New Library in Mexico

New library signifies changing attitudes in Mexico colony

Old Colony minister Johan Harms (back row far right) and civic leaders, Jacob Fehr, Cornelius Unrau and Johan E Fehr (back row) and Franz Enns, Johan B Fehr and Peter Enns (front row) at the opening of the Biblioteca Colonia Manitoba library project.

From MCC Canada

Gladys Terichow
March 28, 2006

The opening of a community library in a conservative Mennonite colony in Mexico signifies changing attitudes towards literacy and education, said Peter Enns, a civic leader (Vorsteher) in the Old Colony church.

“We are noticing that there is a better understanding of the scriptures when people can read it themselves.” said Enns, speaking in Low German in a telephone interview following the official opening of the library named, Biblioteca Colonia Manitoba, March 9, 2006.

The library will improve literacy skills and raise the educational level of people in the Manitoba Colony, he explained. “We believe the library is a good thing and wanted to see it completed.”

The 2,800 square foot/260 square metre library is located in Lowe Farm, a village in the Manitoba Colony near Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, Mexico. The library is located on the same property as the municipal office and is owned and governed by the colony.

The civic leadership invited Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to assist with the building project, cataloguing of books and staff training. Short-term workers, Mina and Harold Fehr of Winkler, spent the past five months in Mexico providing this assistance.

In consultation with the a school committee, the library project evolved to include a resource centre for teachers, storage area for school supplies and a retail store for sale of school supplies and books.

“Now the teachers have a place where they can feel at home—a place where they can sit down to prepare their lessons, read, study and have meetings,” said Enns, who played a leading role in making the project a reality.

Franz and Anni Harms

Biblioteca Colonia Manitoba staff, Franz and Anni Harms in the Biblioteca Colonia Manitoba book store at the opening of the library project in March.

The library project was started in response to a $100,000 Cdn. /$88,000 U.S. gift from the estate of a Manitoba attorney and Mennonite historian and writer, Delbert F. Plett. In addition to designating this monetary gift for a library in Manitoba Colony, Plett had also requested that books from his personal library be donated to the library. About 1,000 of the library’s 1,500 books are from Plett’s personal library

Enns, one of four men elected to serve as civic leaders of the Manitoba Colony, said Plett’s generosity had taken the colony leadership by surprise but they felt comfortable accepting the gifts.

“He would have given this careful consideration,” said Enns, explaining Plett was well known in the colony as an enthusiastic advocate and promoter of the colony’s history and culture. Plett, who passed away in 2004, is the founder of the historical journal, Preservings, a magazine that focuses on the history of Mennonites who have a Flemish Russian background.

Kennert Giesbrecht, editor of Die Mennonitische Post and member of the Delbert F. Plett Historical Research Foundation Inc., said the presence of ministers from the Old Colony church and other churches at the opening ceremony were visible indications of the widespread support for the project. A plaque acknowledging the contributions of Delbert Plett has been placed near the entrance.

A minister of the Old Colony church, Johan Harms, is managing the Biblioteca Colonia Manitoba library project and his children, Anni and Franz, are the first employees. Die Mennonitische Post offices in Manitoba, Ontario and Alberta have been designated as collection depots to help fill the shelves of the lending library and book store. The library accepts books in the German, English and Spanish languages. A committee will be established to screen the books.

The library is only one of many changes designed to improve literacy and support schools and teachers, said Mary Friesen, who coordinates MCC Canada’s Programs with Low German Mennonites.

Another significant change in the Manitoba Colony is the introduction of a central school committee responsible for school curriculum and teachers training. Seven Old Colony schools are part of this committee and about 25 per cent of the 1,600 students in the Manitoba Colony attend Old Colony schools that are part of the school committee, said Friesen.

Manitoba Colony has a population of 17,000 people and is the largest Mennonite colony in Latin America. The colony was organized in the 1920s following the mass migration of Mennonites from the Old Colony church in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

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