Redefining Welcome

The gardens at the Mbis Bin educational center.

In January of 2020, my Bard College Master’s of Environmental Policy classmates and I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico to learn about community-led watershed management, conservation, and sustainable development.

We had opportunities to visit communities, homes, and schools across the state of Oaxaca and to learn from communities, organizations, and individuals on the front lines of conservation, ecological restoration, and climate change.

Out of all of the learning moments, we experienced over the three weeks, a consistent thread throughout the trip was the time and intention behind each greeting. Our hosts at each location made intentional time to make introductions and welcome us.

One clear example was when we arrived at the Mbis Bin office and educational center. After spending the day traveling from Oaxaca City to the Sierra Sur mountains, we made a quick stop at our cabins and arrived at the Mbis Bin office quite tired from the trip.

We were warmly greeted by Mbis Bin leaders Blanca, Antonio, Cesar, Miguel, and Porfirio, along with many of their community partners and volunteer leaders. They toured us through their garden before welcoming us into their office with coffee and treats. 

After a round of introductions, we learned about their comprehensive programming and more about what we would be seeing while visiting Mbis Bin’s partners and projects over the next few days. As the presentation began to conclude, the group mingled, chatted, and laughed as cleanup and goodbyes began.

During our time at Mbis Bin, we shared their specialty local apple mezcal, and the theme of sharing food, drink, and time continued over our days in the Sierra Sur.

Since graduating from college in 2014, I’ve been working at U.S. based nonprofits in New York and New Jersey. Having attended what feels like hundreds of meetings over 5 years, I’ve never felt as welcome as I was made to feel at Mbis Bin.

From the moment we stepped off the trucks at their offices to the debrief over mezcal on our final evening, Blanca, Antonio, and Cesar took care and intention to create personal connections with us, make us feel welcome, and share their community with us. 

This intentional practice of setting aside time to connect as people before getting down to work has motivated me to change my own practices to create space for relationship building.

Mbis Bin and the other partners and communities we visited in Mexico have taught me that sustainability and ecology are not only about improving our environment but creating meaningful personal relationships. As I return to my professional life here in the United States, I’m doing so with the intention to create opportunities to build personal relationships with those I work with beyond the projects and campaigns we tackle together.

About Jen Benson

Jen Benson is a first year Masters of Environmental Policy Candidate. Outside of Bard, she works as the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at Riverkeeper. In her free time, Jen enjoys baking and hiking.