By Pilar Trujillo
For many of us, 2012 has been a year of growth which inevitably brings many opportunities for change. For the New Mexico Acequia Association, many changes have occurred in our program areas and work. While our main focus is still the protection of acequias and our way of life, in 2012 we embarked on a new initiative to foster and support leadership in our communities through a project called the Escuelita de las Acequias.
During the last year, we worked closely with approximately 30 adults and 10 youth community leaders from throughout New Mexico as the first cohort to participate in the Escuelita. During three separate weekends throughout 2012, we gathered the participating community leaders for overnight encuentros.
The purpose of the encuentros is 1) to enable community leaders to build relationships around shared values, 2) to share the concept of community education and organizing through the Escuelita de las Acequias, and 3) to generate and share ideas, strategies and work plans for community service projects that we refer to as tareas.
Each of these components has one thing in mind: to creatively address challenges in local communities involving the acequias (policy, infrastructure, mayordomía, etc.), community well-being, cultural expression and the growing of food. An additional goal of the Escuelita de las Acequias is to provide specific training to community leaders especially in the areas of policy and grassroots organizing.
Although there is always room for development, all three of the encuentros were highly dynamic events. Nearly everyone mentioned that, aside from gathering new information and perspectives on issues of importance to them, it has been the friendships and the inspiration generated at these events that have meant the most to people.
In addition to the encuentros, a lot of the excitement of the Escuelita lies with the tareas that many of the participants worked on. The tareas were varied in nature, but all revolved around the importance of acequias and the traditional way of life. Some participants chose to focus on the governance of their acequia: updating bylaws, informing new parciantes about the needs of the acequia, updating members and dues, and many other facets that help keep the acequia running smoothly. Other participants focused on growing food by establishing a new community garden, or by helping to create a trade/share route between Albuquerque and the northern part of the state. And several participants focused on the cultural importance of acequias via celebration and education through workshops, and maintaining our critical food traditions. In the coming months, we will share some of the tareas in greater detail through feature stories.
As we wind down the first year of this important initiative, we take time to reflect on the valuable lessons learned in order to have a positive impact on the future development of the Escuelita de las Acequias, as well as our acequia communities in general. With great enthusiasm and passion, we look forward to moving into 2013 with a new cohort of Escuelita participants to engage in encuentros and tareas throughout the year, with the hope of building a solid network of community leaders who are passionate about nuestras acequias, nuestra cultura, y cuidando la tierra.