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EVERYONE who travels in Mexico must have a valid visa in their possession. If you are flying from the states, you will be issued a visa at your first Mexican stop. If you are crossing the border on foot, be sure to stop by Immigration and have one issued. You can also apply for a visa at your local Mexican Consulate before you arrive.
In the past, American citizens have been able to travel in Mexico without a passport but, in this post 9-11 world, that is no longer possible. It will take up to two months to process your regular application for a passport. If you have waited too long, it may still be possible to obtain a passport with an expedited application or by visiting your nearest national passport office.
More information is available from the State Department.
Click here to visit the CDC website.
The risk of malaria varies greatly depending upon where the delegation is based. Delegations that take place in the caracol and communities outside of San Cristobal are in an area known as "los Altos" (the highlands). These areas are at relatively high elevation (6,000 to 8,000 ft) and this means the climate is really too cold for there to be any risk of malaria. If your plan is to travel no more extensively than the highlands then you will not need to worry about malaria.
If you are intending to travel more widely in Chiapas (or elsewhere in Latin America) where the climate is more tropical, you will need to think about malaria prevention. The whole issue of whether or not to treat turns out to be somewhat complicated and warrants a bit of research. Malaria medication is serious medicine and some people experience rather significant side effects. On the other hand, Malaria is a serious illness and can cause life-long symptoms. It is important to speak with your health care provider about the risks and your options. It then becomes a matter of risk assessment and personal choice...
Malaria is transmitted, of course, by the bites of infected mosquitoes. One interesting thing to note is that mosquitoes that carry malaria are only active in the evening. In most malaria zones, however, there is also the risk of Dengue Fever (another serious blood born disease) which is also transmitted through the bits of infected mosquitoes... and these mosquitoes are active only during the day. There is currently no prophylactic treatment for Dengue.
In both cases, the important thing is to avoid mosquito bites, period. If you are traveling in the topics, you should carry a lightweight, long sleeved shirt and lightweight long pants, socks and shoes. Covering up helps prevent mosquito bites.
In the tropics, we sleep in places that are not screened. Typically, despite this fact, there is not a huge mosquito presence in the places we stay and the indigenous sleep in hammocks without benefit of malaria prophylactic protection or mosquito nets. If you opt to sleep in a hammock (and it really is the preferred and most comfortable way to sleep in the tropics) it can be tricky to figure out how to hang a mosquito net over your hammock. We recommend you bring a bed sheet or a light blanket or sleeping bag and try to stay covered up.
We also recommend that you think about insect repellent. As far as we know, there are only two ingredients that are effective against mosquitoes: DEET and Neem. DEET is the more commonly available but is also a toxin and can cause side effects in susceptible people. If you check out your local high end camping store, you will probably find many DEET concoctions. You do NOT need 100% DEET concentration for the product to be effective. Anything above 25% DEET will work. Consider a time release version with DEET concentration above 25% in a soothing base (like Aloe Vera).
The other ingredient effective against mosquitoes is Neem. Neem is not as widely known or accessible as DEET, but it is also far more environmentally friendly and not toxic to humans. You are most likely to encounter Neem products in a health food store or a place where you buy alternative medicines. Schools for Chiapas is sponsoring a Neem project in Southern Mexico. Neem, which is known in India (where the tree originates) as the Pharmacy of the Community is a remarkable plant with many remarkable qualities. Click here to learn more about the many uses of Neem and the Schools For Chiapas Neem Project.
BRING INSECT REPELLANT WITH YOU FROM HOME. Although you can find most everything you need (or forget to pack) here in Mexico, we have found it almost impossible to locate a store than sells repellent that contains either of these two ingredients.
In terms of being able to make the occasional contact with friends or family... no worries. Internet cafes and international telephone kiosks abound in all major towns and most smaller communities in Mexico. Believe it or not, all five caracoles (Zapatista Civilian centers) have satellite uplinks and are Internet equipped, although they may or may not be operational when you visit. You are unlikely to find either internet or telephones in small indigenous communities, however.
The answer to this question very much depends upon where in southern Mexico you are traveling.
The weather in the highlands of Chiapas (San Cristobal area) is the most variable. Though days are often relatively warm (although occasionally windy or rainy), the nights are always brisk… and sometimes down right cold. If you are visiting the Highlands, you will definitely need clothes for cooler weather. If you are visiting in the winter, you may even want a winter type jacket.
