Ursula Klesing-Rempel

To mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the IIZ/DVV Project Office in Mexico, Ursula Klesing-Rempel, who has headed the office for many years, gives an overview of project activities focusing on adult education in Indian communities. In a country with 56 Indian peoples, the work takes place against a background of cultural diversity, great poverty – especially among those very peoples – and under-representation of women in educational activities.

10 Years of Project Activities in Mexico

Review of the Adult Education Project

The Mexican Adult Education Project of the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association was launched in 1992. Integrated adult education activities are carried out in Indian communities as part of “Support for the Social Structure in Developing Countries”.

The cultural diversity of the country is evident from the presence of 56 different Indian peoples. They all live in poverty or extreme poverty, have low levels of formal education and, depending on the degree to which they have become acculturated over the centuries, retain a knowledge of their cultural inheritance that ranges from the fragmentary to the relatively intact. Mexico is currently one of the Latin American states whose unity is likely be subject to increasing strain if the development potential of the rural areas of the country continues to be seriously neglected.

Our project partners are non-governmental organizations working participatorily with Indian communities to identify problems and examine ways of developing realistic projects to resolve these. They take responsibility for the requisite education and training programmes in the project activities that are planned.

Indian peoples involved in projects

Jalisco State:



Puebla/Guerrero State:



Chiapas State:



Chihuaha State:



Campeche/Quintana Roo State:



The figures show the total populations of the Indian peoples in question.

The poverty, low level of education and degree of knowledge of Indian cultures mentioned above mean that the Mexican Adult Education Project has had to base its work on the close connections between development and education policy, and to take into account the cultural contexts of the Indian communities. The Project can only be successfully implemented if education and training lead to the abandonment of the paternalistic institutions which preserve a particular view of the world in the conditions of poverty that obtain. In their place, the Adult Education Project sets out to foster the creative potential of those involved and to take seriously the existing knowledge potential of the Indian peoples.

The policy which the Mexican Government had previously adopted towards the Indian peoples was based on the view that they were a social burden and of little economic significance, rather than on the priority task of promoting the agricultural development potential of the rural areas of Mexico. It is therefore not surprising that the Indian population, inspired by the Chiapas conflict of 1994, started to become more aware once again of its cultural roots and to make political demands on the Government. This does not mean, however, that they regard their culture as a static system of values and exclusively traditional economic activities; rather, they are looking for greater room for manoeuvre in order to embrace conscious change and achieve decent economic prospects.

Given the historically enshrined paternalistic institutions – which systematically rule out self-awareness and action skills – the educational aim of the Project was initially to liberate the blocked human potential for creativity, and to trust to people’s own judgment and ability to deal consciously with problems. The intention was to strengthen feelings of individual and collective responsibility, within the cultural context. The economic aspect was not overlooked, participatory “diagnoses” being carried out in parallel to record the available resources that might be developed into feasible economic projects.

Hence, the first stage of Project activities in the villages fluctuated as participatory responsibility came to determine progress in place of the paternalistic custom of making gifts in exchange for political services (e.g. electoral votes).

It was evident at the start of the Project that the non-governmental organizations involved had an idealized and standardized conception of Indian culture and were adopting strategies towards their target groups that sought to avoid conflict. Although these strategies might be perceived as the antithesis of Government programmes, they restricted the creative potential and increased responsibility of the Indian communities in question. The exaggerated and idealistic use of the terms identity, autonomy, culture and tradition in education and training programmes did not lead to sufficient exploitation of the potential for creativity and responsibility, and Indian knowledge was either sidelined or idealized.

If the Project was to be successful, practical skills were required in the individual project areas, together with educational provision that set complex intercultural learning processes in train. Space had to be found for cooperation in the planning and implementation of projects, drawing on different forms of communication and action, and a variety of types of knowledge, learning and abilities. By means of a reflective approach to Project activities, the skill of intercultural learning between mestizos and indigenous people was intended to foster intercultural dialogue and democratization in the interest of a multicultural society. The intercultural dimension of the Project was thus a key feature of the education and training.

The practical activities in the villages could therefore no longer take the form of one-sided transmission of knowledge. Instead, elements of Indian knowledge needed to be uncovered and new skills learnt in order to break through the existing poverty and to work towards sensible, sustainable development.

From 1996, the first interdisciplinary seminars and colloquia were held on interculturalism and the intercultural education of children, attended by Indians from the Project and other organizations, coordinators and researchers. In addition to current problems of intercultural communication in Project activities, and discussions on the exaggerated concepts mentioned above, the main concern was what education and training should look like in future in a multicultural society. The current political debate about the notion of autonomy, in which Indian rights and general civil rights are not mutually exclusive, was one of the major intercultural points raised. The seminars were held at national and Latin American levels with financial assistance from the Volkswagen Foundation, which made it possible to promote awareness of the Indian issue and intercultural reconciliation beyond the borders of Mexico.

It was found that Indian women were hugely under-represented in both Project activities in the Indian villages and in the seminars. In some Project activities, the women listened in, but the high rate of monolingualism made it more difficult for them to participate generally.

