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CASA offers training on social justice issues in Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Also see our CASA Writers blog.

We share lessons we learn from the resistance movements in Mexico with our home communities. We publish news and analysis in our newsletter, host workshops, short-term solidarity delegations, and speaking events.

drawing by flickr.com/benignpxl

Frequently Answered Questions

Table of Questions

I. About CASA

    • What is CASA?
    • How is CASA funded?
    • What organizations does CASA work with?

II. Volunteering

    • What are the requirements for being a member of the CASA collective?
    • What do your volunteers usually do?
    • How much does it cost to be a volunteer?
    • How much will it cost for me to live in Chiapas or Oaxaca?
    • Are there scholarships available?
    • My Spanish is mediocre, can I still volunteer?
    • Is it legal to do solidarity work in Mexico?
    • I will be in Chiapas or Oaxaca with my family, kids, significant other, can I still volunteer?
    • I am under 18, can I volunteer?
    • Are Chiapas and Oaxaca safe for kids?
    • What is it like for Queer/Trans people working in Chiapas and Oaxaca?
    • Can my family and friends come visit me?
    • Will I be able to receive phone calls or mail?
    • Should I bring my laptop or digital camera?
    • Once I arrive in San Cristobal or Oaxaca where do I go?
    • Will I have time to take Spanish classes and do volunteer work?

III. Travel, Safety

    • What kind of visa do I need?
    • What’s the cheapest way to get to San Cristobal or Oaxaca?
    • What kind of cities are San Cristobal and Oaxaca? Are there internet cafes/theaters/etc?
    • Do I need vaccinations?
    • When should I come and what should I bring to wear?
    • Is it safe in San Cristobal? In Chiapas? In Oaxaca? In Mexico?

IV. Studying Spanish

  • How much does language school cost?
  • Can you recommend a Spanish school?
  • Can you tell me more about the school in Oventic, SERAZLN?

V. General Questions

    • I’m in San Cristobal, can I visit the Casa de la Paz? I'm in Oaxaca, can I visit Casa Chapulín?
    • What can I do from the US to Support the Zapatistas? How are things going right now in Chiapas?
    • I am writing a paper about Chiapas or Oaxaca, can you help me?

I. About the CASA

What is CASA?

 

The CASA (Colectivos de Apoyo, Solidaridad y Acción or Collectives for Support, Solidarity and Action) -- originally the Chiapas Peace House Project-- is a center for solidarity and education located in Oaxaca, Mexico. We are committed to supporting indigenous movements for justice in Mexico in ways that are mutually based. Our members work with grassroots organizations in Oaxaca and return to their communities with a long term commitment  and skills to share with their home communities and movements.

We provide volunteers with affordable housing in a co-op environment, access to computer and library resources, and workshops on Mexican social movements, international solidarity, and systems of oppression.

We also organize delegations, speaking tours, and events to promote understanding of and support for Mexican social justice movements.

How is CASA funded?

CASA is funded through grassroots donations and volunteer contributions. We have tax-exempt status through our fiscal sponsor. We operate on a shoestring budget (about $800 a month) and depend on grassroots fundraising to keep our doors open.

What organizations does CASA work with?

CASA works with a coalition of organizations throughout Oaxaca. See Our Partners to see a list of some groups that we work with. 

 

II. Volunteering

What are the requirements for being a member?

We ask that all members speak proficient Spanish, have an understanding of the political situation in Chiapas and Oaxaca, have at least two years of grassroots organizing experience, and can commit to a minimum of three months. It is also important that members be committed to organizing for social justice in their own communities and that they intend to maintain the connections they make through CASA beyond the duration of their stay. CASA accepts members on a rolling basis as spaces open up. Decisions are collectively made by current members and the coordinators.

What do your members usually do?

Our members work on a wide range of projects with a diverse group of organizations. The  coordinator works with the volunteers and grassroots organizations to find the best fit for their skills and interests and the organizations’ needs. Past volunteers have facilitated theater of the oppressed workshops, worked on community radio projects, led workshops on human rights law, worked with indigenous midwife programs, and participated in various other types of work. 

How much does it cost to be a volunteer? 

CASA is phasing in a new fundraising requirement for volunteers. Beginning in April 2008, volunteers from the U.S. and Western Europe will be expected to raise the equivalent of at least $500 US dollars—through fundraising, personal savings, or a mix of the two—before arriving in Mexico to support the work of the CASA. Volunteers coming from other countries should talk to the CASA coordinators to come up with a fundraising amount and plan appropriate to their economic situations.

This money will be used to support CASA with operational expenses and to ensure two coordinators maintain a base in Oaxaca. Fundraising is a good opportunity to raise awareness in your community about the political situation in Mexico as well as to support your experience.

Rent in the Oaxaca space is $100 dollars a month, plus an additional $15 a week for those who wish to eat communally. The Coordinators can also help find nearby alternative housing between $150 and $250 dollars a month, depending on the needs of volunteers.

How much will it cost for me to live in Oaxaca?