The weather in the Northern part of the state (Palenque area) is typically hot and steamy. You will still need to plan for rain and you will want to bring a lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants for the occasional cool evenings and to protect yourself from the bugs.
Again, this varies somewhat depending upon where we are staying. In some of the caracoles, the toilet will be porcelain (albeit sans toilet seat) and you will flush by filling and dumping a bucket of water into the bowl. In other places, you may encounter composting toilets of either the dry or wet variety or more standard outhouse variety bathrooms.
In tropical locations, you will likely have access to rivers or streams and bathing will be a wonderful opportunity to cool off, relax and get clean all at the same time. Although the Indigenous use the river to wash everything from their person, to their clothes and dishes, we ask that you please think about the impact of adding yet more soap to these beautiful rivers. Please use biodegradable soap for washing both your body and your hair. Bio-degradable soap will also be difficult, if not impossible, to find so please bring a supply along with you.
In the highlands, bathing is often more like washing up in a bucket. You may encounter the occasional cold water shower but don't count on it. Bring a wash cloth, soap and a towel for an experience that will be a bit more bracing... but entirely do-able.
Again, this will depend upon where we are staying. Typically, we will be sleeping in buildings with roofs made of tin and floors made of either concrete or dirt. In the tropics, the buildings are likely to have large, unscreened windows for ventilation and you may be happiest sleeping in a hammock.
If you haven't ever slept in a hammock before and don't already have a hammock that has been used for such a purpose, we advise you wait to purchase a hammock here... where hammocks are the most common form of bed and there are many hammock stores. There is a definite technique to hammock sleeping (we can show you!) and, in the world of sleeping hammocks we have found that bigger is definitely better! Hammocks come in single, matrimonial (double) or familial (king) size. We opt for the familial! A hammock of this size will probably cost about $50 and will weigh about 10 pounds. They make great souvenirs or gifts but they are also heavy and bulky to carry. You can always buy hammock, use it and leave it here but, if you plan to carry it home with you, pack accordingly! You should also bring a lightweight sleeping bag and, if you are opting for the floor over a hammock, a sleeping pad (concrete is a bear to sleep on without a pad!) and lightweight tarp (in case of dirt).
In the Highlands, we will be sleeping in enclosed rooms made of either concrete or wood. Some people opt for hammocks here too, but, because hammocks let air circulate all around, you some people find them too cold for the Highlands. To be comfortable on the floor, you will need a sleeping bag, sleeping pad (hot or cold, concrete is a bear to sleep on without a pad!) and lightweight tarp (in case the floor is dirt). In the Highlands, you will definitely want a heavy sleeping bag and warm socks!
The ruins of Palenque are considered by many to be among the finest Mayan ruins in all of Meso-America. These ruins are located about 15 minutes outside of the modern city of Palenque, which is a 5 hour bus ride from San Cristobal. It is possible to travel from San Cristobal, spend several hours on the Palenque site and return to San Cristobal the same evening. Or spend more than one day and visit the equally dramatic ancient cities of Bonampac and Yachilan.
Although not usually an official part of the Schools for Chiapas delegation, we urge everyone to make time in their schedule to visit this amazing site. When the delegation is based in the North (launching from Palenque), a visit to ruins of Palenque is possible in a few hours. If the delegation is based in the highlands (launching from San Cristobal), you will need to plan for an extra day (or two or three) in your schedule. There are many commercial tour operators in San Cristobal who sponsor one-day trips to Palenque with return to San Cristobal that same evening. This one day trip leaves very early in the morning and makes for a very long day but will give you several hours at the ruins.
If you spend a day or two in Palenque, you will also be able to visit the ruins of Bonampac and Yachilan. These ruins are equally dramatic and because they are more remote, they are a bit less touristed. You can visit both sites in one (long) day trip from Palenque and the trip can be easily booked through any one of the dozens of tour operators in town. If you wish to see all three sites, you will need at least 2 full days in the north of Chiapas.
To maximize your time on the ground and take time to enjoy the attractions of the tropical, Northern zone, you may want to arrange your flights so that you fly into the highlands zone (San Cristobal de las Casas, the nearest airport is at Tuxtla Gutierrez) and fly out of the North (Palenque, the nearest airport is at Villa Hermosa).
