, and that students were working hard to cope with their disabilities. She had worked at the school for just three weeks when the first disaster hit on September 7, 2017.
She explained how devastating it was for the children: how they were unable to go to school and continue their therapies, how teachers came to work in constant fear of more earthquakes and further devastation, and how parents struggled to provide the necessary care for their children at home.
Then, she told us how PADF had brought life back into the school.
PADF helped reconstruct the sanitary systems—which allowed students to return to school—floors, a rehabilitation area and pool, a fence around the perimeter of the school, and the mural, among several other projects.
In addition to the reconstruction, PADF led a series of workshops and gatherings with parents, teachers, and civil society leaders on topics related to citizen security, parenting, working in teams, and disaster response. A free PADF-led eye-exam clinic served 50 students in the community of Juchitán. While I was at the school conducting interviews, a ceremony was held where PADF handed out more than twenty pairs of glasses, donated by the DISH Foundation, for students with vision impairment.
The principal explained that the reconstruction not only allowed teachers and students to return to their daily routines but also brought a sense of hope to CAM No. 8 and to the community. Teachers were more motivated to perform their duties, parents had a better relationship with teachers and staff, and students were making substantial progress in their rehabilitation sessions.
Similar stories were retold in nearly twenty interviews that we held with parents, teachers, staff and community members. Almost all were positive and expressed gratitude to PADF for its efforts to rebuild and engage with the school.
The major takeaways from those stories will be presented in a final report that several colleagues and I are have compiled for the project. The report will serve as a formal description of the job done at CAM No. 8 and a guide for future reconstruction initiatives around Mexico.
In my final weeks as an intern with PADF, I will be making field visits to Xoxocotla, Morelos, where the organization has just started reconstruction of a community center and sports complex, also damaged by the September earthquakes. In Xoxocotla I am sure that I will hear stories from residents similar to those in Juchitán. Not only am I interested to learn about the impact the reconstruction is making on the people of Xoxocotla, but I will also be honored to hear their many stories and how they have overcome so much.