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by Maureen Marshall

The Tarahumara Girls’ School at Sisoguichic offers a six year education program from first through sixth grade. There are two components to the facility: The Indigenas Girls’ Boarding School (Internado de Ninas Indigenas) and the adjacent Escuela Antonio de Orena (the actual school). The boarding facility, established in 1907, is operated by five nuns from the Order of the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Poor. This order is independent of the Jesuit Mission which administers the school itself.
The school is Catholic (as are most Tarahumara in the area), with instruction in Spanish. However, the indigenous culture is respected: the girls continue to wear their traditional dress and to speak Raramuri (the Tarahumara language). The girls are taught sewing and many of them clearly take pride in making their own clothes.
The curriculum is simple: in addition to a basic education in the “3 R’s”, the girls are taught to clean, to sew and to make Tarahumara crafts. In a traditional community, the Tarahumara respect those who work hard -- the school expects the girls to assist in housekeeping duties -- the girls participate in cleaning classrooms, helping in the kitchen and they do their own laundry.
Girls can enter the boarding facility when they are 6 years old, though many are older when they begin. Those who wish to continue their education can do so at schools in Creel or Carichic.
The capacity of the facility is 70 girls. The demand is increasing, but neither space nor funds are available to meet this demand. (Note: although the boarding facility is for girls only, the school is coed and accepts boys who live in the town.)
The entire facility is plain and scrupulously clean, with a very pleasant atmosphere. The classrooms are plain but cheerful, and the books are good quality learning material. Activities in the classroom are interesting and varied.
The government provides minimal funding to the school for food and books. This funding is barely adequate to cover the basic costs. The facility requires funds for general repair and maintenance. Lighting and plumbing need fixing, and the present budget cannot be stretched to accommodate these needs.
Sister Teodora Fierro is Director of the Tarahumara Girl’s school. Sister Teodora and her staff are dedicated to providing Tarahumara girls with an education which will allow them the opportunity to improve their lives. In the towns and villages markets of the high sierra, the Tarahumara are increasingly in contact with ‘western’ culture. In these places, illiterate Tarahumara struggle to survive at the very bottom of the social-economic ladder. Education will give these Tarahumara girls the tools they need to better themselves and their families and protect their way of life.