Some of our trips (of the rustic, camping variety) require that you be able to hike some distance (a couple miles) over uneven terrain and be able to walk up and down hills. You may need to carry your luggage about 500 yards up and down a hill traversed by uneven road but typically, the walking we do requires that you carry no more than a day pack containing only those things you need for the hike. You will, however, need to be prepared to sort of rough it in terms of accommodation.
If you decide you would rather sleep in a more comfortable bed and not over tax yourself physically, we also offer some upscale hotel style trips. Even on trips of this nature, expect long days and some walking over uneven surfaces.
The short answer is sure; it's possible to bring a two-year-old. In fact, when kids are that small, they often travel easier than the 4- or 5-year-old variety! No matter what the age, however, there are a LOT of indigenous kids around and traveling with your child is a profound statement of respect and trust for the culture and the people you will encounter.
That said, Schools for Chiapas delegations are usually camping trips and the conditions are rather "rustic". We do, however, pay a lot of attention to sanitation and health and eat really good organic food. There is no reason to think that your baby wouldn't stay happy and healthy.
In order to travel legally in Mexico, you will need to be traveling with someone who is 18 years of age or older and have in your possession a notarized statement from your parents (both parents if possible) that you have their consent to travel.
It can be a growthful and profound bonding experience when a teen is able to travel to Chiapas and participate on one of our delegations with their family or parent. We have also had many mature and wonderful teenagers travel with us on delegations and we welcome teens accompanied by a responsible adult and/or parent.
We would be happy to welcome you on any of our trips. The experience of spending some time in Chiapas meeting and/or working with the Zapatistas is really a very powerful and rewarding experience. I'm sure you would find the experience significant and touching with respect to both your ongoing work and your human spirit.
Typically, each delegation is focused on a specific project, objective or event but you don't need any specific skills to join a delegation… just a flexible attitude, an open heart and a willing spirit. We consistently find that the Indigenous run circles around even the most energetic gringos we bring down to work jointly on such projects and realize the value is in undertaking the project together and not in the specific skills we are bringing to the table.
Translation service (Spanish to English) will be provided by Schools for Chiapas staff for all significant interactions with Spanish speakers.
Keep in mind that for most of the Indigenous in Chiapas, Spanish is a second language and many do not speak Spanish with any great fluency. This means that much of the spoken Spanish is at a pretty basic level and you may find yourself understanding more than you expected! Also language exchange is one of the many interesting types of interchanges you may find yourself having with indigenous people. It is great fun to learn the indigenous word for something and teach the English word in return... and it can all happen without a single word of Spanish.
Typically, we organize food preparation collectively. That means we decide on, purchase and cook food according to a structure worked out collectively. The supply of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the Indigenous markets is incredible and even when we have meat eaters in the group, meals generally tend to be vegetarian. Each meal always has at least one vegetarian option. If you don't eat dairy or eggs or have other dietary prohibitions, we have found that the group has always been willing to accommodate. One of our best eating delegations happened when one of our delegates ate only raw foods... and shared many of his meals with the group (and with the Indigenous). We continue using some of those recipes to this day!
A combi is a basically a shared taxi or mini van that runs a specific route. Combies run on city streets and between towns. They ply the road between the city of Palenque and the ruins. They are less expensive then a cab and about the same cost as a bus. On shorter trips (2 or 3 hours), combies actually compete with the bigger bus lines. In Mexico (and most other places in Latin America) combies leave whenever they are full or the driver feels he has sufficient passengers, and you can find a combi ready to depart to your desired location most anytime during the day. Combies to a specific place all tend to leave out of a single location and, if you ask a cabbie, they will be able to take you to the proper combi stop. Combies tend to stop running at some point in the evening and are unlikely to be a late night option.
Your tuition will cover all food, transportation and lodging from the first day of the delegation to the last, but you will need to cover the cost of your transportation to Chiapas. We suggest that all potential delegates consult with any standard Mexico guidebook about city details and suggestions for travel options such as bus, plane, and airport transfers. Another good resource is, of course, the Internet. One site you might check is TravelChiapas.com but any search engine will return a ton of information if you simply enter the keyword "Palenque" or "San Cristobal". Below you will find a few travel suggestions from our experience.
