CHIAPAS – Our most recent visit to Chiapas was different. In addition to the delegation that had made the trip from Italy, we were joined by many Mexican coaches from sites all over the country. Karla and Juan Pablo came from Queretaro, Juanjo, Roman and Robert from Silao and Ruben and Beto from Mexico City.

For the majority of them, it was a first visit to Zapatista country. In truth, few Mexicans have visited this area of the nation, with nobody allowed in without the consent of the local communities. Thanks to Inter Campus, which respects the local traditions and has been working to help hundreds of children for years, the entire group was given a warm welcome. The Junta de Buen Gobierno met us at the Caracol (literally, the Snail) building, which symbolises the Zapatistas’ idea of society as a collective hub around which all life revolves. Also waiting for us were 350 from the independent Zapatista secondary school and 150 local teachers.

Our time in the area was jam packed with activities. The days began at 6:30, with over 500 people heading to the pitch for their regular stretch out. The ten of us found ourselves at the middle of an enormous circle of people holding hands, with the movement of the group recreating the shape of the Caracol. Breakfast followed at 8:00, drawing a never-ending line of people all holding a plastic plate and cutlery, patiently waiting for their coffee, rice, beans and tortillas. Once the food was eaten, the dishes were washed and it was time for some fun.

Football took centre stage between 8:30 and 12:30, with our coaches working as one to oversee the 350 youngsters. We split the group up for three alternating sessions on the big grass pitch, which was bobbly in places on account of the goats and horses that share it. Each session was run by a pair of coaches, while Silvio led his groups along on the concrete pitch on the hill.

Next came lunch: pozol, a drink made from corn, and sweet rice made with sugar and cinnamon. Once the youngsters’ batteries were charged, we headed back to the pitches for full-size friendly games until the setting sun brought the day’s activities to an end.

When it was time to say goodbye, there was no better place to end our visit to Chiapas than the Caracol. This is a place where the community is fighting for democracy, for liberty, for justice. All of the schools invited to the farewell ceremony had been asked to produce a contribution, be that poetry, music or traditional singing and dancing. We couldn’t help but get into the spirit of things in the brightly coloured and packed-out assembly hall.

We look forward to visiting again next year to take the next step on the road to integration.