Felipe was born into the mountainside slum of Vista Hermosa overlooking the UNESCO city of La Antigua Guatemala. His life was rough. In his hometown The weather brings water shortages and then landslides, the streets offer the constant allure of drugs, violence and gangs.
But as we all know, education is the key to taking control of your future, and this is especially true for Felipe.
“I was angry, angry at life, at my parents, at myself and somehow that anger is what kept me safe. I could protect myself, as I always used to say in those days, punch first ask questions after. I became tough-boy.
Felipe’s father left them young, and as is a cultural norm in those forgotten areas of Guatemala, set his new family in the same slum on a pedestal far higher than his first, especially in Felipe’s case. “I hated my dad for telling me how well my ‘other’ brother was doing all the time – did he not see me?” With his mom overwhelmed with work and his younger siblings, Felipe fell behind in his schooling and eventually got suspended.
Luckily, at the base of the mountainside slum there was a non-profit school for kids is such challenging positions. That is where we met Felipe in 2010. A showoff, a rebel, a bully by need, who certainly showed potential, but could not seem to get himself out of his own way.
We were offering a philosophy class at this school, and it soon became clear that Felipe, amongst others, had great interest, potential and a love of wisdom. So, working together over the following two years we made every effort to allow his inherent desire to learn to poke its head around his macho, funny-man persona.
We found Felipe a sponsor to help with his education after he graduated high-school. He seemed unusually appreciative of this, as did his mom, since part of the education sponsorship also includes a dignified monthly food basket for the family. “I can’t believe someone I hardly know is paying for my studies” he said.
In 2011 we were lucky enough to be able to start our own foundation. As part of that formation we created a weekly Critical-Thinking / Philosophy class for all of our sponsored teenagers.
In the second year of these classes we spent the entire year working on a module called Ego/Shadow. This is where we learned the true meaning for Felipe of what he had told us years earlier “… punch first, ask questions after”. His base emotion, anger, rode prominently on his knuckles and the whole world was paying for his suffering, and as he later realized, so was he.
The Ego/Shadow module is based in part of Freudian and Jungian theory of unconscious drives, yet it adds the power to access and allow the expression of particular aspects of the self (such as authentic and shadow anger) using a process developed by a Zen Master. Felipe’s comment: “It calms me down, it helps me think more clearly, it makes me a better man.”
Of course we played games with the class to help them get their minds around this complexity. The outcome for Felipe was that after about six months in this class, he was beginning to identify emotions as they arose and he could ask himself whether they were his own shadow, or if they were authentic. “This is huge!”
Then he told us a story about a kid in this technical drawing class; “The teacher was scolding him, the whole class was behind the teacher, and the kid was mortified yet I noticed I felt compassion and sorrow… this was the first time in my whole life where I noticed I did not run with the crowd and become the unconscious condemner. I was shocked to see the Ego/Shadow process working inside me. It really helped me take the perspective of this poor kid, I felt sorry for him, even though there was nothing I could do for him.”
Felipe continued to attend our classes and as his macho persona softened to reveal a young man of great humility. We were offered the opportunity to start a full time, three-year, teaching-training for six of our top students. We had seven to pick from, one of whom was Felipe. But during the qualifying presentations, Felipe slipped back a little into his old ways and heckled two of the other students as they were speaking. “I assumed since I was a senior student that I would get one of the places”, he later told us.
We decided that, though his heart was in the right place, he was not suitable for this long-term program. When we told him he was devastated, and he cried right in front of us, the rebel melting in the face of opportunity lost.
However, just before the kick off date, one of the other boys we selected had to move away to the south of the country so we had an opening… this was one more shot for Felipe. Needless to say, he was overjoyed, and once again, cried, yet this time, tears of joy and potential rolled down his cheeks.
Fast forward to mid-2015, Felipe is now four months into the full time, three-year, teaching-training. He is excelling, as are his peers, with the Russian classics, the history of Guatemala, philosophy, Spanish, English, and in his work with our part-time staff psychologist. He graduated with a technical drawing diploma. Felipe now holds his head high, a confident young man, who knows that potential, when seen and cultivated, can be grown and harvested for the great benefit of his fellow countrymen and women.
He still lives with his mom in that slum. He carries pepper spray and has learned to channel that fountain of energy into kickboxing and soccer. And it’s been over two years since he came to class with a bruise.
We expect him to be a great teacher and a powerful living example of transformation.
This year has brought us all much great news!
And this is because, after years of dreaming and planning, we secured the funding for six of our brightest and most dedicated Critical-Thinking/Philosophy students to enter into a full time, 3-year teacher-training program.