Almost everyone who intends to fly all the way to Chiapas will pass through Mexico City. When you land in Mexico City, you will need to fly or take ground transportation onward to Chiapas.
If you opt to fly and you are headed to Palenque, the nearest airport is in Villahermosa (airline code: VSA). When you arrive in Villa Hermosa, you will need to take ground transportation (a combi or a bus) from Villa Hermosa to Palenque (about 2 hours).
If you opt to fly and you are headed for San Cristobal, the nearest airport is in Tuxtla Gutierrez (airline code: TGZ). They have just opened a new airport in Tuxtla and, as of summer 2006, there seem to be no good options for ground travel between Tuxtla and San Cristobal other than an expensive taxi cab ride (about $50) for an 1 ½ hour trip up the hill. There is a taxi kiosk in the airport. If you are lucky, there will be other travelers who are also trying to make the trip from Tuxtla to San Cristobal and you can arrange to share a cab. Cabbies will take up to three travelers for the same fare.
Technically, there is an also airport in San Cristobal, but... there is virtually no commercial air traffic in or out of this airport. Best to simply forget this option.
The other less expensive (and quite viable) option is to take a (direct, first class) bus from Mexico City to either San Cristobal (about 16 hours) or Palenque (10-12 hours). If you elect to travel by bus from Mexico City to Palenque you will most likely pass through Villahermosa on your way to Palenque. If you choose to use ground transportation from Mexico City, it is definitely worth the price of admission to go by first class (or executive class) bus.
Here is a potentially useful link if you are considering traveling by bus in Mexico.
Traveling anywhere involves some risk and Chiapas is no exception. In general, traveling in Chiapas is much the same as travel in any other part of Mexico or Latin America. That said, if you opt for ground transportation, you might want to plan your travel so as to travel mostly during daylight hours so that you will be more conscious of your surroundings. Both you and your stuff will be more secure this way. On the other hand, overnight buses are common and have their advantages (like you can more easily pass a few hours sleeping and you avoid the cost of a hotel room).
Overall, bus travel in Mexico is really quite efficient and comfortable. When you book a first class bus, you will have an assigned seat, the seat will be padded and probably have both a foot rest and a light that works. There will be serviceable bathroom and, depending on the line and the class of the bus, there may even be drinking water and hot water available. The bus will make only a limited number of stops, so bring your own food and drinks. The bus is also likely to play bad B-rated Kung Fu or action videos (sometimes at excessive volume) dubbed or captioned in Spanish. They will also run the air conditioning at excessively cold temperatures, so even if you are traveling to or through the tropics, bring warm clothes, socks and/or a blanket for the trip.
No matter how you arrive in Chiapas, please plan your trip so as to attend an orientation session which will begin at 5pm on Sunday.
It is usually to your advantage to book your ticket as far as possible in advance. This is especially true if your trip is scheduled during a "high" tourist season. The week before Easter (known as Semana Santa), Christmas, New Years and the entire months of June, July and August are all high tourist times. Flights will fill quickly so you should buy your Airline tickets as soon as you've established your travel dates.
The cost to fly varies depending upon what the airlines are doing when you book your ticket. Your best bet is to begin by using a search engine like Travelocity to get a general idea of which airlines are flying where and then to check out specific airlines of interest to see if they are running any specials. For some reason, Tuesdays are discount days to purchase airline tickets in Mexico. I don't know for sure if this applies to airline tickets purchased on-line but (if you can remember) it might be worth your while to try a search on Tuesday.
Almost all flights to Chiapas pass through Mexico City. It is possible to fly to Chiapas from other destinations in Mexico (like Cancun or Acapulco) or Central America (like Oaxaca City) but often flights are very expensive or route you back through Mexico City or both. One can occasionally find very inexpensive flights into the bigger tourist locations, so if you are willing to take an extended bus ride (from Cancun allow at least 20 hours) then you could fly into another destination spot and take the bus from there.
If the price of a ticket seems exorbitant (and you have some time), I would suggest that you just to keep checking over a period of days or weeks. Prices fluctuate a lot! If you are departing from a place that is off the beaten track, then you might want to check fares from a nearby "hub city" and then figure a less expensive way to depart from there. It is also almost always costs more to fly across an International border than to fly nationally. So, if you are coming from a border state (or have some reason to visit, San Diego or Juarez, it likely to be cheaper if you walk across the border and keep your air travel national within Mexico.
