Escuela 2016 participant Bethany M. Waggoner shares her impressions.

May 2016.- On a warm summer afternoon in January, breezes filled the air with the sweet aromas of the nearby sea. Six women stood up to sing before a full house at the Lutheran congregation of Comunidad Renacer, in Boca Sur. The tune was simple; its lyrics about giving thanks. One could be excused for seeing this as a simplistic expression of sentiment for this occasion. This Sunday, the small church was hosting a score of visitors from nine different countries who were attending the EPES Escuela. But by the end, this humble song inspired a moment of deep connection among all those in attendance. The women shared their gratitude in the languages of their people — in Shona (Zimbabwe), Kisii (Kenya), Swahili (Kenya), Twi (Ghana), English and Spanish.

This moment offers a glimpse into what made the Escuela so special to me. The diversity of the singers infused the notes, the words, and the spaces in-between with a richness uncovered only through contrasts. I felt that we were together in the presence of “the elements that pass through the spaces that exist between us.” Popular education defines these as dialogue; the Christian tradition views them as the movement of the Holy Spirit. In this simple ceremony, they brought us a deeper appreciation of the things that make us different — language, birthplace, culture — and, at the same time, a renewed recognition of the things that bind us together — a shared tune, gratitude, the human experience.

What united the group was our shared calling to build a more just world, guarantee the human right to health, and enact equity in the systems and institutions that influence the human experience.

This year, the Escuela was held simultaneously in English and Spanish – quite an organizing challenge for the EPES team, which prepared all materials in both languages and provided simultaneous translation for two weeks of lectures, activities and conversations. But the effort was worth it, as it proved the adaptability of the foundational model of popular education nearly 50 years after Brazilian educator Paolo Freire first presented it as a platform for liberation.

All of us attending appreciate popular education as a powerful tool. Its flexibility is illustrated by the many ways that participants are already bringing it back home. Before we had packed our bags, people had laid plans to use this methodology to educate undocumented farm workers in Arizona about their rights, and to transform the way HIV/AIDS patients are viewed in Guatemala. (See profiles of 2016 participants).

For me, the course provided a methodological and philosophical anchor from which many bridges can be built. The knowledge that this foundation will continue to connect us to EPES and to each other is a meaningful takeaway from the transformative time we spent together.

Foto: Matagaro Agnes Bosibori, Bethany Waggoner y Donna Akuamoah.

Bethany Waggoner is a Global Mission Intern with Global Ministries (Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ) and has spent the past year working with EPES Concepción.