We estimate living costs- including rent, food, general supplies, and some in-state travel- to be between $250 and $400 dollars a month. Eating at restaurants, buying alcohol, internet, and any extended travel would increase these estimates substantially.

Are scholarships and financial aid available?

We recognize that our fundraising expectations may limit many people from applying to CASA. Volunteers who find that fundraising is not a feasible option may get in touch with CASA coordinators about waiving or reducing the fundraising expectation as well as about scholarship opportunities to help cover living costs in Oaxaca.

Limited scholarships and financial aid, including free or subsidized rent in the collective houses, are available on a need basis. We can also help volunteers with fundraising suggestions and strategies to help them raise funds.

My Spanish is mediocre, can I still volunteer?

Proficiency in Spanish or higher is a requirement for CASA volunteers. Mediocre Spanish will be extremely limiting to your options for volunteer placements and your ability to do effective work and communicate clearly. We also strive to make Spanish the primary language spoken in the collective space in Oaxaca, both to reinforce our volunteers’ Spanish fluency, and to insure that our offices are inclusive places for non-English speakers.

Is it legal to do solidarity work in Mexico?

Doing political work on a tourist visa in Mexico is considered illegal. This said, there are hundreds of NGOs that offer unpaid work for volunteers in Mexico. The Mexican government maintains the right to deport people who interfere with internal politics, but since deporting people carries a high political cost and attracts media attention, it tends to be very rare. However, this can change depending on the political situation.  During the orientation process, we ask volunteers to maintain a low profile for themselves and for CASA while in Oaxaca. 

I will be in Mexico with my family, kids, significant other, can I still volunteer?

Yes, we welcome families and partners as volunteers. However, housing outside the houses is recommended, as rooms may be dorm style and are small in Oaxaca.

I am under 18, can I volunteer?

No. Consider coming to Oaxaca on a learning delegation, but house volunteers must be over 18.  

Is Oaxaca safe for kids?

Yes. The most dangerous thing is probably stomach sickness (parasites, salmonella, and other ailments are rampant).  And of course caution should be exercised when traveling to communities or  conflict zones.  

What is it like for Queer/Trans people working in Oaxaca?

Difficult.  Oaxaca City has a moderate size community of queer/trans people, but discrimination is still common.  In some communities outside of the city, being queer/trans is accepted and respected, but these values have been  changing as a consequence of globalization, neoliberalism, and patriarchy. CASA attempts to create a safe and supportive space, helps folks get connected to friends and allies, and offers mixed gender housing. Awareness is growing (GLBT movement and culture is increasingly open and vocal, especially Mexico City and Guadalajara).  Potential volunteers should be aware that being openly queer/trans in Oaxaca could be extremely challenging.

Can my family and friends come visit me?

Yes. They can only stay in the CASA houses with the consent of the other house members and will be asked to help with expenses. And be careful to plan visits so they don’t disrupt volunteer work.

Will I be able to receive phone calls or mail?

You will be able to receive mail through our P.O. boxes.  However, bear in mind that mail is extremely slow (2-3 weeks from the United States) and often lost or stolen.  The house does not have a phone line, but public phones are available, and the internet program Skype makes phoning home much easier and less expensive.

Should I bring my laptop or digital camera?

CASA has one somewhat slow laptop for use in translation, etc.  If you will be using a computer intensively during your time in Oaxaca (graphic design, translation, editing), it is advisable to bring your own laptop. Digital cameras are fine, especially if you want to document your time through photography.  The houses are relatively secure places, but avoid bringing extraneous valuables.

Once I arrive in Oaxaca where do I go?

Email the coordinators beforehand for directions and to arrange a meeting time.

Will I have time to take Spanish and do volunteer work?

This depends on your volunteer placement and whether or not you will primarily be in a rural or urban community.  Contact the coordinators beforehand if you would like support with being placed in Spanish classes during your time in Oaxaca. 

III. Travel, Safety

 

What kind of visa do I need?

You will receive a tourist visa for varying lengths of time (up to 6 months) upon entering the country. CASA volunteers are “tourists” and as such cannot work or participate in political activities. But they can travel and participate in educational/cultural activities.

What’s the cheapest way to get to Oaxaca?

To get to Oaxaca, flying into Mexico City, then taking a 6-hour, $35 bus ride to Oaxaca is almost always the cheapest, but there is also an airport in Oaxaca City.  Christmas and Spring Break are always high airfare seasons.

What kind of city is Oaxaca? Are there internet cafes/theaters/etc?

Oaxaca City, located in the highland valley region, has a population of approximately 375,000, most of whom are indigenous.  The city is very touristy, an industry that Oaxaca economically depends on.    There are many open air markets in the city offering crafts and farm fresh food. There are numerous inexpensive hostels, pricey hotels, internet cafes, a bookstore that offers English books, several small movie theaters that show Mexican and US releases and international films. There are a handful of restaurants offering international food, such as Chinese, Italian, and Indian, and great Mexican restaurants.  Oaxaca City is also a city of rebellion, where there are numerous collectives and radical organizations constantly organizing events and moblizing for justice and dignity. 

