Monday, March 31, 2014

Desafíos de una universidad indigena en un sistema de educación occidentalizado

Por Nancy Sabas

¨¿Ustedes son los mismos que vinieron a matar a mi gente? ¨ Preguntó vacilante una anciana de la comunidad a un grupo de 10 curiosos estudiantes a punto de convertise en maestros, de la Universidad de Saskatchewan, Canadá.
Para mucha gente, tener a 24 ¨gringos¨ viajando hasta las altas montañas de Guatemala para aprender sobre el conocimiento Maya e integrarlo en sus prácticas pedagógicas en un mundo de educación occidental es simplemente una idea descabellada. Este no es el caso de los participantes del Tour de aprendizaje y servicio internacional a Guatemala quienes tuvieron la oportunidad de descubrir la belleza y sabiduría de las sociedades Mayas.

Universidad Ixil

En el pueblo de Nebaj, una remota área en el norte de las montañas altas de Guatemala, Benito María, Vitalino Similoch y Pablo Ceto, fundaron en 2011 la Universidad Ixil a través del asociado de CCM, FUNDAMAYA y las autoridades Maya locales. Esta es una institución educacional con un fuerte enfoque en desarrollo comunitario, derechos humanos y defensa del territorio desde una perspectiva Maya Ixil. Sus métodos –muchas veces considerados heterodoxos  por el Sistema de educación oficial- incluyen un fuerte e intencional énfasis en investigación basada en la tradición oral de la gente Ixil, trabajo de campo y aprendizaje práctico a la vez que constantes consultas y comunicación con los Ancianos de la comunidad
Estos métodos son priorizados sobre las normas academicas occidentales. El trabajo de campo en las comunidades predomina sobre las aulas de clase y el lenguaje Maya Ixil precede al Español. Una alternativa paralela y progresiva se ha abierto para estudiantes Mayas quienes han sido visto de menos y discriminados por universidades oficialmente reconocidas por el Estado. Los estudiantes Maya Ixil, siendo muchos de ellos campesinos, ahora pudieron recibir educación por una cuota muy baja durante los últimos tres años. Ahora FUNDAMAYA tiene desafios financieros por enfrentar para poder mantener esta alternativa educacional en pie.
¨Muchas veces los estudiantes de nuestra comunidad que pueden costearse el ir a la ciudad y matricularse en una Universidad reconocida oficialmente, terminan siendo casi forzados a migrar y encontrar oportunidades fuera de la comunidad. Nuestra Universidad por otro lado, capacita a las personas para responder especificamente a un contexto Maya Ixil y retiene a los estudiantes y jóvenes para que desarrollen su propia comunidad.¨ Explicaba Pablo Ceto a los participantes del Tour de aprendizaje de la Universidad de Saskatchewan.

