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Yenizeth Peña: followed her dream. Yenizeth Peña: followed her dream.

From poverty in sierra to engineering degree

Rarámuri woman returns to her hometown to encourage youngsters to study

In the land of the Rarámuri in northern Mexico, the young women attend to their studies while the young men go and work for the narcos.

One of those young women is Yenizeth Peña Arcubia from the Chihuahua town of Témoris, in Guazapares. She grew up in near extreme poverty, but now she is ready to go back home with a bachelor’s degree in hand and plans to help young people find their future.

According to the Secretariat of Social Development (Sedesol), 80% of the population of Guazapares lives below the poverty line, and half are considered to live in conditions of extreme poverty.

As a young girl, Peña got to know hardship first-hand. “We struggled to get everything, be it a jacket or school uniform, because we didn’t have enough money.”

Under those conditions, going to school gave the sixth of seven siblings the only joy of her childhood. “I was only happy at school. I always liked to learn new things, and do homework,” she said.

Sacrifice got her through her early school years, and the desire to learn drove her to leave her hometown for the state capital, where she intended to continue her studies at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua and pursue a bachelor’s degree in ecological engineering.

“Those were difficult times, very difficult. I had to wake up before 5:00am to get [to school] on time, and I sometimes did not have enough [money left] to eat. The university gave me a food grant, but it only covered a single meal per day.”

With help from an uncle in the United States, in due time Peña got her degree.

But before graduating Peña had the chance to join an exchange program at the University of New Mexico, where she met with other Rarámuri peers as well as students from other regions and native cultures of Mexico and the United States.

“I learned there that one should be humble and fight for what one wants. Many of those with me there had left [their hometowns] with enough cash for their ticket, but with a great desire to learn.”

Now 22, Peña is planning to go back home to Témoris where she wants to share her experience with young people and encourage them to get an education.

Her concern is for both boys and girls, being part of a generation in which only the girls have left to study.

“Only women study, because young men prefer to take to the sierra and work for the sicarios [hitmen], taking care of marijuana plantations or guiding the narcos through the forests and out of the sight of the Army,” said Peña.

Women in Rarámuri towns like Témoris “either don’t have a job or are afraid of the narcos,” and many opt to leave for larger urban areas, just as Peña did.

Once they reach a city like Chihuahua, “women see that things here are different, they know they can study and that they don’t have to depend on a man or anyone else.”

Témoris

The University of Chihuahua currently has 72 Rarámuri students enrolled, all of them young women.

Another of Peña’s goals is to teach the families of Témoris about soil conservation and sustainable exploitation of natural resources.

Currently employed as an environmental consultant for mining companies in the Rarámuri sierra, she sees further education in her future.

Peña intends to resume her studies and pursue a master’s degree.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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