Unique Conversational Spanish Classes for Travelers with Disabilities at Project Projimo in Mexico
By Marcia Thorndike
Project P.R.O.J.I.M.O.* is a community-based rehabilitation and independent living program founded and run by people with disabilities in Sinaloa, Mexico. (See the April/May issue of Disability World for a movie review by Barbara Kolucki of, "Our Own Road," the story of PROJIMO.) Now in its 20th year, PROJIMO has contributed to the rehabilitation and social integration of thousands of children and adults from all over Mexico. For those traveling to Mexico from other parts of the world, especially travelers with disabilities, health workers and activists, PROJIMO offers a course in the vibrant setting of the PROJIMO community where there are always opportunities to volunteer and participate in a wide range of daily activities.
PROJIMO Spanish teachers Rigo (L) and Julio (R) share a conversational Spanish training light moment with a student. July 2002. Photo: Darwin Poulos
PROJIMO's conversational Spanish teachers conduct informal classes with one or two students, gearing their lessons to the level and learning style of each student. Classes are held outside, in the shade beneath the trees, or by the wall where PROJIMO members have painted a festive parade of children with disabilities along with the message:
It's not being normal that's important, but learning to accept our being different: to live (and let live) and love as fully as we can.
Students can stay in the home of one of PROJIMO's families, or in a dormitory-style room. There is electricity and some indoor plumbing, but facilities are very basic. PROJIMO is a nonprofit organization offering services at low or no cost to all those in need, and as such does not choose to spend money on fancy accommodations. If the lack of luxury is not a problem, the learning opportunities are almost limitless, with intensive language sessions morning and afternoon, and total immersion in a Spanish-speaking world the rest of the day.
The learning experience is not limited to the individually tailored Spanish classes, however. Students also learn by observing and participating in the daily life and work at PROJIMO. Donna and Darwin Poulos were students in July, 2002, and Donna comments, "We just went to take Spanish classes, but living, working and being a part of the PROJIMO community was a richly rewarding experience."
The daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work goes on in the workshops where wheelchairs, prosthetics, braces, educational toys and more are made, and in the rooms where physical therapy and consultation are provided. At 5:00 the workshops close, but the people served by the PROJIMO team often stay for weeks or months to complete their rehabilitation, and thus the line between daily work and daily life barely exists, as both contribute to the realization of PROJIMO's objective:
To help disabled persons regain their dignity as human beings, to fight for their rights and the rights of others with disabilities and to integrate or reintegrate into society.
In their daily 8:00 to 5:00 activities, the PROJIMO team, disabled persons themselves, realize this objective by working as partners with disabled children and adults and their families to create solutions to meet their needs with whatever may be necessary, often a combination of an assistive device made in a workshop, physical therapy, and counseling. Twenty-four hours a day they accomplish this objective through the actions of their own lives.
An Opportunity to Learn Much More than Spanish
A glimpse into the early morning hours in the room adjacent to where Spanish language student Mark slept in October, 2002 will give those thinking of going to PROJIMO a sense of how much more than Spanish they have an opportunity to learn and experience. For Mark, an international health and development worker, those mornings were but a small part of the experiences behind his words, "I learned a lot of espanol, and I learned a lot about life."
The room next to the one Mark stayed in is shared by Julio, Rigo and Moises. Julio and Rigo, both quadriplegic young men, are PROJIMO's Spanish language teachers. Nine-year-old Moises came to PROJIMO in March for rehabilitation. He was born with spinabifida and is paralyzed from the waist down.
Every morning, Julio and Rigo make sure Moises wakes up at 6 a.m. to start getting ready for school. They all get themselves from their beds to their wheelchairs, and Moises heads outside to the bathroom as the sun makes its way up from behind the distant mountains, welcomed by a chorus of roosters. Moises has learned how to transfer from his wheelchair to the shower bench and how to wash himself, but either Julio or Rigo accompany him and talk him through the process, mostly to make sure he doesn't dawdle and does a thorough job washing. Once clean, Moises gets back into his wheelchair and heads outside into the morning world now awake with the sounds of songbirds, dogs, donkeys and cows. Back in the bedroom, he climbs back onto his bed to get into his school clothes, using dressing skills he has learned from his roommates. Socks, shoes, and school uniform donned, he climbs back into his wheelchair to work on the part of his morning routine that in his mind is the most difficult and the most important: combing his thickly gelled hair and making it stand up in spikes just right. Bad hair days notwithstanding, Moises charges down the ramp out of the bedroom, across the smooth dirt play yard, and up the ramp to the PROJIMO kitchen for breakfast.
Breakfast in PROJIMO's kitchen is prepared and served by Cecilia, a longtime PROJIMO team member, wheelchair rider, and mother of two teenage daughters. When Moises first came to PROJIMO in March, he and his mother stayed with Cecilia and her family in their small home. At nine years old, Moises had never had a wheelchair and had never attended school. His mother bathed him, dressed him, and carried him in her arms.
Mark didn't know that nine months ago the spiky-haired schoolboy in the next room was a dependent homebound child. But even if he had, it was not Moises's transformation that taught him "a lot about life" during those warm October weeks at PROJIMO. It was, "the environment, where everyone helps each other." Every member of the PROJIMO community is conscious of the changing needs of others, and is always ready to help meet those needs, or offer the support that helps to maneuver around the obstacles in the road of life and keep on moving forward, remembering what's important: to learn to accept our being different and live and love as fully as we can.
Spanish language students at PROJIMO become a part of the "environment where everyone helps each other." They have a chance to help, and they are in turn helped in their language learning endeavors by the entire PROJIMO community, including the children, which greatly accelerates the learning process. At the end of his stay at PROJIMO, Mark concluded "My Spanish still has a long way to go, but I believe that I learned the equivalent of one year college, or more, in only 3 weeks."
For more information about PROJIMO and to register for conversational Spanish classes visit the HealthWrights website at www.healthwrights.org or contact PROJIMO by email at email@example.com
Moises learning to walk with a parapodium. Dec. 2002
* P.R.O.J.I.M.O. is an acronym, which stands for, in English, Rehabilitation Program Organized by Disabled Youth of Western Mexico. The word "projimo" in Spanish means neighbor in the friendly sense of "love thy neighbor."
About the author: Marcia Thorndike was a Spanish language student at PROJIMO in January and March, 2002, and returned in October to visit.