Education for women in the villages became one of the key focuses of support in the Project. It is still difficult to encourage the women to move from silence to active participation in the Project and in village decision-making, even though this process is not to be seen as undermining Indian traditions and culture but as fostering individual and collective education in order to enrich that culture, contribute to village development and help the women to acquire their own sources of income. The involvement of the women in activities outside their villages, which is becoming a more frequent occurrence, assists various forms of learning such as greater knowledge of issues specific to women, increased personal security and ability to communicate, including the concomitant acquisition of a knowledge of Spanish.

The Projects

The agricultural projects focus essentially on improving the subsistence farming in which men and women work together. The growing of maize and beans as staple foodstuffs is improved by the use of organic fertilizer and mixed cultivation. The gardens around family houses are restructured to make more effective use of the land available and of animal husbandry. The plentiful rainfall during the rainy season can be stored for the dry season by the building of family or village water cisterns.

Larger social and economic entities are gradually being built up so as to develop local institutions. These produce coffee, honey and other goods for the national and other major markets. The Indian farmers, who form organized groups, have adopted the Tequio principle (collective behaviour providing mutual support in the family and village setting) at every step of learning how to change from artificial fertilizer to organic cultivation, and how to set up functioning cooperatives. The capital generated by members’ small contributions, sales of produce and effective management means that economic projects are recognised as credit-worthy by State institutions.

In the innovative school centres opened by non-governmental organizations, which have gained official recognition over the years from the Ministries of Education in the relevant States, Indian young people are given general education and agricultural training so that they can become the promoters and agricultural technicians of future regional development. They are enabled to argue the case for their own programmes and equal funding with representatives of State agencies so that they can influence the terms and conditions of State programmes.

From their varied experience of projects, the Indian women have learnt to regard the undernourishment of their children as a social problem that can be overcome step by step, and they work as preventative and advisory health-care assistants in their villages. Through their work they define their situation as women in the context of their individual Indian cultures, and look for ways to reduce violence within the family, which is widely perceived as an unalterable natural state of things. Gender projects are increasingly aimed at men as a new target group, the purpose being to achieve a change in gender relationships that is constantly symmetrical.

Intercultural dialogue has become an increasingly important principle of the project, in a move away from the traditional “megaphone” approach. A professional understanding of development and education has grown up, supporting change that is jointly defined, aims at further developing the potential of the Indian population and regards human education as a key element of sustainable development.

An intercultural education consortium has been established, in which CREFAL (Centro de Cooperación Regional para la Educación de Adultos en América Latina y el Caribe), CEAAL (Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina), AYUDA en ACCION (Spanish non-governmental organization) and the IIZ/DVV work together. Seminars are planned and funded with the aim of providing adult teachers with methodological guidance on intercultural learning. Teaching texts on interculturalism are to be prepared.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank all the Indian participants working on the projects who have learnt to overcome their fear of the joy of learning, to take responsibility for their own interests and to address the problems and conflicts associated with them, and who have shared their knowledge with us through intercultural dialogue in courses and seminars. In particular I should like to thank the women who have discovered the meaning of their own places of learning and have often had to defend these under difficult circumstances. A special word of thanks must go to those Indians who have agreed, after a lengthy process of learning and despite doubts and despair over living conditions, to take on the difficult and complex task of coordinating projects or heading schools and are increasingly developing their own project strategies.

I am grateful to the non-governmental organizations – Ajagi, Alcadeco, Altepetl, Pro-Educación, Educe, Cesder, Imdec and Comaletzin – for their commitment to the Project and thus to the democratization of their society, in difficult political and economic circumstances. I thereby thank all those Indians and non-Indians who have allowed me to learn and experience so much to date in remote villages in the various regions.

This brief article cannot capture the complexity of the Project activities, which obviously include planning and evaluation of quantitative results. It is more important to stress the significant and promising qualitative outcomes of the Project, which may have a considerable impact on future projects with Indian cultures.

It is also important to note that almost every area of the Project is adversely affected by conflict, either within villages, with external power structures, or as a result of questions of prestige. These conflicts can cause appreciable disruption and delays in the conduct of projects. Increasing climatic variation has changed the rhythm of the rainy and dry seasons, and is also one of the factors influencing the Project.

Concluding Remarks

Against the background of the increasing universalization of development models and a monoculture which, by means of standardized language and images, penetrate every locality through the media and computer technology, global cooperation can only succeed if development and education become one inseparable concept in international cooperation.
Education for children, young people and adults will become meaningful lifelong learning if it meets the changing demands of social, economic and political developments. It needs to include media skills for rural Indian communities. It should not be reduced to satisfying this demand however, but should create the conditions for critical appraisal of the media. The cultural diversity and heterogeneity of the world, with its regional wealth of biodiversity and cultural contexts, must acknowledge and support people’s own varied development efforts and strategies. Awareness, dissemination and use of the knowledge of non-European cultures can make a significant contribution to the humanization of global institutions.

Important notice: If you click on this link, you will leave the websites of DVV International. DVV International is not responsible for the content of third party websites that can be accessed through links. DVV International has no influence as to which personal data of yours is accessed and/or processed on those sites. For more information, please review the privacy policy of the external website provider.