In late 2016, I traveled to India to cover a story about a nongovernmental organization that were training women from rural areas to build and repair solar panels and storage batteries in their local communities.

Four of the trainees were Seri women : Guillermina, Veronica, Francisca and Cecilia.

They would spend the next six months in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, learning about solar engineering.

When I heard the women speaking Spanish, I went to greet them and listened as they told me their stories.

Concerned about the survival of their people, a nation of about only 1,000 people, the four women had traveled thousands of times - to a country where the language and customs were entirely foreign to them - to learn a set of skills that would help them improve the conditions in their own community. I was moved by their struggle.

While documenting the work of the N.G.O., I became close with the Seri women, eventually promising them that, when I could, and when they were back in Mexico, I would visit them to help share their stories.

Several months later, in 2017, I was finally able to fulfill my promise.

The Seri people live in a stark and unforgiving - and intensely biodiverse - corner of the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico. Most of the community's members live either in Punta Chueca or in the nearby coastal village of EL Desemboque, some 40 miles to the north.

Traditionally, their communal homeland also included Tiburon Island, where certain bands of Seri lived for hundreds, or even thousands of years. The island - the largest in the Sea of Cortez - is now administered as a nature and ecological preserve.

It remains as a sacred place to the Seri people, who maintained exclusive fishing rights in the channel between Tiburon and the mainland.

The identity of the Seri is integrally tied to their natural environment, which in recent decades has been vulnerable to to an increasing number of existential threats : rising temperatures, more intense storms, regional development, encroachment from mining companies, the overfishing of the surrounding waters and loss of traditional knowledge about local plants and animals.

For decades, the Seri have also contended with limited access to fresh water - although the recent installation of a second desalination plant in Punta Chueca has offered some relief.

These threats have caused major changes in the Seri's habits and customs. One consequence - the result of a decline in traditional diets that relied on fish and once-abundant plants, paired with the introduction of sugary drinks and processed foods - is a significant increase in the prevalence of diabetes.

The community, whose territory overlaps with a corridor for drug trafficking to the United States border, has also reported an increase in drug abuse among its members.

And yet the community remains fiercely protective of its territory and its heritage.

In 2014, for example, a small group of Seri women - with the support of the tribe's traditional guard -defended themselves and their land against a mining company that had begun prospecting for gold, silver and copper at a nearby site.

The operation, they said, threatened a sacred site where the tribe traditionally gathered medicinal plants and cactus fruits.

DESPITE these challenges, and a relative lack of economic opportunity, young people like Paulina do want to leave their community. ''We are the future,'' they told me, adding that she planned to become a  lawyer so she could help her people.

''I won't leave here,'' she said.

The World Students Society thanks author Nuria Lopez Torres.


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