By Annie Kelly ’16 and Youkun Zhou ’17
A lot of interesting people find themselves at Ignacio Mariscal 132 in Mexico City. Casa de los Amigos is an international center for peace and understanding, or as we like to call it, one of the most unique homes you will ever find. Apart from being a community center with a long Quaker history, it is also a guesthouse for travelers, researchers, activists, and students and a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental sustainability, economic justice, and the human rights of migrants. On any given day in the Casa, you would find Spanish classes for migrants, or maybe a cooking workshop on how to make Salvadorian empanadas, offered by a former refugee who stayed in the Casa. In the guest lounge, there are the most interesting conversations between people from different countries and backgrounds, and every day people walk through the door looking for help with different needs such as clothes, food, or information. Work here is never predictable.
Our work in migration is mainly to provide a safe and homelike atmosphere for migrants as they settle down in Mexico. There are refugees here from all parts of the world with their own stories that we would otherwise never know. As volunteers here, we get to explore the city with them, accompany them as they look for apartments and jobs, and share breakfast and communal dinners with them. Once here in the Casa, you are part of a bigger community and support network in which all joy and sadness, troubles and triumphs are shared.
Another program that is important to the Casa is its work with local cooperatives. For example, Flor de Mazahua is a community of Mazahua women who make a living by stitching and weaving beautiful articles of clothing, dolls, and other products with indigenous elements. Cimarronez is another interesting cooperative that makes chocolate by grinding cocoa beans in a grinder powered by a single bicycle. Other organizations make jams, chili and honey. We also host a Feria de Multitrueke (a bartering fair) in which people can bring their own products and use alternative currency to shop. Events like this celebrate and value craftsmanship and individual talents as well as community.
Although there is always work to do at the Casa, we also work at partner organizations. Cynthia and Kerry go to Casa Tochán (which means “our home” in Nahuatl), a shelter for refugees that has a similar migration program as the Casa. Youkun goes to Fondo María, a feminist fund that is dedicated to offering accommodation, alimentation, and accompaniment to women who travel to Mexico City to have an abortion. Annie goes to Barrio Activo, a youth center in a neighborhood in the north of the city that strives for a safer, more peaceful environment for the kids who grow up there. The organization is currently hosting a three-week day camp in which 150 kids are participating with another 40 youth counselors helping out.
Our work has been as much fun and play as it has been rewarding and fruitful. It really does not feel like a summer internship because it does not feel like work. Rather it is our home, which we just happen to share with a constantly changing, but loving, caring and extremely devoted group of people.
Note: Ojos bien abiertos is a documentary that was shown at Casa de los Amigos.