MEXICO CITY – An initiative being carried out at one of the Mexican capital’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods aims to alter the destiny of its youngest residents through a range of cultural activities.
“Education for peace is our main focus. Through the arts, we promote values tending toward a life without violence, while also fomenting respect, solidarity and communication,” Poncho Hernandez, one of the driving forces behind the Peace School of Tepito initiative, told EFE on Thursday.
This seven-year-old project offers cultural workshops in the areas of painting, music and sports and maintains a focus on play, which Hernandez says is “the most important educational tool in working with children.”
“We work in public spaces. We don’t have a classroom, nor do we follow a traditional methodology,” he said.
In fact, the pedagogical model employed is very dynamic and based on the young people’s own experiences. “We’ve done a ton of different things, including reporting, short films, mural painting and hip-hop, to promote a culture of peace,” Hernandez added.
The neighborhood chosen for this cultural project is Tepito, a crime-plagued area of north-central Mexico City that is known as “Barrio Bravo” (Fierce Neighborhood) and is the birthplace of two of the capital’s most notorious criminal organizations: Union de Tepito and Fuerza Anti-Union.
Those conditions, however, are not preventing this initiative from organizing activities every Saturday, as well as a summer course that is being held this year from July 22-26.
“We bring different activities to the children so they get involved in sports and recreational alternatives, while also meeting kids from the neighborhood in a space of peace,” Martha Liliana Peña, coordinator of the summer course, told EFE.
The range of activities on offer include the circus arts, music, mural painting, graphic arts and gardening workshops.
The number of participants in the different activities varies. “There could be anywhere from 20 or 25 children to five, but we’re not looking for numbers. This isn’t about reaching the masses or the multitudes, but about ongoing, long-term processes,” Hernandez added.
The Peace School of Tepito also promotes other initiatives, including the recovery of murals that the late Daniel Manrique – one of the founders of the decades-old, UNESCO-recognized “Tepito Art Here” movement – painted in that neighborhood.
“Typically there’s a very good response from the children and the mothers,” Mari Paz Cuevas, a Peace School of Tepito monitor, told EFE.
In fact, the children themselves often approach their parents and ask their permission to take part in the activities, and in this way the initiative has steadily established a foothold in the community.
Hernandez said that as a civil-society initiative the Peace School of Tepito has little in the way of ties with government authorities and that the community itself has made it possible.
In remarks to EFE, a mother of one of the participants in the summer course also expressed her appreciation for the program.
“I think the idea is perfect because it teaches the kids that, even though we live in this neighborhood, it’s not all violence,” Ismaela Rodriguez Ramirez said.