School and education

Realizing that education is so important for the future generations of the Tarahumara, Father Verplancken built two boarding schools. The first school was built in the late 1960's in a village not too distant from Creel, the Mission's headquarters. The second school, also a boarding one, was built in 1974 in a remote mountainous area. The children, age 5 to 14, attend school from Monday and return to their homes on Friday. The logistics of such an undertaking were enormous. Food, school supplies, bedding, linens and water all so necessary in operating a school had to be "on hand" since travel and distance were so far and difficult. There is no electricity and water was to be provided by digging a well by hand at one location and by tapping a stream coming out of the mountain a mile away and piping it to the school. Volunteer teachers were obtained to instruct in grades one through five. The children are instructed in Spanish (they spoke only their native language), hygiene, basic arithmetic, husbandry, religion and craft making. Craft making of dolls and animals would prove to be very fruitful in the 1980's and 90's with the growing of tourism in the area to view the Copper Canyons.  Today many former students at the school are assistant teachers. Two certified volunteer teachers that come from other parts of Mexico remain for the school year and guide them each day.

Fr. Pedro's 2010 School Report:

At the school, we keep working with 85 primary school children. In spite of the fact that some local people are involved in growing marijuana, it seems there is some kind of a truce and we have been left in peace by the drug traffickers with no direct threats in the past 4 years.  We are building a more participative relationship with the children’s parents in school tasks (bringing wood, plowing the school corn patch, teaching the children their religious and agricultural traditions, participating in traditional feasts…), and having meetings with them to review our work at the school. We average 8 children finishing their primary school every year, and something new is that most of them want to go to “la secundaria” (high school). Teachers promote the knowledge and practice of their traditional uses and abilities.  Before Holy Week, the children celebrated these traditional three day feasts where they were totally in charge and assumed the traditional roles of Pharisees, Soldiers, bandereros (banner-men) and fiesteros (feast-men).  They also learned how to brew Batari (their corn beer), etc.  During the courses, they learn how to make and sell handcrafts (embroidering, weaving, woodcarving, etc.) and to tend the school farm plot. We also have other good news: in 2009, a European foundation gave us almost 70,000 dollars for the school.  With this, the Michigan TCHF’s special item donations and the Vida Digna’s scholarships increase, we could raise our team salaries a little (to cope with inflation), hire two new teachers and begin the refurbishing of two new classrooms (south oriented to increase sun light and heat in winter) where the old dormitories were.  We cleaned the water spring and repaired the water system, installed a water tank and rebuilt the barbed wire fence at the orchard.  We finally rebuilt the wood-keeping cabin’s roof that was destroyed by the wind.  We haven’t finished the school work because the FECHAC foundation is now considering our proposal of a wider project.  This will consist of rebuilding the whole roof supporting structure and tin sheets (35 years old), changing the old wood windows for aluminum double glass panes, installing a whole new kitchen (stoves, refrigerator, tortilla baking stove) and an area for computers (we already have 9 used computers donated by a Mexican company for the children).