Bajo los ojos de dos sistemas educativos paralelos

La pequeña comunidad de Tzalbal, Nebaj, hospedó al primer debate celebrado entre estudiantes de la Universidad Ixil y la Universidad de Saskatchewan. El debate también incluyó la participación de Ancianos de la comunidad, miembros de la red Ixil de jóvenes ¨Chemol Txumb'al¨  y graduados de la Universidad en el Diplomado de desarrollo comunitario con enfoque en bienes naturales.
Los estudiantes de la Universidad Ixil explicaron  como la invasión de las empresas mineras e hidroelectricas en sus tierras representa el tercer ataque prominente hacia la población Maya Ixil. La colonización por los españoles en el siglo XVI fué la primera invasión foránea en su territorio y la militarización más genocidio durante la Guerra civil en los años 80 fué la segunda. La Universidad Ixil presta especial atención en educar a sus estudiantes en temas de incidencia y defensa de territorio. Los estudiantes explicaron la gravedad y riesgos de estas compañias multinacionales operando en el territorio Ixil y hablaron acerca de las directas violaciones a la democracia y a los derechos humanos se cometen para conceder licencias de extracción a estas compañias. Estas licencias no solo causan daños ambientales irreversibles y profanan el elemento más sagrado en la espiritualidad maya –La madre tierra- sino que también producen pobreza a través del desplazamiento de las personas de sus tierras y la disminución de oportunidades para la agricultura, pesca y agua potable.
Los estudiantes de la Universidad de Saskatchewan también expresaron sus frustraciones en cuanto a la discriminación contra sus comunidades aborigenes canadienses y encontraron algunas similitudes entre las luchas de la gente Ixil y de aquellos que pertenecen a las primeras naciones de Canadá.
Ambos grupos identificaron las mayores diferencias entre sus universidades y éstas fueron sus conclusiones:
Prestigio: La Universidad de Saskatchewan pertenece a la lista de las 10 mejores universidades en Canadá mientras que la Universidad Ixil enfrenta estigmas de grupos conservadores que perciben a sus alumnos como rebeldes o potenciales guerrilleros – una reputación que emergió por sus esfuerzos en incidencia y en resistir a compañias multinacionales.
Definiciones de éxito: La mayoria del grupo de la U de S expresaron que los estudiantes en Norteamerica estudiaban para ¨alcanzar el éxito en el mundo globalizado¨ refiriendose a ganancias financieras y reconocimiento personal. Los estudiantes de la Universidad Ixil manifestaron que ellos estudian ¨para mejorar su comunidad en el proceso de volverse autosuficiente y para crear el ´Buen vivir´¨( ¨El buen vivir¨ es un principio filosófico indigena que encierra la búsqueda por la harmonia y condiciones sostenibles para vivir entre las personas y naturaleza en paz.). El éxito en la cultura maya está definida por este principio que anima a la gente para que viva con lo que es suficiente para proveer las necesidades de la vida y desanima contra la acumulación consumista y otras prácticas insostenibles.
*Disponibilidades de trabajo después de graduados: Los estudiantes de la U de S compartian acerca de cómo sus posibilidades de encontrar trabajo después de graduados dependia estrictamente de sus calificaciones y de sus habilidades. Los estudiantes de la Universidad Ixil expresaron sus desilusiones con ciertos aspectos de su cultura local donde muchos trabajos se conceden como favores a aquellos que votan por cierto partido politico.
*Costos universitarios - La Universidad de Saskatchewan, y las universidades canadienses en general, requieren una inversion financiera significativa. La Universidad Ixil intenta mantener los costos de matricula tan bajos como sea possible para que los campesinos puedan entrar también.
Los estudiantes de la U de S preguntaron al grupo de la Universidad Ixil cuales eran las contribuciones basadas en la riqueza del conocimiento ancestral maya y sabiduría que les gustaria compartir con la sociedad global. Los estudiantes de la Universidad Ixil respondieron que ¨nos gustaría compartir con el mundo nuestro sistema de justicia, que no permite que los transgresores estén encerrados en una cárcel haciendo nada como sucede en el Sistema convencional. En lugar de eso, se les dan tareas que les permiten corregir lo que hicieron mal y enfrentar las consecuencias de sus actos, hasta que lo sienten y son perdonados por la comunidad¨. También añadieron ¨Nos gustaria que el mundo aprenda y viva bajo los principios del ´Buen vivir´.
Estudiantes de la universidad de Saskatchewan trabajando la tierra con miembros de la comunidad Ixil.







   




Challenges of an indigenous university in a westernized education system

By Nancy Sabas

¨Are you the same ones that came to kill my people?¨ asked hesitantly an Ixil community Elder to a group of 10 curious students soon-to-become teachers from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
For many people, having 24 Caucasian people travel to the highlands of Guatemala to learn about Mayan knowledge in order to integrate it in their teaching practices in a western educational world is by no means a far fetched scenario.  This was not the case for participants in the International learning tour to Guatemala who had the opportunity to discover the beauty and wisdom within Mayan societies.

Ixil University

In the town of Nebaj, a remote area in the northern Highlands of Guatemala, Benito María, Vitalino Similoch and Pablo Ceto, founded in 2011 the Ixil University through MCC´s partner organization FUNDAMAYA in collaboration with local Mayan authorities. This is an educational institution with a strong emphasis on community development, human rights and territorial defense from a mayan Ixil perspective. Their methods - often considered unorthodox by the official education system – include a strong and intentional focus on research based on the oral tradition of the Ixil people, field work and hands on learning as well as constant consultation and communication with community elders.
 These methods are prioritized over traditional, westernized academic norms. Field work in the communities predominates over the classroom and the Mayan Ixil language take precedence over spanish. A progressive and parallel alternative has been opened for mayan students who have been overlooked and discriminated against by universities officially recognized by the state.  Mayan Ixil students, many of whom are peasants, are now able to receive education for a very small fee during the last three years. Now FUNDAMAYA has some financial challenges to face in order to keep this educational alternative alive. 
¨So often the students from our community that can afford to move to the city and enroll in an officially recognized University, find themselves almost forced to migrate and find opportunities outside of our community. Our university on the other hand, trains people to respond specifically to the Mayan Ixil context and retains students and young people so that they can develop their own community, “ explained Pablo Ceto to the learning tour participants from the University of Sasktachewan.