In terms of meeting up with your delegations, it will depend upon which specific delegation you had enrolled. Generally, we launch from either San Cristobal or Palenque. This means we will spend the first night (Sunday) at a hotel or Posada in town and leave from there early the next morning. This ensures that delegates can easily find the place and that we can have dinner and an orientation meeting before we head together into Zapatista Territory.
Specific details regarding hotels, etc are sent out to registered delegates several weeks in advance of the delegation. If you arrive in your destination city by any means other than taxi, you will probably want to take a local taxi directly to your hotel. Taxis in both Palenque and San Cristobal are relatively inexpensive (about $2.00) and will save you from wandering the unfamiliar streets with all your stuff.
In terms of time, typically we begin our delegations on Sunday at 5pm with a general orientation meeting and we wrap things up on Saturday by noon. This means if you only have a very limited time (or you can only manage to be gone from home for one week), it is possible to leave home Saturday, travel to Chiapas in time for the orientation meeting on Sunday, depart Saturday afternoon, arrive home and be ready to resume your regular life on Monday morning.
Please note: This is not necessarily what we recommend... but it is possible.
We generally run four back to back delegations every summer and invite people to consider staying for more than one delegation. Essentially, we expect to continue indefinitely with our same summer schedule.
Typically the first summer delegation begins third Sunday in July (which means we would launch on the 15th of July, 2007) and ends the following Saturday (for 2007 this would mean ending on July 21st, 2007). The second delegation would start the next Sunday (July 22, 2007) and end the following Saturday (July 28th, 2007). The third delegation and fourth delegations would follow continue this pattern.
The first delegation of the summer is usually co-sponsored by the Peace and Justice caucus of the NEA and geared very specifically toward educators and those interested in focusing on the Zapatista Autonomous education system. It is also based out of hotel (rather than a rustic camping trip) and features day trips into the caracoles (Zapatista Civilian Centers) and communities to see autonomous schools and meet with education personnel. The cost of the first delegation is equivalent to 3 weeks salary at minimum wage in your country of residence (in the US this equals $720). The cost of the next three delegations (which are of the rustic camping trip mode) is equivalent to 2 weeks minimum wage or $480 US.
The only thing I can't tell you specifically at this moment is exactly where we will launch from. Typically, we have based the first delegation out of San Cristobal de las Casas but we don't actually make that decision until we are a bit closer to launch and have a better sense of what is likely to be happening in the various zones during the time of the delegation.
Typically, if one wants to fly to the airport closest to the city from which we launch delegations, there are only two choices… one in Tuxtla Gutiérrez (closest airport to San Cristobal de las Casas) and the other in Villa Hermosa (closest to our other launch city of Palenque). It is a 4 or 5 hour bus trip between the two cities and there are tons of buses, so it's fairly straightforward to travel from one place to the other.
We recommend, whenever possible, that people take a few extra days to do a bit of sightseeing in Chiapas. The city of San Cristobal is a beautiful colonial city with much to offer in terms of ambiance while the archeological sites of Palenque, Bonampac and Yaxichilan are "don't miss" sites and are all accessed out of Palenque. If one were to fly into Villa Hermosa (Palenque) 4 or 5 days before the start of the delegation and depart from Tuxtla (San Cristobal de las Casas) 3 or 4 days after the close of the delegation, one could have a pretty good overview of Chiapas.
Application and Costs:
The first question is whether you are interested in one of our regular delegations or whether you are interested in creating a "specialty" delegation, uniquely tailored your specific group. If you are looking to design one of our "specialty delegations", please email us so we can give your request our personal attention.
Though for the sake of clarity, we term them "regular delegations" they are, in fact, anything but. During your week long delegation, you will not only participate in the featured educational aspects or project of your specific delegation but also have multiple opportunities to meet Zapatista government authorities, speak with Zapatista Education and Health promoters, tour schools and health clinics, visit Zapatista run productive projects (like the women's artesian cooperatives or coffee co-ops) and hang out in the Zapatista Civilian Centers (known as "caracoles") where you will have many informal opportunities to meet and interact with individual Zapatistas. You may have the opportunity to attend a Zapatista celebration, dance to a Zapatista musical group and/or play basketball in one of the tournaments that accompany nearly every Zapatista get together.