Do I need vaccinations?

We recommend the US Center for Disease Control's page for vaccinations and precautions covering every part of the world: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationList.aspx and the page for Mexico and Central America specifically: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/regionCentralAmerica.aspx.

In our experience, malaria is not a concern. A typhoid vaccination is suggested (even though they aren’t 100% effective), and be prepared for about every conceivable stomach ailment from parasites to salmonella.  Local doctors, pharmacists, and herbalists are also excellent, but many volunteers bring their own personal cures as well (Grapefruit seed extract, antibiotics, acidophilous, vitamins, Rescue Remedy, etc.).

When should I come and what should I bring to wear?

The appropriate clothing depends on the season. In Oaxaca, the weather is warm almost all year round, with the chilliest months being November through January and the hottest months April and May.  June and July are the rainy season.  A warm sweater is a good idea in the early morning and at night, and warmer clothes are advisable if you will be working in the rural mountains.

Is it safe in Oaxaca? In Mexico?

Throngs of tourists regularly visit Oaxaca. However, robberies and assalts do occur occasionally, and violence against women in particular is a growing national problem.  In Oaxaca, state and paramilitary violence against grassroots movements that took place throughout 2006 has resided, but arrests and harassment against Mexican organizers continue. In Oaxaca, our status as internationals has historically offered us a considerable measure of safety, but international activists have been the victims of state and paramilitary violence in the past, and we encourage our volunteers to use their best judgment about acceptable levels of risk.

 

IV. Studying Spanish

How much does language school cost?  

Language schools can run about $10/hour for private instruction at a school. Costs are less for instruction with teachers outside of school, or for group classes.

Can you recommend a Spanish school?

There are numerous language schools within San Cristobal and Oaxaca that offer one on one instruction and homestays with local families. The following is information about a few interesting ones.

  • SERAZLN , a school in the Zapatista Caracol of Oventic, is about 1 - 1.5 hours outside of San Cristobal. The school teaches Zapatismo and Spanish approximately 2 hours a day, taking occasional fieldtrips to nearby towns or Zapatista collectives within the Caracol, for example. The cost to attend each week is three day's minimum wage (in your home country).

    A letter or email of solidarity from a recognized support organization is needed in order to attend ( see Mexico Solidarity Network to apply ) . Note that the Mexican government likely considers it illegal to attend this school or even visit the caracol, however tour busses of foreigners are known to show up every so often, so enforcement appears spotty (as of Feb 2005).

  • La Hermadad Educativa , or Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco, a socially conscious school in Quetzaltenango ("Xela") Guatamala, is a day's busride from San Cristobal. The cost is about $150US/week for 5 hours of one-one-one instruction five days a week. They also have a Mountain School set in a small coffee village nearby to Xela. Both schools are very popular so advanced reservation is highly recommended.

Can you tell me more about the school in Oventic, SERAZLN?

It has been difficult for some to get information about SERAZLN , so we'll provide some details here. Students are provided three meals a day on weekdays, usually a simple fair heavy on rice, beans, and tortillas. However, there is a tienda that sells snacks and food up the hill. Students are housed in dorms in wooden bunks, and woolen blanks are often provided. A sleeping bag, and perhaps a pad, are recommended. Lastly, though Spanish is taught, it is not an intensive language school. The school is directed towards students looking to learn some Spanish while also studying Zapatismo, experiencing life in a caracol, and supporting the Zapatista struggle financially and through volunteer work.

V. General Questions

I'm in Oaxaca, can I visit Casa Chapulín?

Email the Coordinators to arrange a visit and for more info about the CASAs and their projects.

What can I do from the US to Support Movements in Oaxaca and Chiapas?

See How to Help.

How are things going right now in Chiapas?

See out About Chiapas for a brief history of Chiapas and a timeline of the recent struggle of the Zapatistas.

Chiapas is still the most militarized state in Mexico, with over 90 Mexican military instillations. Although direct police and army attacks on Zapatista communities have been less of a problem since the election of President Vicente Fox in the year 2000, there have been continued paramilitary attacks and harassment. In 2007 and early 2008 there has been a disturbing increase in violence against Zapatista communities, as well as attempts to force Zapatista communities off of land that was reclaimed during the uprising of 1994, and that has been farmed and lived on since that time.

The Zapatistas remain committed to growing services for their communities through the promotion of autonomous clinics, education centers, fair trade economies, and direct democracy, as well as building a broader Mexican movement “from below and to the left” through initiatives like the Other Campaign. Please see our newsletter for recent news and analysis from Chiapas.

I am writing a paper about Chiapas or Oaxaca can you help me?

CASA is willing to collaborate with academics that base their scholarly research on community based initiatives and work to build bridges between academia and the grassroots.  We recommend that students and scholars read our newsletters and other links and resources to get a thorough understanding of the political landscape of southern Mexico before contacting us or other groups in Oaxaca or Chiapas.