Under the eyes of two parallel education systems


The small community of Tzalbal, Nebaj, hosted the first debate held between students from the Ixil university and the University of Saskatchewan.  The debate also included the participation of community elders, members of the Ixil Youth network ¨Chemol Txumb'al¨ and graduates from the ixil University in the associates degree in community development focused on natural assets. 
The students from the Ixil University explained that the invasion by mining and hydroelectric companies in their lands represents the third prominent attack against the mayan Ixil population.  The colonization by Spaniards in the 16th century was the first foreign invasion of their territory and the militarization and genocide during the civil war of the 1980´s  was the second. The Ixil University places a lot of attention in educating their students in terms of advocacy and territory defense. The students explained the severity and risks generated by the multinational corporations  operating in the Ixil territory mentioning how direct violations against democracy and human rights have been committed in order to grant extraction licenses to these companies.  These licences not only cause irreversible environmental damages thus desecrating the most sacred element in the mayan spirituality—Mother Earth—but also produce poverty by displacing people from their lands  and diminishing opportunities for agriculture, fishing and clean water.
The Saskatchewan students expressed also their frustrations towards discrimination against their aboriginal Canadian communities and found some similarities between the struggles of the Ixil people and those of Canadian First Nations. 
When identifying the major differences among the two universities , both groups came to these conclusions:
*Prestige- The University of Saskatchewan is ranked among the top ten of Canada´s best universities while the Ixil University faces stigmas from conservative groups picturing their students as rebels or potential ¨guerrilleros¨-- a reputation that stems from their efforts in advocating against and resisting multinational companies.
*Definitions of Success- The majority of the U of S students expressed that students in North America study in order to ¨have success in the globalized world¨ referring to financial profits and personal recognition. The Ixil University students said that they study ¨to improve their community in becoming self sufficient and to create the ¨Buen vivir¨. (¨El Buen vivir¨ or ¨The Good Life¨ -is an indigenous philosophical principle that encloses the pursuit of harmony and sustainable conditions to live among people and nature in peace.)  Success in the mayan culture is defined by this principle that encourages people to live with just enough to provide the necessities of life and thus discourages against consumer accumulation or other non sustainable practices.
*  Job availabilities after graduation: U of S students expressed how their possibilities of finding a job once graduating will depend strictly on their qualifications and skills.  Ixil university students expressed their disappointment with the certain aspects of their local culture as many jobs are given out as political favors to those who participate with certain political parties.
*University fees: The university of Saskatchewan, and universities in general in Canada, require a significant financial investment. The Ixil University attempts to keep the tuition as low as possible  so that peasants can attend too.

The students from the University of Saskatchewan asked the Ixil University what contributions based on the wealth of ancient Mayan knowledge and wisdom they would like to offer to the global society.  Students from the ixil University replied that they “would like to share with the world our system of justice, which does not allow transgressors to be locked in a jail doing nothing as the conventional systems does. Instead, we give them tasks that enable them to right their wrongs and to face the consequences of their actions, until they are sorry and forgiven by the community¨. They also added that ¨we would also like the world to learn and live under the principles of el Buen Vivir (The Good Life).”
U of S students working on the land alongside Ixil community members 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Testimony for an ending year