If you are interested in joining one of our regular delegations, please fill out an on-line application form. If you experiencing some problem or have other questions that aren't answered in the pages of these Frequently Asked Questions, you can email us.
The tuition will cover all food, lodging, translation and transportation and all other expenses associated with the delegation from the first day of the delegation (Sunday at 5pm) to the last (Saturday at noon). You will need to cover the cost of any personal items you may want to purchase and the cost of your transportation to Chiapas.
In an attempt to make our delegations accessible to an International population, our delegation fees differ depending upon your country of residence. We base our fees upon the minimum wage in your country of residence. The fee for the first week of the camping style delegation is the equivalent of 2 weeks minimum wage.
Occasionally (like the first week of our four week summer program), we offer a slightly more upscale delegation. Rather than a rustic camping trip, we base the delegation in a hotel and travel each day from the hotel to Zapatista bases of support. The cost of hotel based delegations is the equivalent of three times the minimum wage in your country of residence. We plan the cost based on double occupancy (and that means sharing a hotel room) but if you would prefer a single room, we offer a single supplement for an additional $100. If we have five or more people interested in the "hotel option", we can make this a part of any of our regular delegations.
This attempt to make our delegations accessible to individuals who reside in poorer countries has created an interesting situation for individuals from countries whose minimum wage is higher than that of the US. We want to encourage multi-national participation on Schools for Chiapas delegations and hope that a slightly higher (but proportional) cost will not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. Please remember that 20% of your fee goes directly to support the Zapatista communities and that while on the delegation we will cover all your expenses including translations, ground transportation, food, rustic housing, administrative costs, and a full-time guide.
We offer a special rate for individuals who travel with us for several weeks. Pay full price for the first week and all subsequent weeks are 1/2 price!
We are happy to offer a 10% discount for advance payment. To receive this discount you will need to make payment 90 days or more in advance of your delegation and pay by cash, check or money order. Please send payment to:
Schools for Chiapas
1631 Dale Street
San Diego, CA 92102
We do also accept credit cards but due the expense involved in processing credit card charges, we are only able to offer this discount for cash, check or money orders.
We want to make the experience of coming to Chiapas and meeting the Zapatistas accessible to as many people as possible so we price these trips pretty close to what it costs us to run them. Unfortunately that means we are not able to offer further discounts.
We understand that even two weeks minimum wage can be a stretch for many people and hope that you can find someway to raise or earn the funds that will allow you to participate. Some people have been successful in helping to raise the tuition by asking friends and family for support. You can honestly tell people that $100 U.S. dollars of each person's tuition will go directly to the Zapatistas. Please check the travel logistics section of these FAQ for ideas regarding economical travel.
We wish we had scholarships for low income participants, but we have decided to prioritize donations of this type directly to the indigenous of Chiapas... who are some of the poorest people in this hemisphere.
We ask that you help to support our mission by paying at whichever is the higher of two rates. Basically, we offer to accept payment in increments of your country's minimum wage in order to increase diversity and make the trip accessible to more people. However, when we do this, especially when we do it for a person in a country with a really low minimum wage, it means we, as an organization, are subsidizing the trip. We already play it really close to the breaking (going broke) point and can't afford to offer subsidizes unless they are really necessary.
This is actually a required part of the application but you may be making it harder than we intended. An organizational reference does not necessarily need to be a formal incorporated organization. Perhaps you have volunteered with a neighborhood group or worked on a project to the benefit of the greater good through your church or school. We are looking for someone (different from a purely personal reference) who can speak to your work, your motivation, your intentions... and to your heart.
No, this is something that Schools for Chiapas does on behalf of the delegate to the Zapatistas. When Schools for Chiapas "credentials" a delegate, it means we have reviewed your references and your application and vouch that, best we can determine, the delegate in question is a person of good heart and good intent, and suited to travel in Zapatista territory.
One of the ways to support the autonomous, indigenous schools of Chiapas, Mexico is by attending the Language Center at the Primero de Enero School in Oventic, Caracol II, The Zapatista's Face to the World. The school offers classes in both Spanish and Tzotzil.
Schools for Chiapas no longer registers students for language studies at the Centro de Español y Lenguas Mayas Rebelde Autónomo Zapatista (CELMRAZ). We encourage you to contact the language school directly.
