The social context of the mayan communities we work
Since the 1990s, like all Latin American countries, Mexico's GDP has increased significantly, but as GDP grows, social and economic inequalities increase among the country's population, and it is the young people of indigenous populations who are particularly affected.
In Mexico, young people aged 15 to 29 represent more than 26% of the population. However, the emergency of focusing on youth development is not so much a demographic issue, but a necessary strategic and political challenge which deeply binds with the future of the society.
Mexico is a country characterized by great historical and cultural richness, and a great diversity in population. One of these indigenous populations is the Mayan population. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation to include the people of the Mesoamerican region that share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage. Today, indigenous populations like this one continue to be discriminated against and remain vulnerable to various situations particularly in regions experiencing fast-growing economic and urban development.
The communities in which MOVIDA works are located around the tourist attraction pole called the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan peninsula.
Movida is located in the state of Quintana Roo, where 66% of the population considers themselves indigenous (INEGI, 2015) and which is the fourth most important state in terms of indigenous population demography (Encuesta Nacional, 2015).
While tourism development is growing steadily, the local population is struggling to reach a higher socioeconomic level of life and live in a sustainable and autonomous way. We know, for example, that 35.9% of Quintana Roo's population lives in poverty, including 7% in extreme poverty (2014). In this context, the indigenous youth do not have many options to develop their own future in a conscious and decent way.
An education system unadapted to a local reality
The INEGI (National Institute of Statistics and Geography) reports that there is a significant gap between in the educational level of the indigenous population and the non-indigenous population. This is particularly noticeable with regard to women, who are the ones with the highest rate of illiteracy and the lowest schooling level. In fact, the current educational model does not include the realities of local indigenous life (knowledge, traditions, socio-cultural context, gender division, habitus of local life ...) and does not prepare young people to develop a sustainable life for themselves, and their community.
Many young people leave school at a very young age, either because of the lack of higher education available (high school, university), or for personal reasons (family pressure, economic emergency, etc.).
Public school does not offer the tools that Mayan youth should have to help them enroll in a decent job market, or in the development of their own professional career. This educational weakness, moreover, contributes to the lack of aspirations of young people.
To overcome these shortcomings, it is urgent to adapt the educational needs to a local reality by strengthening the skills of young people in order to give them the opportunity to enter the labor market and / or to have a personal project, and / or to reconnect with the school system.
Economic Emergency for family support
In recent years, the communities have seen their livelihoods reduced. This has now led to the search for financial resources outside the village to meet the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, health ...). As a result, many of these young people leave school very early to obtain emergency jobs, often risky, unethical and/or without a legal contract, so that they can help their families financially.
In many cases, looking for work at a very young age also has to do with the early family responsibility that these teenagers carry; whether it is because of teenage pregnancy or because young people must take responsibility for their own parents (parental pressure, family dysfunction, parental absence, ...)
A majority of the indigenous population in the communities bordering the Riviera Maya, including young people, migrate to this tourist area and join lower-skilled and lower-paying jobs (construction, labor, kitchen help, housekeeping, informal trade ...). This situation, of having to migrate to find a job, causes the desertion of the village, with, as a main consequence the loss of intergenerational transmissions and the collapse of the family structure and of the whole community.
It is urgent to develop new livelihoods and professional projects at a local level, in the villages, in order to contribute to the sustainability and the autonomy of the whole community.
Loss of Mayan traditions, local knowledge and capacities
The pressure of a globalised economic world is greatly affecting these traditional communities, with the risk of the disappearance of their culture, knowledge and know-how. The sustainability of these communities (economic, social, environmental) is at risk, and this only contributes to maintaining a dependency on the outside world.
Many young Maya today are lost between two worlds, without having full access to one, nor the desire or the means to stay in the other. They find themselves caught between the call of the globalized world and the traditions and culture of their own community.
Many of them are in a situation of rebellion against their own roots (what could be called a deculturalization). They say, for example, that they do not want to speak Maya because it makes them look "poor". The idealization of the outside world is intensified by television, internet and their encounters with the city. This has the effect of reinforcing the distance which they place between themselves and their own culture.
It is therefore essential to bring young people closer to their traditions and culture in order to ensure the survival of communities in a sustainable way.
Conclusion: A project to bring aspirations and livelihoods to Maya youth and generate leaders for sustainability in the community
The country's socio-economic inequalities particularly affect the more vulnerable population, young people from indigenous communities. Movida is involved in working with the youth of the Mayan communities of Quintana Roo. As we have seen above, the weakness of the public education system, the rural exodus in search of emergency jobs, and the loss of intergenerational transmission of culture and traditions, contribute to the collapse of community life and accentuate the poverty of these populations.
Young people from the community are no longer leaders of their own lives and struggle for daily survival. Moreover, they do not have the capabilities and tools to get out of this situation. For us at Movida, we consider it is necessary for young people to find meaning in their lives, aspirations, make personal projects and career paths, based on local know-how and resources. Movida's mission is to strengthen the skills of indigenous youth, while helping develop a pride in preserving their cultural identity, in order to develop their own future in a sustainable way and thus generate autonomy for the entire community.
Cover picture by Anna Fishkin-ModernMaya / Others pictures by Movida Maya A.C