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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU and Chihuahua university work together in the Sierra Tarahumara

New Mexico State University in collaboration with the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua has received a $300,000 grant to promote economic and social development among indigenous people in the remote Sierra Tarahumara of northwest Mexico.

laborative grant is sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and administered by the Association Liaison Office for University Cooperation in Development and the U.S.-Mexico Training, Internships, Exchanges and Scholarships initiative. The latter program is part of the push for broader U.S.-Mexico ties by Presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox. Four other projects were funded in the 2004 competition.

The NMSU/UACH partnerships will address food production and small farm development, natural resource management and income production/marketing for fledgling enterprises in the Sierra Tarahumara.

Everett Egginton, Vice Provost for International and U.S.-Mexico Border Programs at NMSU, said the university will provide seven scholarships to graduate students from UACH to spend two years at NMSU in master's degree programs related to the project's goals. ALOTIES pays for one year of the programs; NMSU will the support the other year.

The students will be given assistanceships and tuition scholarships and, in return, they must make a commitment to devote two years of their professional lives to working for the benefit of the Tarahumara. Each student will conduct research for his/ her thesis in the Sierra Tarahumara in the summer between the 2005-06 and 2006-07 academic years.

NMSU and UACH faculty and professionals in organizations in Chihuahua, such as the Worldwide Wildlife Fund, will provide training in management of national resources, alternative energy, bio-intensive farming and income production (such as the marketing of artisan and organic food products).

Approximately 70,000 Tarahumara Indians live in the mountains and canyons in Western Chihuahua, said Armando Martinez, director of the Chihuahua Trade Office, which maintains an office at NMSU. It's estimated about 110,000 of them have migrated to the cities of Chihuahua, Juárez and El Paso, Martinez said. Whether living in the Sierra Tarahumara or more urban areas, they face problems of poverty, malnutrition, and lack of health care.

The collaboration between NMSU and UACH will bring social and economic development to the Tarahumara, improving their standard of living while allowing them to maintain their cultural traditions and their language, said Wynn Egginton, Special Assistant to the Vice Provost for Research. A more robust economic system will help create opportunities for the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Tarahumara to work and live productively in their communities rather than migrating to Chihuahua's more urban environments.

The universities have been able to overcome natural barriers and suspicions by working through advocacy groups already linked to the Tarahumaras, Everett Egginton said.

Direct communication with the Tarahumara can be difficult since many of them do not speak Spanish. They speak a dialect called Rarámuri. Martinez noted that New Mexico State University is addressing this difficulty by working with the service organizations that have already realized success in working and communicating with the Tarahumara.

There are very few roads in the region and travel and transportation are poor, Everett Egginton said. Students at one settlement have been known to walk for six hours to school where they remain during the week only to walk another six hours to arrive home for the weekend.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza praised the programs saying, "These academic partnerships promote economic development in Mexico's rural areas by assisting this sector to become more competitive and to provide more economic opportunities.

Neil Harvey, director of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at NMSU, said, "It's very important for us to have strong viable relations with our Mexican counterparts. Chihuahua is a priority for the work we do. Training people who will pass on their knowledge and skills is part of our mission in outreach and international cooperation."

NMSU and UACH have had a memorandum of understanding since 1984 and have worked together since then. As many as 20 NMSU graduates are on the faculty at the Chihuahua university.