Wabash Students Visit Orphanage in Chiapas

by Jim Amidon

March 11, 2005

History professor Rick Warner and 15 Wabash students in his Latin American history course spent Spring Break in the southern Mexican highlands near the state of Chiapas.


While students focused on the deep history of Mayan classical civilization, colonial encounters of the 16th and 18th centuries, and the Mayan people’s recent history, perhaps their most memorable moment came when they had a close, personal encounter with Mexican children. (Click on the photo album link below.)


The students took along six suitcases of toys, games, and books to give to the children at Melel Xojobal, an education and health center for indigenous children in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.


The trip to the orphanage was a diversion from the students' studies, which focused on archeological sites in the state of Chiapas. They explored the pyramids and the structures of Palenque, La Venta, Bonampak, and other pre-Columbian sites.


While in San Cristobal de las Casas, a colonial city in the Chiapas highlands, the Wabash students met up with Wabash Trustee David Orr ’57 and his wife, Nancy, who own a bed and breakfast there. The Orrs crafted an itinerary that allowed students to benefit from the knowledge of local anthropologists and religious leaders.


Once back in Crawfordsville, they will conduct research based partly on the experience in Chiapas. The projects range from archeological and pre-Columbian themes, to colonial histories through studies of recent Mayan peoples. These and other similar projects will be presented in various public forums at Wabash.


Chiapas is at once rich in color, poor in resources, and welcoming to visitors who are interested in understanding another culture. Perhaps the greatest lesson and deepest understanding came from the students' time with the children in the orphanage.


"This is a formula for learning that cannot be replicated, and for many of them promises to be a personal and academic adventure they will carry with them after Wabash, as they enter their years of life-long learning," says Warner


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