By Audrey Spencer

The Cove Herald

A Copperas Cove group's trip to visit the Mayan pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico, became an operation to help preserve the disappearing culture.

Members of the Temple of Ancient Wisdom, a spiritual learning center focused on philosophy and theology for the enlightenment of the community and world, traveled to Mexico for the last three years to support and encourage education and culture preservation for today's descendants of the Mayan civilization.

"They have thousands of people going to see the pyramids, and very soon the people who built the pyramids will be extinct," said Rafaela Jorge-Smith, founder of the temple.

Jorge-Smith described the trouble of trying to sway skeptical teachers at Escuela Primaria Miguel Hidalgo Costilla, an elementary school in Piste city, on the matter of teaching their students the language of their ancestors.

"They found it kind of suspicious. One of the teachers asked, 'What are you going to gain from this?'" said Jorge-Smith. "I said, 'We're going to gain your legacy.' ... Yes, you should teach them Spanish, but we'll pay for an after-school program or whatever it takes to also teach Mayan. Your culture and beliefs and even the quirky superstitious things, you need to keep those. They're part of who you are."

Jorge-Smith used comparisons of lost Native American cultures to help explain the importance of her cause to the foreign teachers.

"The Mayan language is dying off because they're made to feel inferior because they're indigenous," said Jorge-Smith. "It's kind of the same thing to happen here with the Native Americans."

Seven people went on the trip south of the border that lasted most of the second half of June. They spent some time in Mexico and some in Peru, where they are getting a similar operation started for the Incan culture.

The Temple of Ancient Wisdom members took 300 backpacks filled with school supplies to students of the elementary school and other children in the area this year.

"The children were so thankful," said Dorothy Hardy, an official with the temple who went on each trip to Piste. "It feels good, but there's so much to be done."

Next year, members hope to pay for renovations to the school, including painting the building, providing new furniture and installing a safer playground.

It was the first such trip for Jessica Amparo, Jorge-Smith's niece.

"Nothing I expected came close to the experience. I knew I was going to be doing good," said Amparo. "Once I got there and was able to see and feel them, the people and the children, that was something I'd never experienced. All the expectations can't compare to the feeling I had when I was there."

Preservation of culture is important to Jorge-Smith, whose ancestry comes from the Dominican Republic.

"The Taino culture where I am from was destroyed," she said. "In the main population, nothing is known about it."

Members of the temple pooled their own income and donations to pay for their trips and supplies, but it also faced trouble stateside.

Falling enrollment in the temple's school has led to decreased numbers taking part in trips.

"Our school is closed, because we had an exodus of students due to some of them not realizing what the purpose of the temple was," said Jorge-Smith. "The temple was designed for you to work on your own negatives and become a more loving individual with more understanding of the world."

The facility has faced hostility as well; the front windows still bear the cracks of a drive-by shooter.

But members stay committed to the temple and its causes.

"I'm fighting more for them than for me," said Amparo.

Contact Audrey Spencer at or (254) 501-7476.

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