Alquimia: Creating a community of solidarity and common purpose

What a gathering! I just got back from the JASS leadership course in Nicaragua with some 34 women activists from Mesoamerica—that part of the Americas that reaches from Panama all the way up to Mexico and everywhere in between.

What a courageous and marvelous mix of women! Indigenous community leaders fighting to hold on to their ancestral lands and protect the environment in the face of voracious mining companies and destructive dam projects. Rural women fighting similar battles around natural resources and women’s rights. It was a powerful gathering of energy, joy, sharing and analysis that lived up to the Spanish name for JASS’ Mesoamerican education and research program, La Escuela de Alquimia Feminista. Ah, such a challenging name to translate into English. The School of Feminist Alchemy. How do you explain that one? How do you share the magic—the transformative qualities and bonds that such a process generates? This photo perhaps says it all. The School provides truly miraculous moments of collaboration, creativity and critical inquiry—all focused on building and strengthening women activists and their movements for justice. Add some good music, dancing, singing and a few bad jokes and—abracadabra—wonderful synergy and solidarity.

For four days, the lovely grounds of La Cantera, a Nicaraguan popular education organization, inspired us with its tropical beauty and attentive staff. At the center of our light and airy meeting room, we placed a simple clay pot, quite generous in size, along with with a big wooden spoon for stirring—all surrounded by colorful flowers. These became our tools of magic alchemy. Day one went like this. As women identified the professional and personal support and challenges they experience in their work, they wrote them down on color-coded cards, shared them and then put them inside the large clay container and stirred. At the end of each session, the cards were drawn from the magic mix, and then sorted. They served as a written record of both our individual and collective learning. As we continued, every session produced insights that ranged from how to handle conflict to how to move a political agenda forward. Each time, women brought their contribution to the pot and mixed their experiences and wisdom together. By so doing, everyone felt that each contribution was being recognized and transformed into something greater and ever more powerful. Simple symbols that convey such meaning! Moments that bring women together across their differences into a community of solidarity and common purpose.  

As we said goodbye, one Mayan saying resonated across the room, affirming the deep connections we share with all of life and each other. “You are me and I am you.” A traditional greeting in Mayan communities, these words honor each person and the web of life and love that sustains and nurtures our planet, our cosmos, and our humanity. Together we become one with all life forms—from the birds who awaken us at dawn and the butterflies who cheer our mornings to the rivers that give us fresh water and the moon that brightens our evening skies. Inspired by this vision, we give the best of ourselves in each encounter, creating new energy and beauty to guide our many paths.

 

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