Friday, October 16, 2009

Service to our Global Community

The University of Chapingo is one of two public universities in Mexico where each and every student enters with a full scholarship to cover the costs of their education. HA! Imagine, free education for students! What would it be like to not have to pay back thousands of dollars after graduation? Unfortunately many of us in the U.S. don't have the luxury of knowing what that would be like. The idea behind Chapingo was to create a center of higher education focused on agriculture available for those students, many who come from rural and low-income backgrounds, from the pueblos of Mexico. In order to make this education accessible, the federal government passes a yearly budget for the complete funding of Chapingo. This year, the government's funding for education was drastically cut, sound familiar?

Well anyways, now to the point of my story........Yesterday I went my roommate Marta's thesis defense. I watched her present her research and get a number of questions thrown at her by her professors. After all of the hard questions and the stress, Marta, her friends and I walked to a special room where the professor officially declared her as graduated. As part of the ceremony, Marta had to hold her arm out and repeat the following,

Juro por mi honor: Honrar y respetar, siempre y en todo lugar, a la Universidad Autónoma Chapingo; ofrecer de mi profesión todos mis conocimientos y experiencia al servicio y beneficio de la sociedad y del desarrollo sustentable de mi país entero, y de manera gratuita en situaciones de emergencia y desastre nacional; defender firmemente los derechos de las personas y de las instituciones; enaltecer con mis actos la profesión y el título o grado que ostento. Asimismo, de faltar a un desempeño ético y a un comportamiento profesional coherente con él, que se haga de mi conocimiento y que la sociedad, la comunidad científica y la Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, me lo reclamen

Which translates to.....

I swear: to honor and respect, always and everywhere, the University of Chapingo; to offer my profession knowledge and experience in service and in benefit to society and to the sustainable development of the whole country, and to offer my services free of charge in situations of emergency and national disasters; strongly defend the rights of the people and institutions; to enhance with my professional actions and title I have received. Likewise, to preform ethically and with coherent professional action that society, the scientific community and the University of Chapingo demand of me.

Sitting there, hearing her pledge to serve her country and community made me feel uncomfortable. Not because she was pledging to do something great and amazing for this world, but because I am positive that she is not fully equipped and educated to do what she pledges to do. Before every student graduates from Chapingo, they must say those words, but from my observations, the university does not take the proper steps to make sure that this pledge materializes. Chapingo was built to educate and create rural citizens who will return to their communities to contribute to the well being of the country. As I see it, Chapingo is a factory (like most universities) that produces middle-class to upper class (not necessarily true anymore), "average" and apathetic citizens who have been "educated" and believe that they know more the the common person. This is a strong statement, but if you think about it, more and more people are becoming formally educated through the university systems at the same time that we are accelerating self-destruction and destruction of everything around us. Local languages, cultures and knowledge are fading away. Technology is advancing so much quicker than the knowledge we have of ourselves.

I see that Chapingo produces the majority, if not all, of the bureaucrats found in government programs and institutions. Are students returning to their pueblos to really make a positive difference? I don't think so. They are staying in administrative positions in the cities because the countryside has nothing to offer them but poverty. The funny thing is that most of these students are the same people who are perpetuating the destruction of Mexican agriculture and rural life. Three of my four housemates who graduated from Chapingo work in government agriculture programs that promote the the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and the almost unrestricted importation of genetically modified agricultural products such as corn in soybean, which is putting the +55 native corn varieties in grave danger.

Mexico has gone from being an almost completely self-sufficient and producing country to an almost 100% import country and under whom? Mostly graduates from Chapingo.

Chapingo, like all universities, has the extremely important responsibility of creating socially responsible graduates who have been educated to make appropriate and good decisions. By the time we graduate, we should also have had several community service experiences and the right tools to know how to appropriately interact in our communities without imposing our own ways of thinking. Trained in community service through listening, bringing diverse groups together for a common cause and facilitating, not running the show as "experts" in our field. Chapingo does not have any requirements or classes that demand this of their students. How can my housemate Marta or anyone else feel confident about truly serving their community when the university itself does not put a priority on this?

As students we should be aware of this and ask for such skill building to be offered in required in our classes, as educators we should always keep this in mind in our lesson plans and as community members we should ask for the involvement of our local educational institutions.

As a recent university graduate, I do not feel fully equipped to be a responsible professional in service to my global community and this is one of the biggest reasons I applied for the Ambassadorial Scholarship. I am hoping that through my experience here in Mexico and with Rotary, I will be closer to this goal. No matter who we are or where we are, we should always be thinking of how we can contribute to the well being of our global community. Are we helping our situation or contributing to the hole we keep digging deeper and deeper?

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