06 December 2011

Oaxaca, Mexico

The trip to Oaxaca, Mexico was a couple of weeks ago and it definitely was a life changing trip. It put things in my life in perspective. Oh my goodness, I've never seen people work so hard. (I'll explain about the work we did at the Kindergarten in another post - with pictures! And then you'll see what I'm talking about.)

The program is set-up as in we're helping the community with their project. It's not our project. This way the community is taking the pride in the school and when it needs repairs they will step in. The program fees paid for the supplies (these are very poor communities) at the school we worked at and other schools in the area. You may be thinking, "why is the government not paying for these schools." The government supports schools in wealthier areas not schools in the city dump and outlining areas. Which is where we are working.

We went to visit the other schools that received project funds from our program fees to meet the kids and see their projects. The families in these areas were so thankful for us that each school threw us a fiesta and just kept feeding us. Every meal had meat in it. These families are so poor that they're lucky to get meat once a month.

There were so many students at these schools but we only had a few supplies, but we did have enough to give the teachers notebooks and each student a pencil. Yes, you read that correctly a pencil. And those kids were so excited to receive it. Some parents tried to take the pencils from their child since it was lunch time, but they would not give it up. Some kids were grasping the pencil so tightly that their knuckles were white.

One girl was asked "You have your pencil and your pencil sharpener, how come you haven't sharpened the pencil?" She replied "We're about to eat lunch and I might break the tip. If I break the tip some of my pencil has been wasted. I don't want to waste my pencil." One little boy loves art and math so he wants to be an architect. He was so excited to get a pencil so he can work on what he loves.

Did I mention that these homes and these school buildings are tin shacks? No electricity and no running water. Their bathrooms are an outhouse - which is a smaller tin shack. At one of the schools the bathroom is slanted because it's on a small cliff's edge. Don't worry this is an important project and money has already been given to their school to build a new outhouse and the ground has been broken.

Once a school has been operating for a certain amount of time the government is required to build them a building. The school that is literally in the city dump has been operating for that amount of time. The government is building them an actual building! Two days before our team leaves the government came back and said that the community needs to raise 55,000 pesos for the building to be built. The leader of the organization that we went with (Friends of Pimpollo) said it will happen. He didn't know how it would happen but it will happen. So the government began breaking ground. This very poor community that scavenges through the dump to survive did everything they could to raise money but were only able to raise about 9,000 pesos and they were afraid that the government would request the money any day.

The night before we visited this school we were chatting and our team (I had the opportunity to work with some amazing people on this team) began to pitch in money. Some were only able to pitch in a little and some were able to pitch in a lot. In less than 5 minutes we came together and were able to raise the money this school needed. The leader in Mexico speaks English but it's limited and we were talking too fast so he wasn't sure what was happening. After the money was raised he was told "It's done." He only was able to get out "You guys..." and then he started to cry and then we all started to cry. Did I tell you we were out to dinner? The waiter came and brought us all new napkins.

The next day when we went to visit this school the kids were amazing! (All the kids were amazing. They have big plans!) They put on a cute performance for us as their "illustrious guests." The agenda was to discuss fundraising ideas with the school. So after the performance a boy about the age of 8 gave a speech (that's where the illustrious guests came from) and he said he had never thought he'd ever be able to attend school in a concrete building with windows. He mentioned that their parents have done all they could to raise the money but haven't been able to and he had asked us for our help. I think our whole team was crying during this speech. It was wonderful to watch their reactions as John (team leader) told them that we raised the money the night before.

There was so much that we did and I would love to share more, but this is already super long.

I've been Christmas busy and haven't had time to process the photos (boy do I have lots!), so I'll have another post (hopefully soon) with stories and photos. (You'll get to see all the hard work we did at the Kindergarten, the other schools, the community center, and some ruins!)


Sherri said...

That pencil sharpening story hits home...because, my kids sharpen their already sharpened pencils because they enjoy sharpening them. I often ask, why are you still sharpening that thing...it's already as sharp as it can get...because it's fun...ummmmm...totally different lives! great post!

Ivon said...

Stef, thanks for sharing part of your trip, and I look forward to more. I am so proud of you. Love you.

Laura said...

I'm so glad you were able to do this. What an amazing experience! Love you!!

Heather said...

What a wonderful opportunity and amazing experience! Thank you for sharing this. There's a family in our Spanish branch here who came out of desperate poverty in Mexico and risked everything to give their children a better future here. The mother can't read or write, but her children are graduating from high school with honors and going on to good universities. It's so hard for these families to leave their own people and customs and live in constant fear of having their family torn apart through deportation. And then there are the mothers I've known who actually leave their young children in the care of relatives and come here to work in the fields and canneries so they can send money back to their children to give them some chance at escaping the cycle of poverty through education. It's heartbreaking to see them ache for their children but know that this is their one best chance at giving them a decent life. I'm so glad to know there are successful efforts being made to give kids a real chance in their own communities.

(Sorry for the long comment, but your story touched on a topic close to my heart!)