There are many ways to become involved with Schools for Chiapas in your home, your community, your school or your church or your other socially-conscious special interest group.
If you want to volunteer with Schools for Chiapas on the ground in Chiapas, you will need to start by participating in a delegation. We believe our delegations provide an important orientation and introduction to Zapatismo as well as giving both parties an opportunity to get to know one another and assess the possibilities of a longer-term involvement.
Post-delegation volunteer opportunities are generally related to agricultural, health, general education, or construction. We also encourage volunteers to participate in designing a volunteer project based on their specific skills and interests.
For the most part, teachers are not needed because all of the instruction is carried out by indigenous teachers. One of the hallmarks of the Autonomous Zapatista education is that it is bi-lingual (the promoter is from the same indigenous language group as the students and also speaks Spanish) and embraces and educates about the nuances of culture and cultural retrieval. That being said there are sometimes opportunities for individuals with special skills to become involved in special projects.
Our organization organizes a variety of introductory trips for individuals wishing to learn more about the autonomous indigenous communities in general and about the autonomous Zapatista education system in specific. Participation on these delegations is a good way to begin to integrate yourselves and look for opportunities to get involved as a volunteer.
Not to be a broken record but Schools for Chiapas has been on the ground in Chiapas since the very beginning of the insurrection and we have participated in many, if not all, of the most important events and transitions open to non-indigenous. We work hard to ensure that delegates have a real, in-depth understanding of the political situation that led to the insurrection and to the fundamentals of Zapatismo. Our trips are generally based inside the Zapatista civilian centers and include many opportunities to speak with and ask questions of Zapatista authorities. Our delegation leaders are seasoned experts with many years of experience working with the Zapatistas and in Chiapas. We believe you will find the experience of participating in a delegation (or two or three) will provide a researcher with valuable insight into the movement.
That being said, doing academic or journalistic research is often a very sensitive issue within the communities in resistance. We cannot promise anyone special access to the Zapatistas, beyond the programs for which we have already had approved. Still, we suggest that interested persons participate in a delegation, use our expertise to help frame appropriate research questions and/or design and then see what can be arranged. The only other way is to go directly to one or more of the junta's of good government (there are five) and see what you can set up independently.
If you have already been on a delegation, have good people skills, an optimistic, can-do attitude, are more or less fluent in Spanish, and are interested in traveling with us again, you may want to consider applying to work with us as a delegation coordinator. It can be a rather demanding position (with long hours and minus sleep) but you do get a lot of exposure to the workings of the organization and a perspective on what it's like to organize a group for this sort of adventure.
Not at all. The Zapatistas have organized the Caracoles (or civilian centers) to specifically provide a place for the inside (the Zapatistas) to meet with the outside (interested outsiders) and the outside (interested outsiders) to meet the inside (the Zapatistas).
Although we believe your experience will be enhanced by traveling with someone like Schools for Chiapas, who has already learned the ropes, you can establish independent contact with the Zapatistas through Enlace Civil in San Cristobal or you can simply arrive at one of the five caracoles and ask to speak with the Comité de Recepcion and/or the Junta. It will help if you can speak reasonable Spanish but the Zapatista authorities will meet with you regardless of your language ability. To get the most out of your visit, think through ahead of time what it is that you want to know or what project you want to propose. A written document is often helpful in facilitating the process. Remember that while the Zapatistas will be generous with their resources, they are among the most impoverished people on the planet and your generous donations will be greatly appreciated.
One idea you might consider, if you have some time in Chiapas and want to help out the Zapatista but don't exactly know how you want to structure things, is to consider applying as a "peace observer". If you are not familiar with this role, these are people who live for a period of weeks adjacent to Zapatista communities. Their presence helps to prevent untoward incidents and provides witness should any occur. You may also have some access to the local Zapatista authorities, especially if you develop or have in mind some specific project.
I believe that, among other things, Enlace Civil can provide orientation and direct you to the appropriate resources for training. You will find the Enlace office in San Cristobal across the street and in front of the Santo Domingo Church. Look for their tiny sign above a door on the opposite side of the street from the church door.
Otherwise you could just to the the nearest Caracol and ask the Junta de Buen Gobierno if you could work there.