Wixabikla Helping Wixáritari Stay in School July 29, 2013

 

Wixárika boys celebrate their new bikes

Wixárika boys celebrate their new bikes made possible by Wixabikla

Efraín Orozco, Adolfo Angulo (ARSA lawyer), Don José Sandoval

Efraín Orozco, Adolfo Angulo (ARSA lawyer), Don José Sandoval (Wixárika elder and shaman), Héctor Flores, Esteban Gutiérrez

Wixabikla is the brain child of three bicycle-loving students from the University of Guadalajara and nearby ITESO University. It began with a life-changing week during Spring Break 2010. Instead of heading for the beach or the United States like thousands of other Mexican college students from comfortable upbringings, they traveled some 500 kilometers (300 miles) to camp in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in central western Mexico.

In the sierra, the group did service projects and interacted with Huichol Indians, or Wixáritari, pronounced “wee-RA-ree-ta-ree.” Working with fellow countrymen who dressed as their ancestors had for centuries and, who sometimes spoke only their native Wixárika (“wee-RA-ree-ka”), was an experience that sparked the beginning of a passion and a mission for Efraín Orozco (now 24), Esteban Gutiérrez Hermosillo (22) and Héctor Flores (26). All three were smart, enterprising and driven by a desire to make more than money. They wanted to make a difference.

ARSA 1Back in Guadalajara, they started volunteering at the non-profit Casa Huichol. Nestled among Guadalajara’s 4.5 million inhabitants, the center provides a small haven of people and customs familiar to hamlet-dwelling Wixáritari forced to travel long distances to Mexico’s second largest city for medical care. Think of it as part Ronald MacDonald House, part indigenous cultural center. “We all agreed,” Orozco says today, “that our reason for being should go beyond the simple pursuit of money.”   

Last December, the trio was back in the Wixárika high country, roughly a circle that takes in chunks of the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango and Zacatecas. They talked and brainstormed with village leaders about the many needs in these areas of high poverty. One problem in particular stood out for the university students: the high dropout rate of students who had to walk up to 18 kilometers (11 miles) each way to school. They determined that some 500 students from five towns had to walk one to three hours to San Andrés Cohamiata. For Efraín, Esteban and Héctor, all serious urban and mountain bikers, an idea began to emerge.  

Under the guidance of Casa Huichol, they formed ARSA (Agencia por la Regeneración Socio Ambiental/Agency for Social Environmental Regeneration), a non-profit incorporated on February 22, 2013. Then they promptly went to work on their first project: Wixabikla. The name is a clever combination of the Wixáritari self-referential phoneme and the informal name cyclers give their ride. Wixabikla’s goal is to donate at least 180 mountain bikes by the end of 2013 to Huichol children to use as school transportation.  

ARSA 3Esteban the Urban Studies major, Efraín the Environmental Engineer major and Héctor, the new Marketing graduate, got busy. They sold T-shirts and Huichol crafts. They created a hip ARSA website and a colorful Facebook page and sent out tweets. They got bike stores, radio stations, a newspaper and a television station to promote Wixabikla. (Be sure to watch Channel 44’s video.) Over five hundred people liked their Facebook page and before long, more volunteers were jumping on board. Donations started coming in—unused bikes in good condition, repair parts, money.

On June first, the founders of ARSA delivered the first thirty mountain bikes and spent the day giving riding lessons. Meanwhile, they had paid for a Wixáritari to come to Guadalajara to learn the bike mechanic trade and helped him set up shop back in San Andrés Cohamiata. Eventually, they plan to have trained mechanics in all six towns plus an ample and steady supply of spare parts. They’re working on grant applications and future projects that will include bio-intensive farming, water catchment systems and a waste management program. They should also soon have an U.S. account that allows for international donations. Efraín Orozco is now going to school only part-time in order to devote more hours to ARSA.

The next time you hear someone complain about today’s young people, tell them about the trio of idealistic twenty-something friends from Guadalajara.

Efraín Orozco, Chepe Chávez (owner of ImportBike) and Esteban Gutiérrez

Efraín Orozco, Chepe Chávez (owner of ImportBike, one business working with Wixabikla) and Esteban Gutiérrez

Comments

  1. Great post, Leslie! Young people can move the world when they set their minds to do it! It’s good to know that in Mexico, a country with such great ethnic, cultural and ethnic diversity, there are young people who care enough to try.

Speak Your Mind

*