By Nancy Sabas


A year has gone by and can not help to fill a cliché and write a conventional blog post with end-of- year reflections. Joy, melancholy and almost-despair with a sudden rise of hope seem to invade every person that intends to look back and think about what they witnessed. That is exactly who i am: a naive witness being  constantly transformed by the love received from the poor in the rural communities, the neighbors in a turbulent city and the anger toward an oppressive and unjust  system.
As a witness i recall several moments during this last year in Guatemala that had a strong impact in me:
I witnessed the willingness of the work and learn groups to come and step out of their comfort zones to experience what Guatemalans and Salvadorans live day by day.  As they learn i have learned and keep learning over again. The work and learn groups have taken me to a journey that went beyond what i could have ever imagined. I am grateful for all of the fleeting friendships made in each tour and for blessing me with their company and their sights. I do believe that every one of them played the perfect part in the perfect place and time in the communities they visited and also in my life.
I witnessed the reactions and commotion that the Ex-president Rios Montt trial brought to Guatemala last March. A country polarized with opinions: some of them claiming for dignity and justice for the genocide victims, others denying any genocide and many others diminishing the importance and/or being indifferent. I witnessed my neighbors, local friends and even the taxi driver carefully listening to the news on the radio last May 10th, the day Rios Montt was convicted for Genocide and crimes against humanity. I saw them celebrating and regaining trust on a Justice system that had disappointed them so many times. I also saw their despair when the media announced that he was released from prison 3 days later with a promise to repeat the trial next January.
I witnessed in a 3 hour hike one of the most stunning natural sceneries: the Sonmentir tzi kaj naab valley, an important source of water for the local community now threathened by goldmining exploration in Nebaj.
I witnessed the courage and determination of the Ixil people to defend their sacred territory and make their communal land rights be respected by the Guatemalan government and foreign goldmining and hydroelectric companies despite threats, human rights violations, political instability and military presence.
I witnessed cross-cultural exchanges and relationships being built regardless of differences. I saw love overcoming culture and status barriers. I saw generous people offering the few they had to strangers. I witnessed people showing solidarity and compassion to a foreign community. I saw people who never had the chance to attend school teaching strong lessons to highly educated people. I saw people advocating in their home countries for a country that is not their own.
                                                                                   
I met several children who are separated from their parents when they left to immigrate to North America due to the lack of employment in their communities. I also met people who are working hard on creating alternatives to avoid immigration and develop sustainable communities such as the Catholic Diocese of San Marcos.
As a Honduran, a recent event that impacted me were the elections in my home country, even though I wasn´t a direct witness and had to Inform myself with the news on the media and the testimonies from my family and friends back home. Again (after the 2009 coup), my country is divided by opinions. Strong denounces of fraud and lack of transparency seem to be unheard and denied from the international community while the people are drawn to protest on the streets where they become easy targets for the military. The number of murdered Journalists and left wing activists is alarming.  The question we all ask is where Democracy is and how the current government is different from a dictatorship.
In this setting, a new year brings more challenges which can only be approached by becoming more aware and committed to take action. As an American or Canadian citizen you can take action advocating for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras by expressing your concerns to your congress calling, sending letters and articles about these issues, discussing these topics at your local church and spreading the news. These are only a few examples of things you can do.


Citizens in Honduras express their discomfort towards the new elections in many ways. Movements such as the ¨Camisas Negras¨ - a call to people to dress in black t-shirts as a protest against the elected president-, concerts, banners, manifestations, the writing of articles and poems are flourishing:
This is your justice
¨Today is the last day of the holy fake justice,
 For tomorrow the tyrant will triumph or perhaps a new villain;
 Either way sin shall be victorious.
 Meanwhile, go and make sure you remember the feel of these bars for your freedom lies on the other side.¨
 Taken from Los Dos ejes: http://dosejes.tumblr.com/post/67907091172/esta-es-tu-justicia

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Testimonio de un año que termina

Por Nancy Sabas


Un año ha pasado y no puede evitar llenar un cliché y escribir un blog convencional con reflexiones de fin de año. Alegría, melancolía y casi desesperación con una repentina alza de la esperanza parece invadir a cada persona que tiene la intención de mirar hacia atrás y meditar en lo que presenciaron. Y eso es exactamente lo que soy: una ingenua testigo siendo constantemente transformada por el amor recibido de los pobres en las comunidades rurales, los vecinos de una ciudad turbulenta y el enojo ante un sistema opresivo e injusto.
Como testigo, recuerdo varios momentos durante este último año en Guatemala, que tuvieron un fuerte impacto en mí:
Fui testigo de la disposición de los grupos de aprendizaje y servicio para venir y salir de su zona de confort para experimentar lo que los guatemaltecos y salvadoreños viven día a día. A medida que aprenden yo también he aprendido y sigo aprendiendo de nuevo. Los grupos de trabajo y aprendizaje me han llevado a un viaje que iba más allá de lo que jamás hubiera imaginado. Estoy muy agradecida por todas las amistades fugaces realizadas en cada gira y por bendecirme con su compañía y sus impresiones. Creo en que cada uno de ellos hizo el papel perfecto en el lugar y el momento perfecto en las comunidades visitadas y también en mi vida.

