Here is El 7 de Aalto team talking to you: Carolina, Heidi, Henna, Juho, and Sara. We are a group of Aalto students who will be traveling to Mexico this year 2018, to work with ejído 20 de Noviembre (El 20), a small Mayan community in the Campeche region. The project is part of Aalto Lab Mexico initiative. This blog is a channel to share this experience and thoughts with you. We will try to give you a glimpse of our travels from the different perspectives that come from our different fields of studies: water engineering, business, and design. We will travel from the 20th of March to the 7th of April, but the project will last until May – and we have already started a significant part of our work since January.
Before we start writing down our thoughts in this blog, taking you to the field and to our daily work, here is a short introduction to our project this year, answering the key questions that you surely will have on your mind: where, what, who, when, where, why? Below is a sort of ABC of our project.
What is Aalto Lab Mexico?
Aalto LAB Mexico (ALM) is a shared initiative from Aalto University with Tecnológico de Monterrey Campus Ciudad de México (Technological Institute of Monterrey, Mexico City Campus), and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico). ALM was established in 2012, and since then, every year a team of Aalto students has traveled to the field to visit the community. The objective to ALM is to bridge the gap between “development as imposed by outsiders” and “cultural relativism” – two dangerous opposites in development initiatives, which lead to either disregard of community culture or accomodation of traits of culture that discriminate certain groups of people. Our contact from Mexico, who will lead us through the project, is Dr. Claudia Garduño García, who completed her Phd dissertation at Aalto with the topic “Design as Freedom”. This is the seventh year of Aalto Lab Mexico, and we are lucky to have a heritage from both the ALM team, and previous student teams’ work.
An introduction to “El 20”
Ejído El 20 Noviembre is the community we will be working with. El 20 was founded in 1969 by a community of people who left the Dzibalche area because of a reallocation of government land. The name “El 20 Noviembre” comes from the day the community moved to the new location, and as a coincidence, it is also the Día de la Revolución, celebrated in Mexico on the 20th of November (this day in 1910 marked the start of the Mexican revolution). El 20 is formed by around 500 people, and most of the community members define themselves as Maya. The Mayan language spoken by some people in the community is Yucatec Mayan, a strain of Mayan language spoken in this area, the Yucatan plain. Local activities mainly consist of agriculture, animal farming, and artesanía (handicrafts).
The climate in El 20 is quite challenging, with periods of extreme dryness and periods of rain which last 7 years each. These cycles create first of all challenges for water availability in El 20, and locals may need to get water from the government when their own resources are exhausted (which can happen during the dry part of the cycle). The second issue with water beyond availability, is its quality: previous ALM teams have measured its quality and ground water in El 20 is both very “hard” and occasionally contaminated with Coliform bacteria. These two water quality issues mean that locals can get sick from the water they drink.
Besides water, economic security and the ability to feel safe about one’s own future are sometimes compromised in El 20. In fact, medical emergencies represent a large issue because of the monetary resources that are needed to take care of them, disproportionate to the monetary income of locals. Both tourism and craft production could be solutions to this problem, but how to include as large a part of the community as possible in these?
So what do we plan on doing?
This year, our objective is to get something concrete out of what previous teams have researched, to actually implement the most successful ideas jointly with the community and our friends and partners in Mexico. The project areas we plan on exploring are: water availability and quality, tourism, and artesanía. Our objective is to help the community improve their access to good quality water through structural interventions co-designed with them. On the same line, we aim at fostering economic security – the capacity of planning for the future – for the El 20 people through development sustainable tourism and support of the artesans’ work. We will let you have a detailed look at the different project areas through separate blog posts, so stay tuned if you are curious about life in El 20 and you wish to know more about our work!
Nos vemos pronto..
El Septímo de Aalto