My first blogg from Ciudad Juarez
OK, so I'm a bit late starting my blogg but hope to be more on top of things from now on!
A quick resume of how I got to where I am now.... sitting in a hotel lobby in a city that is infamous across the workd for cartel related violence, human trafficking, femicides and drug trafficking.
In February 2014 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to travel to Mexico and study the work of an organisaton called Ccompaz. (Ciudadanos Comprometidos Por La Paz or Citizens Committed to Peace) whose aim is to reach young people and provide social education and a safe platform for creating music....
Communication before my arrival had been at times confusing, partly because of my basic Spanish and partly because organising my movements in a city where security is very important can be complex and there are many things I don't understand. I have had to find a balance of ensuring my itinerary will produce the opportunities and outcomes I need for my project but also letting my Mexican colleagues take control of where, how and with whom.
So I arrived in Ciudad Juarez on 7th October when I was picked up by staff from the organisation. In the evening I was treated to a welcome meal attended by Ccompaz staff at the director's house. They had already asked me what my favourite Mexican food was and I was not disappointed, tacos al pastor with my favourite Mexican beer, negra modelo! Ummmm delish!
Immediately the conversation became fascinating and so I lunged for my video camera to be able to capture some of the conversation. This has been a repeating feature of my visit so far. Stimulating and compelling conversation which is a bit stilted when I reach for my camera...
To summarise my experience and conversations so far though, I'd say this. I have been overwhelmingly supported by incredibly passionate, creative and brave people who are united by the aim to show the world that Juarez is so much more than it's negative reputation.... The Director of the organisation, Alma Gonzalez is by far the most inspirational and amazing person I have ever met (more on her in another blogg). The music tutors who work on the project are incredible and I find myself filling with emotion when they talk about their work. To this point I have talked to 5 music tutors and there is a very common theme. All of them are of an era when their city was ravaged by violence at the moment when normally young people are at their creative most potent. At this time (2009-2012) there were no opportunities for young people to play or to learn and many people fled the city. For these music tutors they all view thier role as part of a movement, an honour and an absolute duty. There is something incredibly selfless in their approach, they see music as a vital part of the city's rehabilitation and they are unfaltering in their committment to ensure the next generation has the opportunities that was denyed to them.
Two condensed, incredible stories of many I have been told: there was a flood during the height of the violence. Alma told me about how the warehouse which stored the instruments was being flooded by terrential rain. At the same time as rival gangs where killing eachother on the streets the young people where risking their lives literally swimming through buildings to rescue instruments.
Another was about a time when an armed gang entered closed down a local school. Alma was called by distrort parents to help get the children out. Eventually many of the school children were gathered in a Ccompaz building. Whilst the parents desperately waited for news of their traped children, the rest of the children calmed themselves by playing whatever intsruments they could find.
Finally, here's a small video clip of a very special moment.... http://youtu.be/ZXGLnRyllhA