Fui testigo de las reacciones y la conmoción que el juicio del Ex- presidente Ríos Montt trajo a Guatemala el marzo pasado. Un país polarizado de opiniones: Unos reclamando la dignidad y la justicia para las víctimas del genocidio , otros negando cualquier genocidio y muchos otros la disminuyendo su importancia y / o indiferentes. Presencié a mis vecinos, amigos locales e incluso el conductor del taxi escuchando atentamente las noticias en la radio el pasado 10 de mayo, el día en que Ríos Montt fue declarado culpable de genocidio y crímenes contra la humanidad . Los vi celebrar y recuperar la confianza en un sistema de justicia que los había decepcionado tantas veces. También vi su desesperanza cuando los medios de comunicación anunciaron que él fue liberado de la prisión de 3 días más tarde con la promesa de repetir el juicio el próximo mes de enero.

Fui testigo en una caminata de 3 horas de uno de los paisajes naturales más impresionantes: el llano Sonmentir tzi kaj naab, una importante fuente de agua para la comunidad local ahora amenazada por exploraciones de mina en Nebaj.

Fui testigo de la valentía y la determinación del pueblo Ixil para defender su sagrado territorio y que sus derechos a las tierras comunales sean respetados por el gobierno guatemalteco y las empresas de extracción de oro e hidroeléctricas extranjeras  a pesar de las amenazas, violaciones de los derechos humanos, la inestabilidad política y la presencia militar.

Fui testigo de los intercambios interculturales y las amistades que se construyeron a pesar de las diferencias. Vi al amor superar la cultura y barreras de clase. Vi a personas generosas ofreciendo lo poco que tenían a extraños. Fui testigo de personas que mostraron su solidaridad y compasión a una comunidad extranjera. Vi a personas que nunca tuvieron la oportunidad de asistir a la escuela enseñarle fuertes lecciones a gente con educación alta. Vi a  gente abogando en sus países de origen por un país que no es el suyo.
                                                                                  
Conocí a varios niños que se separaron de sus padres cuando éstos se emigraron a América del Norte debido a la falta de empleo en sus comunidades. También conocí a personas que están trabajando duro en la creación de alternativas para evitar la inmigración y el desarrollo de comunidades sostenibles, como por ejemplo, la Diócesis de San Marcos.
Como hondureña, un evento reciente que me impactó fueron las elecciones en mi país de origen, a pesar de que no era una testigo directa y me tuve que conformar con las noticias en los medios de comunicación y los testimonios de mi familia y amigos en casa. Una vez más (después del golpe de Estado del 2009), mi país está dividido en opiniones. Fuertes denuncias de fraude y falta de transparencia parecen ser ignoradas y negadas por parte de la comunidad internacional, provocando a las personas salir a protestar en las calles donde se convierten en un blanco fácil para los militares. El número de periodistas y activistas de izquierda asesinados es alarmante. La pregunta que todos nos hacemos es donde está la democracia y cómo nuestro gobierno actual se diferencia de una dictadura.
En este contexto, un nuevo año trae más retos que sólo pueden ser abordados a través de la consciencia y compromiso a hacer algo. Como ciudadano estadounidense o canadiense puedes tomar acción abogando por Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras expresando tus preocupaciones, enviando cartas y artículos sobre estos temas a tu congreso, discutiendo estos temas en tu iglesia local y difundir de la noticia. Estos apenas son algunos ejemplos de cosas que puedes hacer.


Los ciudadanos de Honduras expresan su malestar hacia las nuevas elecciones de muchas formas. Movimientos como el de ¨ Camisas Negras ¨ - un llamado a la gente para vestirse con camisetas negras en señal de protesta contra el presidente electo - , conciertos, pancartas, manifestaciones, la redacción de artículos y poemas están floreciendo.
 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Let´s hear some MR stories!