These six, who range in age from 17-21, Juan Carlos, Jessica, Saul, Shirley, Felipe and Gabi, have been attending our programs for five years, have also been exposed to the topics of the Critical-Thinking program which include classic philosophy, meditation, world religions, politics and activism, sexuality, ego and shadow, self-esteem and self-love, suicide, depression, values, decision making, Integral Theory, and Zen.
They were also exposed to our Wisdom Speakers Series. These are talks given by invited guests who are experts in development, mindfulness, meditation, business, relationships and other walks in life.
And this year, as part of their entry qualification to the 3-year teacher-training program it was the turn of these six to get up in front of the class and give a talk. They had to develop their own theme, plan the timing for their talk, and manage the group. They studied, investigated, and researched in preparation.
The subjects they chose should make us all proud. They included; motivation, potential, respect and self-respect, relationships, conditioned habits, shadow, the many manifestations of love and the theological, philosophical and scientific perspectives on the Big Bang and the origin of the universe.
The students told us afterwards that felt truly felt empowered by this opportunity and they all were happy that did a great job. The audience also gained a great deal of benefit.
But mostly they said that they were comfortable with their topics and they are all eager to continue with their new course of studies so that they can develop themselves sufficiently to face and address the many painful issues facing their homeland today.
We, at the Integral Heart Foundation, couldn’t be more proud of them and of course of all of you who are making change, evolution and a better world possible.
These are the descriptions of photos that appear below:
Pictures 1 and 2: Juan Carlos giving his class on self esteem and respect.
Picture 3 and 4: Gabi speaking about relationships, values and the many manifestations of love.
Picture 5: Shirley with her mom and our social worker Marisol, discussing with us her talk on motivation and how she was going to let it develop.
Picture 6: Saul giving a talk on shadow and conditioned habits.
Picture 7: Felipe giving a talk on the theological, philosophical and scientific perspectives on the Big Bang and the origin of the universe.
Picture 8: Jessica giving a talk on potential and how, in most cases, we are the ones who set the limits.
The year has begun, the students are back to class, and we at the Integral Heart Foundation are very excited about what this New Year is going to bring.
We collected the holiday homework from our students; pages and pages of notes, questions, thoughts and inquiries on Amy Edelstein’s book Love, Marriage and Evolution.
After several calls with the author, Amy, discussing the main points of the book that were of most interest to the kids, she published a newsletter based on the student’s homework and her interpretation of the effects of this homework assignment. Please enjoy as much as we did while doing this work.
Excerpted from Amy Edelstein's newsletter Teens Get Relationship Training at Integral Heart in Guatemala.
At Integral Heart Foundation in Antigua, education is philosophical and pragmatic. Everything from shared agreements to condom use to evolutionary philosophy is on the table and up for discussion. Pictured here are teens with their homework assignment at Christmas break: eight chapters to read with exercises from Love, Marriage & Evolution.
Don’t you wish you could have learned how to create shared agreements with your first boyfriend/girlfriend at the same time as you were experiencing the fun and roller coaster of hormones gone wild? How would your relationships have turned out if you’d contemplated the possibility of enjoying intimacy in a spiritual context, one where your values and priorities were shaped by your understanding of the evolutionary unfolding of the cosmos?
These kids are doing just that. The High School students starting a new year in the “Critical Thinking Program,” run by Debora Prieto and Mick Quinn, have just handed in their homework. When I spoke with Deb last week, she laughed, saying they’re giving her a run for her money. Every student delivered a notebook filled with reflections, answers, and more questions about Love, Home, Balance, Trust, and Shared Agreements. This will be the fuel for discussions for the next few weeks in their class.
In the small villages near Antigua, Guatemala, where most of these students live, traditional gender roles define relationships. For the young fellows, considering their girlfriends as partners presented options and a value structure that was significantly different from what they see around them. Frederico (not his real name) told Deb that, since he’d never lived with a girl, he went to ask his married cousin how it all works, book in tow. His cousin (not in the program) ended up writing his own answers to the questions about balance, equality, and shared agreements, handing it in to Deb for review. Then, significantly, he spoke with his young wife, sharing new possibilities with her and making some direct changes to the rather restrictive dynamics between them.
For many of the girls, the chapters on Love and Home were their favorite, but questions like” What are the inner qualities that make us feel at home?” made them reflect afresh on what those time honored institutions could mean. “I want my independence,”
Manuela said. “My husband would have to respect me for who I am and allow me to do more than just be confined to the home.” This is a very real issue for these girls who, in spite of career aspirations, are compelled by social pressures to succumb to a restricted life in the house once they hit their late teens and marriageable age.
