Eye contact, college degrees and family planning: As indigenous Maya women in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, pursue further education, the changes are palpable.
Women accustomed to casting their faces downward now peer into Judith Pasco’s eyes without reserve.
Four women graduated with bachelor’s degrees in computer science, nursing, tourism and English.
And more women are deciding to postpone marriage or have fewer children as they see their opportunities grow.
“They are dynamos — incredible women,” said Pasco, co-founder of the Sequim-based nonprofit Mujeres de Maíz Opportunity Foundation.
Currently, the foundation funds scholarships for 22 women and girls in partnership with a cooperative of indigenous weavers and seamstresses, Las Mujeres de Maíz en Resistencia — The Women of Corn in Resistance.
The nonprofit also funds weekend children’s programs in five communities, laptops in each participating community, eye exams and glasses, and educational workshops.
To this end, Pasco and board members host fundraisers three times per year.
This Saturday (Oct. 28), supporters can attend Mujeres de Maíz’s Día de Muertos Celebration — its largest fundraiser — with admission by a $25 suggested donation.
Doors to South Masonic Hall, 700 S. Fifth Ave., open at 5:30 p.m.
The evening features a vegetarian Mexican squash casserole, prepared with a slew of tantalizing ingredients: fire roasted tomatoes, butternut squash, garlic, tortillas, cotija and Mexican cheeses, chili peppers, onions and tomato sauce.
Side dishes include corn salad, beans, chips and salsa, and for dessert, Mexican wedding cookies.
The “most beautiful auction” also awaits.
The silent auction features more than 80 items, many woven by women in the cooperative or crafted by other artisans in Chiapas, Pasco said.
Tickets will be available at the door only. Attendees should plan to bring cash or checks, as credit and debit cards will not be accepted.
The foundation awards scholarships to girls and women pursuing education beyond primary school, as most families cannot afford the cost of secondary (sixth to ninth grade), preparatory (10th to 12th grade) and post-secondary education.
If the choice does exist, most families opt to send the boys, Pasco said.
“Education is ‘free’ — quote on quote — in the Mexican Constitution, but some students need help paying for teachers’ lunches, books, materials, food and transportation,” she said.
“Even one or two years of education is better than no education at all.”
Fortunately, Pasco said, none of the families in the cooperative was injured in the magnitude 8.1 earthquake that struck the southern coast of Mexico on Sept. 7.
To donate online, visit www.mujeresdemaizof.org, or for more information, call 360-809-0393.
Sarah Sharp is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. She can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at ssharp@peninsula dailynews.com.