The Mennonite Central Committee benefits hundreds of people by shipping overseas humanitarian aid to countries all over the globe who are facing poverty, oppression, natural disasters and war through the department of Material Resources and Meat canning. Hundreds of workers and volunteers take part in this gigantic process every year to make this labor happen.
This year, 14 participants - workers and volunteers of these departments- visited Guatemala and El Salvador on a 10 day trip to experience the end process of their work and take back these stories to their fellow workers and home communities.
The trip started in El Salvador visiting the different partner organizations that work along with MCC G&ES in responding to their community needs. Among them are ANADES, The Baptist Church ¨Disciples of Chirst¨ (IBDC)  and Comunidades eclesiales de Base de El Salvador (CEBES).

The MR visit to Guatemala and El Salvador. Photo taken by Stanley Toews.

ANADES (Asociación Nuevo Amanecer de El Salvador) is a non profit organization formed by the basic ecclesial communities in El salvador that supports children and women´s rights and responds to those who are excluded and marginalized in the Salvadorian society. ANADES has many preschool/daycare programs throughout the country and the Material Resource group visited two of them located in the municipality of Perquin, Morazan and San Salvador. Linda Dickinson, the material resources coordinator in MCC Alberta, reflected on her experience: "We visited a daycare in Perquin - they've received canned meat and school kits over the years.¨
The MR group also visited IBDC, its farm and the communities where they work. Part of the trip was visiting specific families to listen to their stories. Many of them were affected by the hurricane Ida in 2009 and are now living in vulnerable shanties. Wendy Kropf-Cotter, the material resources coordinator in MCC Ontario, wrote about her experience there:
¨MCC has helped La Linea by providing school kits, hygiene kits and some relief kits. We also send canned meat to this partner. When the meat first arrived, the people tried eating it right out of the can, and were disappointed in the product. The church leadership realized that the ladies didn’t know what to make with this meat, and so they called the women together and asked them all to create recipes using it. They rallied and came up with many delicious recipes.
After our time at La Linea, we travelled to to Rancho Finca Canaan (The Promised Land) to spend an afternoon with many from the congregation and spend the night. Seven women were asked to cook their MCC meat recipes and provide us with a sampling. We were so blessed by the generosity of those who have so very little. The sharing of this food was a moving experience, as we watched each woman prepare her dish, and pass it around for our tasting and comments. Tacos, lasagna, empanadas, stuffed peppers and three versions of pupusas were received with great praise by the MCC staff. The women beamed with pleasure.¨
¨ We went to Perquin and met a group of women who work together to overcome trauma from the war and who encourage each other to make handicrafts that they can sell and supplement their incomes with.¨ shared Arthur Mann, the Material Aid Resource Centre Coordinator, referring to the time he spent with CEBES.
The MR group also participated in activities that engaged them with the historical background of Guatemala and El Salvador such as visiting the Monseñor Romero Center and Martyrs museum, El mozote, and the national cemetery of Guatemala City.  ¨We learned a lot about the conflict that El Salvador has just come through. Benito (El mozote tour guide) took us to a memorial that commemorates the lives of over 1,000 people brutally killed by the military in 1981. People are making sure that we remember so that this will not happen again¨. Arthur added.


Women from CEBES show their sewing work used as a trauma healing tool to represent their memories of the civil war. Photo taken by Stanley Toews.

The second part of the trip was spent in Guatemala city and Santiago Atitlan with some of the MCC partner organizations in those areas: AMAR (Academia Menonita de Artes y Recreación, which stands for Mennonite Academy of Arts and Recreation) and ANADESA (Asociación Nuevo Amanecer de Santiago Atitlan).

ANADESA is currently working in many different projects, and providing workshops and classes for women in the communities of Panabaj, Tzanchaj, and Chukmuk is one of them.  Andrew Keeler, one of members of the meat canning team, commented: “It was neat to see how the projects used the meat and other resources to enhance the community. It’s not just handed out and forgotten.”
¨ We are all different, and yet we are all the same, and together we share what we have with each other. This might mean money or goods, or time or community or friendship.¨ Wendy reflected from the devotions held at IBDC.

Photo taken by Stanley Toews.



For more information:

http://www.anades.org/


Special thanks to James Wheeler for making this video!