For handsome Juan Carlo, Love was also his favorite chapter, but not without some critiques. “Where is the passion?” he rightly challenged Deb. “I like the emotion, the feeling, the fire of Love.” When I heard this, I promised, yes, when I rewrite this book for teens, I will certainly include more on the sparkle and heat of young romance.
But the coolness and caution of my approach will also serve them well, since teen pregnancy which changes the course of a young life is not uncommon even among this inquisitive cohort. Exploring context and intentional relationships can help—but not altogether override—the heat of the moment.
The most important thing though for these kids (and I’d argue for all High School students) which Mick and Deb do such a beautiful job of cultivating, is being in an environment that encourages deep and independent thinking on issues that really matter. For these teens in Antigua, that means getting training in a subject that is central to our lives — the process of committing to intimate relationships.
As usual, we want to truly appreciate the ongoing and beautiful support of all of our donors and sponsors without whom this work would never be possible. Thank you from our hearts for being such an important part of this work.
Much love to you all,
The Integral Heart Foundation.
We would like to begin this last report of the year with deep gratitude and thankfulness. Our students are brilliant so are our donors. We have had the honor of sharing a wonderful year full of potential and great surprises, and the best part is that it is not over yet.
The official school year ends in Guatemala at the end of October. During out last class then we asked the teens to tells us what they liked the most about this Critical-Thinking/Integral Philosophy Program, to share with us those insights that were more impactful for them over the year. This is what they came up with:
What they loved the most over the year:
- The talks on suicide
- The four perspectives in which all reality arises
- The use of meditation for being more calm and balanced
- Bringing in other teachers and engaging with their points of view
- Using the four quadrants as a tool to solve problems
- The inter-dependence of the four quadrants
- The power of transmitting knowledge to younger generations
As homework for their school holiday until we start up again January of 2015 we assigned our students to read the book “Love, Marriage and Evolution” by Amy Edelstein (translated by our co-founder Debora Prieto) and to write a report on their impressions. They are also reading “Integral Vision” by Ken Wiber.
This homework ensures that their potential and wisdom keeps growing over the holidays.
But as we said, the year is not over yet and the icing of the cake was the visit of Terry Patten to Guatemala. He did some home visits with us to see where our students live, participated with us in our annual meditate to educate day. And Terry also led a full day workshop with the title “Every Moment Is A Practice”.
We can summarize the whole visit in Jessica’s words (in the picture below): “On Saturday I understood the meaning of breathing to and from the heart; today I really embodied and I now know what it really means in a deeper and more integral sense”.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of you who made this possible: all our donors, advisers, staff, lectures and, of course, our students. And please, have a wonderful and love-filled Holiday.
The Integral Heart Foundation.
Hello to all our dear donors and supporters,
The school year is going great although Guatemala is going through a drought which we hope will end soon before the weather affects the crops.
Our students are more alive than ever and beginning to ask to us cover topics of personal interest. As a result of their suggestions, and as part of our philosophical and critical inquires, we have been talking about two subjects that are obviously important to them: sex and suicide.
The first class on safe sex and pregnancy prevention was given by Marisol, our Community Liaison, who recently received her qualification to teach on this topic. The kids had the opportunity to ask, in many cases for the first time, how to deal with contraceptives, how to make smart choices about sexual encounters and to ask more daring questions, such as about painful menstruation and urinary tract infections. Marisol also spoke about sexually transmitted diseases and about the importance of making healthy and mature choices and that sometimes abstinence is a good option.
The second subject that the students asked us to speak about was suicide. We were concerned at first that some of them could actually be thinking about this as an option. But, that was not the case, even though almost all the kids have known someone who has committed suicide.
At first we thought about giving a one-day talk but because of the depth of response we got from the kids, we soon realized that this would not be enough time. As of the time of this report we have spent already five weekly classes on the subject. We talked about signs, symptoms, causes, and preventions all from an Integral perspective. We had many questions and comments and personal stories from the kids as mostly all of them knew of somebody who had attempted suicide or who was talking about that possibility.
As part of this class we separated the students in groups in which they could share their thoughts and feelings about this subject. We also had them make a list of the things that they felt make their lives worth living. Carmen, 14, who grew up in a trash dump, and currently lives with her mom and two siblings in a tin shack with dirt floors said “Because I am important”.
In our name and in the names of all of our students and their families, we’d like to thank all of you who are making this work possible. You are saving lives in so many different ways. THANK YOU!!
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