Building With Adobe: Lessons On Relationships With Students, Parents, Partners, and The Earth

This is a co-authored article by Changemaker parent PennElys Droz, Changemaker educator Oscar Medina, Changemaker student Paloma Martinez, and Changemaker school partner Claudio Rodriguez. Each author contributes their story on the newly built adobe oven on campus.

PennElys and Changemaker student prepare base for the adobe oven.

PennElys Droz, Changemaker parent and Director of Sustainable Nations — I was happy to be approached by my son Maquah and asked if we could do an adobe oven at his school to provide another addition to their outdoor kitchen! My organization helps Indigenous communities design and build culturally and ecologically appropriate infrastructure for themselves, and adobe-oven building has been one aspect of this work. I believe that any earthen-building project, whether it is an entire home, an oven, or a few bricks, works a little bit of magic. In our contemporary lives, specifically in urban communities, most people have been removed from a living and daily relationship with the Earth and elements as givers of life. Some have retained or maintained these teachings, and some work to maintain these relationships through gardening, ceremony, and other expressions, but many have no practical expression of this knowledge and experience in their daily lives at all.

Timo Padilla from Sustainable Nations and PennElys use lime to bond and strengthen abode oven

Building with Earth connects people in a tangible way to the soil, our source of life, and to our ancestors. My personal belief is that when we are engaged in the soil in an intimate way it brings peace, spiritual balance, and healing. When we learn of the functional brilliance and strength of earth building, we learn about the technologies of their ancestors that are still in use today. As we learn how to mix mud and build, our hands are learning the feelings that many of our ancestors learned, and passed on, in order to create home. Building with Earth also connects us to each other!

Changemaker seniors use their hands to fill in the spaces between rocks to support the base of the oven

Earthen building projects lend themselves to workers of all ages and skill levels, and are most effectively done when groups are working together. I have seen job sites bring out songs, stories, medicine knowledge, and just beautiful intimate positive communication between community members as they work side-by-side in the dirt. Scientists have even reflected traditional knowledge in their discovery that soil microbes act as antidepressants. And, finally, it is empowering to see that you can take something free and gather-able, and build a home or something functional with it! So, whether we are building a house or an oven, a little something beautiful is passed on to the builders through their hands as they work, whether it is conscious or unconscious. My son has helped me build over the years, and has made it clear this kind of work is not ‘his’ kind of work. However, seeing that he values the experience enough to bring it to his school as something fun to do, and engage in the building process with pride, was great. Thanks Oscar, Claudio, and Maquah!

Changemaker student and educator Oscar Medina, mix clay, sand, water, and straw to make adobe.

Educator, Oscar Medina — I started teaching in 2008 in Richmond, CA. I was fresh out of college, thinking Berkeley taught me everything I needed to be a transformative educator. I was wrong. Every year my lessons shifted. I prioritized around the topics and issues that I found most relevant to my students. Today, I find myself guiding students outside the classroom. Our classroom has become the student built outdoor living laboratories where I facilitate conversations on history, relationships with the land, and sustainability. My pedagogy comes from mentors that span from central Mexico to northern California, people who taught me the value of stories and traditional ways of living.

At Changemaker High School, history and urban agriculture are two of my favorite courses to teach. These courses allow me to build on some of the cultural practices that go back hundreds of years in the Sonoran Desert. In these classes, we honor and recognize the indigenous people and plants of this region. My students recognize the resiliency demonstrated by the native crops and people relevant to their own survival. Once ready, the horno on campus will support our efforts to reclaim our food system and build meaningful relationships that will help sustain our students and their communities. I am grateful to all students, parents, and partners that united forces to make the project possible.

Paloma Martinez, Changemaker student painting the adobe oven.

Changemaker Student, Paloma Martinez —This is my first year at Changemaker High School (CMHS). Before coming here, my goal was to get through school and just pass with decent grades. CMHS has inspired me to pursue my interests. I have learned to be my best self on the daily. Here, I’m constantly creating, getting my hands dirty and doing things that I love to do. Building our adobe oven on campus, as well as gardening and working with our chickens has deepened my connection with the earth. This space allows me to cook and harvest the crops I plant while also strengthening relationships with my peers, teachers and other caring community members. The fact that my teachers encourage me to get my hands and feet dirty, is empowering and transformational. Now, when my mom can’t find me in the house, she can usually find me in the garden.

Claudio working the mixer

Changemaker Partner, Claudio Rodriguez, — As the School Garden Coordinator for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFBSA) I get the opportunity to build relationships with not only teachers and administrators but also amazing students and their families. My relationship with Changemaker High School has been that of a classroom instructor, teaching lessons on food justice, food production, sustainability and how to be a healthy community advocate.

This year I was approached by Maquah Goodshield about building a traditional adobe oven, with the intention of incorporating cooking and history lessons in his class. I was impressed with the way he approached me — in a very professional manner, ready to answer my questions of importance, and how he thought the CFBSA could provide support for his goals and project. Maquah had everything he needed except materials, that’s where he knew I could support. We provided materials while other community partners invested their time and knowledge to build a traditional adobe oven. We are always eager and excited to support the growth of not only gardens but of students and community.

Building the base
Painting the adobe oven

This story is part of a Storytelling for Changemakers program for Changemaker Schools activated in partnership with Ashoka’s Youth Venture and Start Empathy. Individual views expressed in this blog are from individuals, and not representative of Ashoka, Start Empathy, or Youth Venture.

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