Temaca’s Children at Rivers for Life 3

Katy Yan

Gibran with his tile of the Chinese flag
Gibran with his tile of the Chinese flag
On the chilly Friday evening when many of the international delegates arrived for Rivers for Life 3 in Temacapulín, they were greeted not only by the meeting's coordinators, but also by many of the shorter residents of the town – Temaca's children.One of the boys, Gibran, had been practicing huanying (欢迎), or welcome, for weeks, in preparation for his big role as a greeter for the Chinese delegation.

Evidence of the kids' excitement and cultural awareness was everywhere in the town, from the international flags hanging on the walls of the computer center to the painted banners in the film screening room. From a small town mostly isolated from the rest of the world, Temaca had been transformed into an international hub, and the people had been transformed along with it.

One of the people responsible for this was Ceci Casabella, a young Argentinian volunteer. Below is her account of teaching and learning alongside the people, and particularly the children, of Temaca:

From the left: Ana, Kate, Ceci, Katy, Maria Felix (Temaca resident), and Berklee
From the left: Ana, Kate, Ceci, Katy, Maria Felix (Temaca resident), and Berklee
1. How did you get involved with Temaca? What was your role?

I first arrived in Temaca a year ago through IMDEC (the Mexican Institute for Community Development), with whom I was working on a project in the outskirts of Guadalajara. Ever since my first visit to Temaca, I was captivated by the town and the people and deeply moved by the possibility that it could all disappear under water. After several visits to the town and with the renewed enthusiasm that Ana (a fellow volunteer from Argentina) brought with her, we decided to present two three-month projects to IMDEC. One was the construction of a symbolic community space by organizing gatherings and projecting films in the main square, and the second was the construction of a library for the town.

The initial idea was to work with groups of adolescents, since this was the group that IMDEC had worked with least and with which there was the most interest. However, the film screenings in the square unintentionally captured the interest and attention of the kids much more quickly than that of the adolescents. The fact that the children of Temaca came to the square also meant that their parents accompanied them. This created an informal place for community bonding and a space in which everyone could participate. This was how we started working with the kids. These initial projects came to an end in May, but we decided to stay and work on a project that aimed at raising awareness about Rivers for Life 3 and the arrival of people from very different parts of the world.

The awareness-raising project had four objectives:

  • To disseminate information on the social movements and strategies against dams in other parts of the world;
  • To encourage the community to link their own resistance strategies with the national and international struggles against dams;
  • To achieve recognition of the Movement of Dam-Affected People at an international level;
  • To help the community become aware of the importance of taking a critical stand in the management of the environment at the state, continental and global level.

A child from Temaca making tiles with one of the Innu women participants from Quebec.
A child from Temaca making tiles with one of the Innu women participants from Quebec.
To achieve these objectives, we planned to have the community do interactive and investigative research on the geographical locations of the different movements that would be represented at Rivers for Life. A game called "Guess, fortune teller" allowed us to arouse curiosity among the residents of Temaca about the countries that would be present. It involved showing one or two flags and asking people to find out to which country it belonged.

We made the flags on Saturday afternoons in a room with anyone who wanted to participate, and then stuck them up in different places around the village. On Saturday and Monday nights in the cinema space, we showed a photomontage with information about the meeting and the flags.

At the end of the week, the answer was revealed over the town's loudspeaker (recorded by people from Temaca), at which point they also broadcast music from the country and a brief summary of the history of dams and the anti-dam movement in that country.

2. How did you prepare the kids for Rivers for Life 3? What sorts of activities did they do?

To be honest, we didn't aim any of the activities specifically towards kids, but they were always the most enthusiastic and involved in whatever we were doing.

Finally when the time came for the preparations for Rivers for Life 3, we decided that in one of the rooms (the Video Room), the kids would take the lead in making paper decorations. The kids took part in all the stages of this activity in the town square (making 60cm by 2m paper decorations – assembling them, painting the background, and hanging them in the room), and to our surprise, several adolescents and adults also got involved.

Banners made by the kids for the Video Room
Banners made by the kids for the Video Room
3. How did you talk about the movement for rivers and rights with the people of Temaca?

The focus we used was geared more towards learning about the different cultures and facts about the countries, which were interesting to children. In all cases, we knew that we were talking about people who were fighting against the construction of dams that would flood their villages and leave their children helpless, with no past and no history. This simple fact made a big impression on the children, adolescents, young people and adults over and over again. Every time we added a new country to the list of countries, which would be present at the meeting, we found the same note of surprise from the community: "So there are dams there too, and they are trying to flood them as well?"

The links of solidarity, empathy and brotherhood started to develop from the moment someone heard for the first time the name of a country, which they did not even know existed, its location, the language its people spoke, or what gods they worshipped. The knowledge that, while there were people in other parts of the world with very different appearances and customs, they had suffered the same unjust heartbreak either in their past or their future, united them as brothers and sisters in a struggle that reached the shores of many rivers around the world.

The visit of so many people from distant and different places had a huge impact on the children of Temaca and it is something they will never forget for the rest of their lives. Moreover, it has changed their lives. Gibran, a child of nine years old, started studying English after the meeting because he wants to be able to communicate with the friends he made from China without the need for intermediaries.

Gabriela, age 12, has been going on the internet to keep in touch with her friend in Ecuador.

Livier, 16 years old, has become a member of staff at the Museum, so that people who visit Temaca will know about its history and customs.

Translation by Marie Edwards and Kate Ross.

Below is a video made by Ana and Ceci, which was shown on the first day of Rivers for Life 3: