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Oaxaca Kids Can – A Dream Bigger Than You Can Imagine

 
John Kerr with students 

If you were to ask Friends of Pimpollo founder, John Kerr, what his ambitions are with his “Oaxaca Kids Can” breakfast program, he would likely stop you right there and tell you that Oaxaca Kids Can (or OKC) is not a breakfast program. He would say this firmly, because it is an important distinction to be made within the organization he began 15 years ago.

Oaxaca Kids Can Students

OKC is, first and foremost, an education program. Breakfast just happens to be a key phase within the education program. Before anything else, prospective schools for OKC are evaluated based on several criteria in order to determine whether or not the program can be successful. The evaluation begins with school’s faculty—are they committed? Do the teachers truly care about teaching the students? Are they committed to helping them learn? If they are, FOP then looks to the community and the parents—are they similarly committed? Do they realize the opportunities that greater education provides for their children? Are they committed to fostering the intellectual growth of their own children as well as the children in their community? If all of these elements line up and the community fully supports the school and the faculty, then phase one can commence: daily breakfast.

This process first began in August of 2012, when OKC served their first breakfast to the students at Símbolos Patrios in Vicente Guerrero. At the time, about 78 students were coming to school every day, and thanks to a survey done by Sustainable Health Abroad, FOP discovered that 80% of those students were coming to school having either eaten nothing at all or only coffee and/or a tortilla. On a diet like that, developing children can hardly keep their eyes open long enough to be awake for lunch, much less be able to learn and retain knowledge throughout the course of a school day. But now, after implementing nutritious daily breakfasts, there are more than 140 children attending classes at Símbolos Patrios every day. On top of the increase in attendance, 75% percent of the students have raised their grades. Through the Oaxaca Kids Can program, Friends of Pimpollo is now providing a nutritional meal to more than 140 children at Símbolos Patrios, giving them the sustenance to not only stay awake throughout a full day of classes, but also providing them with the food necessary to foster learning and physical development.

However, what makes OKC more than just a breakfast program are the phases that follow after successfully implementing a daily breakfast program. Through OKC, Friends of Pimpollo has also built a computer center at Símbolos Patrios that opened in November 2014, exposing these children (and the entire community) to some of the wonders of technology, further expanding the reach of education for these students and giving teachers virtually unlimited resources for expanding curriculum to the children—and even the adults. There are now educational programs that reach from kindergarten education to adult education, effectively creating an entire community of educated individuals, from young to old.

New computer lab imagesThis program, as John will tell you, is based on the model of “Kenya Kids Can,” a program started by Steve Peifer and documented in his book A Dream So Big. Discovering Mr. Peifer’s work was an unforeseen consequence of boredom on John’s part. Having returned home from dinner and a movie with his wife, Karen, four years ago, John turned on the television hoping to find a basketball game. John proceeded to scan through the channels and serendipitously settled on a segment of “CNN Heroes” honoring Steve Peifer’s work with Kenya Kids Can. John immediately knew that he could take Peifer’s model (a proven success currently feeding and educating over 16,000 children in Kenya) and bring it to the extremely impoverished Vicente Guerrero community and its schools, which are situated around the perimeter of the Oaxaca municipal landfill.

That is where we are today, with ambitions to grow, much like Kenya Kids Can. We have identified and evaluated the next four OKC schools and are already providing breakfasts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the second school, Adolfo Lopez Mateos in Lomas de la Cuesta. Once we have the funding to proceed with daily meals, the next step for Lomas de la Cuesta is to construct their computer lab—the building site for that has already been determined. FollowingBreakfast at Símbolos Patrios that, OKC plans to also build and supply the community with a library—a phase that will be implemented into all of the OKC schools from hereon out.

After explaining all of this, John will then reiterate that this is not simply a breakfast program. Oaxaca Kids Can is actively changing lives. Vicente Guerrero is the poorest community in the Oaxaca City area, which is the largest city in one of the two poorest states in all of Mexico. Because of Oaxaca Kids Can, these children are not just getting breakfast five days a week—they and the entire community can pursue their dreams. So far, Friends of Pimpollo has helped the students of Símbolos Patrios to realize they now have an opportunity to succeed on a much greater scale. They are no longer a forgotten community, living among the landfill of Oaxaca City. They are learning. They are being educated. They have the opportunities they need to actively pursue their dreams.

Oaxaca Kids Can is not just a breakfast program; it is not even just an education program. Oaxaca Kids Can is a vehicle in which entire communities can realize and pursue their dreams. ■

By Ryan Bakken

OKC Students at Adolfo Lopez Mateos

West Salem and Chemeketa in VG

This summer, students from West Salem and Chemeketa traveled to Vicente Guerrero. The highlight for many was serving breakfast at the Oaxaca Kids Can program and awarding diplomas at the Adult Education (INEA) graduation ceremony.

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Beautiful Lucy, Part 2

This is the fifth in a series of blogs from our Founder, John Kerr, reflecting on his recent trip to Oaxaca.

We are in day 4, approximately, in what is rapidly becoming one of the greatest trips to Oaxaca I have ever taken.  And I haven’t even gotten to talking about three wonderful highlights that will come later:  Cheli, our amazing law school graduate who spent her childhood at Pimpollo and took a week of precious vacation time to come down from Guadalajara so we could do this together; Aida, another Pimpollo, who is an Industrial Engineering graduate, living in the Oaxaca area, who took a large part of the week to join us; and third, our fun and lively party for all the Pimpollos living in the area that we could find.  Later on those three…back to my Rx of Two Flowers per Day for Two Days…

Everything was going great—really great—and I didn’t really think I needed any more medicine, but you are suppose to take it all, right? I certainly wasn’t expecting anything, but about 10:00 am we were at Símbolos Patrios and here comes Noemi, with her mom, Lucy, sister Arely (who is two years older than Noemi), and Noemi’s little brother, David.

Noemí in New Computer Lab

Noemi in the new Símbolos Patrios computer lab.

Noemi came up to me kind of like she was a representative of the whole family and gave me another flower, completing my prescription.  There were kids running around—I mean we are on a play ground at recess—but there were no words—just a cute, really cute little kid making 13 years of an old guy’s life worthwhile…that’s all.  Nothing more to it.  Yes, Noemi, I accept this rose—and it was a rose.  I think. (I still have it. I will ask Karen.)

So here I am, standing with this beautiful family. They are expressing their appreciation in the very best way they know how, and to me it is the absolutely very best way it could ever be done. Things go quiet for a moment—just long enough for me to reflect on what has happened on this site in the past 12 years.

This school has gone from three, pretty ugly tin shack schoolrooms on the outside (though beautiful on the inside because they were chuck-a-bluck full of cute kids!) with so few books and notebooks that it made my friend Ellen cry on our first visit.  Today, there are seven permanent, beautiful classrooms and a permanent kitchen where they serve a nutritious meal every day. In addition, the attendance has gone from about 78 kids to up to 140 since we started the breakfast program, and there is now a computer lab with 10 computers and beautiful tables and chairs.

The Símbolos Patrios story is an incredibly one and FOP has been in the middle of it from day one.  (Remember Ellen?)  I will write this story in greater detail soon so our donors, team members, supporters and staff can enjoy the remarkable accomplishments they have brought about at the Símbolos Patrios School.

Lucy’s oldest daughter, Arely, in the new computer lab.

But what about Lucy?

Having the opportunity to spend some time at Símbolos Patrios with Lucy and her family was an unexpected pleasure. Lucy and Boni were showing me the kitchen and explaining Lucy’s job, and then we just hung out for a while.  It was the day of the grand opening of the computer lab and the covered basketball court. There weren’t many classes going on. I noticed that Lucy was using a few English words—only a few—but we were able to communicate really well—my lousy Spanish notwithstanding.

Lucy has three children. Arely is now eleven, Noemi is nine, and David is seven.

Lucy works two jobs. At one, she washes clothes for a family that has money, but these jobs pay notoriously little. At the second, she is one of the cooks at our Oaxaca Kids Can program. She has these jobs so she can keep track of her kids and keep them in school. This is very important to her. And get this—she has found a way to enroll in accounting classes and she goes into Oaxaca for these classes!!! She is able to do this all while being a single mom.

It is heartwarming to see Lucy interact with her kids.  They are all very affectionate and it appears that they are a unit and lean on each other. I asked them who gets the best grades.  They all seemed pretty proud when they pointed at their mom and said, “Mama does. She get’s 9’s!”

Beautiful Lucy.

“It is not how much we do. It is how much love we put in the doing.” Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Beautiful Lucy

This is the fourth in a series of blogs from our Founder, John Kerr, reflecting on his recent trip to Oaxaca.

The user name for Noemi’s mom’s email is Bella Lucy, which translates to Beautiful Lucy, and that is the truth as far as I can see.  She is one of the three moms that serve the nutritious meal at the Símbolos Patrios Elementary School to the approximately 140 students who now attend. Although it pays very little by our standards, it is an attractive job to the moms who live by the landfill and Boni wisely rotates it among the responsible ones—those he knows he can count on to show up everyday—and this is Beautiful Lucy’s year.

As many of you know, before we started the “Oaxaca Kids Can” breakfast program, we had a study done and we discovered that about 78 kids attended the Símbolos Patrios School daily. 80% of those kids arrived at school having eaten nothing at all or only tortilla and coffee!!! Poor kids have hunger issues and frequently just do not attend school for a number of reasons.

So 20% of the 78 kids arrived at school prepared nutritionally to concentrate all day…and mathematical genus that I am…that comes out to just about 15 students prepared and ready to go…GOT IT!!!!  15 students of 78 are nutritionally prepared to concentrate for a full school day (the numbers are approximate of course).

OK…NOW…AFTER OUR OAXACA KIDS CAN BREAKFAST PROGRAM…THE ATTENDANCE HAS GONE UP TO NEARLY 140 EVERY DANG DAY AND 100% ARE GETTING THE NUTRITIOUS OKC BREAKFAST…100% ARE PREPARED AND READY TO GO…100% OF 140 IS 140!!!  AND THAT IS VS. 15 OR 16 STUDENTS BEFORE…140 NOW!!!  FROM THIS ONE SCHOOL APPROXIMATELY 125 MORE KIDS GOING TO SCHOOL EACH DAY THAT ARE PREPARED TO CONCENTRATE AND BE GOOD STUDENTS.  THIS IS GOING TO HAVE A HUGE IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY!

And, we have started our beautiful COMPUTER LAB AT THIS SCHOOL…IT IS COMPLETE AND IT IS BEAUTIFUL. AND THESE 140 PRIMARY SCHOOL KIDS WHO LIVE AND GO TO SCHOOL RIGHT ACROSS FROM A HUGE…HUGE GARBAGE DUMP…are also going to reap the benefits of technology like OUR kids do here!

Please join us in what is already becoming the most exciting venture in the history of Friends of Pimpollo!  We need your help as our generous donors are the central part of the success of this program…without you, of course, we can’t do much and they can’t do much…and we have 13 more schools yet to go as there are 14 schools total in the greater Vicente Guerrero area that surrounds the Oaxaca Municipal garbage dump.  With time and your help we can do something that is going to be incredible for some wonderful, deserving kids and families!!!

Call me (503) 881-0931, email me at juankerr@me.com and/or find me on Facebook if you want more info.  Or you can contact the FOP Office at info@friendsofpimpollo.org.

Oh, about beautiful Lucy.  I apologize for getting carried away…and all the CAPITAL LETTERS and !!!!!!!’s.  Lucy is a great story but this is enough for today.

Gracias!

John/Juan

Stay tuned for these upcoming blogs: “Beautiful Lucy Continued…Part 2” and “Juan Will You Accept This Rose? … Part One”

“Alone I can’t do anything…together we can do something beautiful for God.”    Mother Teresa

The Doctor’s Rx

This is the third in a series of blogs from our Founder, John Kerr, reflecting on his recent trip to Oaxaca.

Rx for DISAPPOINTMENT: Take two flowers, or as needed. One per day for two days…be sure to complete the entire Rx for best results

Noami is an all-world cute and all-world sweet 9-year-old 3rd grader whom I have written about before. Who wouldn’t love this age group?  She is smart, fun, and funny. And she still thinks adults might be smart, fun, and even funny!  Well, maybe not smart.

Every time I am at Símbolos Patrios we hang out a little and we laugh and have fun.  I will stay away from the word “favorite” but will rather say we have a special connection!  All who have been to Oaxaca will understand.

So I am looking for Noemi for the second day in a row and I am told she has moved on to another school.  I tried to hide my disappointment in front of all the other really wonderful sweet kids who are at the Símbolos Patrios School.

Two of them took off racing to find a teacher who seemed to know where all the departed children would be.  I sort of moved on and was talking and having fun with a group of about 7 kids when I locked eyes with this one—a very familiar one—and I said, “Wait a minute precious one. What is YOUR name?”…and I knew who she was and she knew who I was before her slightly tilted shy little face sweetly smiled and came out with a big smile and softly said “Noemi!”…Gulp…!!!

I can be such an emotional sap!  It ain’t pretty…but I did pretty well…I said, “We are special friends, aren’t we!” and she affirmed that with a very big grin and a little hug…I could tell she was happy about the whole thing. How the mix up happened about her being at another school we never figured out. I was pronouncing her name correctly…kind of…but surely that was part of the problem. Even Boni couldn’t figure it out. But, unlike my travel ventures (more on that later), all is well that ends well, right?

Juan y Noemi

So Noemi went off to play with her girl friends for a while and I toured the new computer lab with Boni.  About 30 minutes later Noemi came back with some of her friends.  She stood right in front of me…she is not very tall…extended her arms straight up to me and in them was a big beautiful yellow flower.  No, she didn’t have one for everybody. Just me and I didn’t cry…well kind of almost didn’t cause it was very sweet…and lots of people get like that when they take their prescriptions.  This one made me feel better than any of those I take everyday for this and that!  And it was totally organic with no co-pay!  And it didn’t make me drowsy…in fact it made me feel incredibly energetic like I wanted to dance!!!  And I have never felt better not even after red wine. Thanks you, Noemi!

We know that there was an 80% probability that Noemi and her sister and brother were arriving at school having eaten nothing or only tortilla and coffee.  And Friends of Pimpollo has worked hard to raise the money to provide Noemi and the other wonderful kids the nutrition and technology they need to get the education they need. At times it is hard!  We need more money so we can take our programs to more schools and more kids like Noemi and we need more good people to help us with our fundraisers and our committees.  But it sure gets a lot easier when you see the value of the FOP programs reflected in the love of  a poor child who is benefitting greatly and having her life and the life of her family changed by FOP programs.  Come with me in March and meet Noemi and the other wonderful kids we serve in Oaxaca.  It will change your life too.

Gracias,

John

Up next: the second part of the Rx…Cheli arrives and more about Noemi’s family.

“It is not how much you do, it is how much love you put in the doing.”  Mother Teresa

Orquestra Basura: The Garbage Orchestra!

This is the second in a series of blogs from our Founder, John Kerr, reflecting on his recent trip to Oaxaca.

Second day: Friday November 7th…

Boni to Juan:  “I will pick you up at 8:30 am sharp at Sylvia’s.” (Sylvia’s is the awesome $20.00 US per night with hot water and breakfast included where we always stay.)

Juan to Boni:  “How about 10:00 am?”  (I am tired from a first night in the Zocalo and my frantic day of flying.)

Boni to Juan:  “No, better do 8:30 because we are going to a concert and we don’t want to be late!”

OK dudes!  How about a concert with Orquestra Basura—loose translation is Garbage Orchestra—to start the day?!  Go Boni!  I am all in…yawn…zzzz…ok…. LET’S ROCK!!!

We drove the 30 minutes to the community of Vicente Guerrero, home of the huge Oaxaca municipal garbage dump. Bonifacio Luis Hernandez, FOP’s community organizer supreme, operates the center and works with the 14 schools that surround the dump, in all sorts of important matters. At the FOP Community Center there is a very large open and covered area that was all set up with hundreds of seats already filled with school kids of the 4th -8th grade variety. The kids were ready and so was the Orquestra Basura, all the way from Mexico City!  They looked the part and they had a great sound.  Soon I forgot what time of day it was and was rocking along with the rest of them!

The music was LOUD, fun, really good rock music, and the kids—everyone actually—went wild!  I have video if you ever want to see it and go crazy yourself!

I saw a bunch of kids I know from the Símbolos Patrios School where we have our Oaxaca Kids Can program and they recognized me; that was the icing on the cake for me on the concert. It was cool to have this community concert at the FOP community center and it shows you how well Boni and thus FOP’s activities are integrated into the lives of the people.

Orquestra Basura  Rock concert!

All this time I am looking for my special Símbolos Patrios friend, Noemi, and I was a little disappointed not to find her. More on that later.

So how much fun can you have in Oaxaca…how great a day can you have when traveling with FOP to Vicente Guerrero?  More fun that just a rock concert in the morning and this is hint #1 why you should go on a FOP team trip!

After the concert, we stayed at the community center and the Book Mobile arrived. There were dozens of kids and a number of teachers there to take advantage of the opportunity.  The Book Mobile is like a truck or van that looks like what used to deliver our clothes from the cleaners about 100 years ago when they did stuff like that.  It is fully loaded with books.  The kids seem to love it like it was the ice-cream truck or kettle corn man or something like that.  It was very exciting and motivating to be around these motivated kids and very enthusiastic teachers and interested parents.  All reading or being read to at tables or under the big tree at the community center.  Boni is bringing in the Book Mobile many times per week and it is a big hit!

I am reading A Path Appears by Nicholas D Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  Nicholas is from Yamhill County, and both write for the New York Times. They wrote the amazing book Half the Sky and they have won a Pulitzer Prize.  In A Path Appears, they make the case for kids learning to read early as well as for parents to read to children. No age is too early to start. These practices lead to academic success perhaps more than anything else we know of. I have talked to Boni about teaching the value of reading to your kids at early ages in his adult education classes.  In addition, Boni and his Book Mobile are fostering reading at early ages!

Book Mobile

It was so exciting to see that these very poor kids who live in this garbage dump community have a tremendous desire to read and learn and that they are fed by very enthusiastic teachers who believe in their potential!!  Their parents are involved too.  With Boni and our support I personally believe you are going to see some pretty amazing things come our of the dump community of Vicente Guerrero—making it instead a hot bed of educational successes!!!  How cool is that going to be?

I want to thank you for everything you are doing to make this good work possible.  Without you we have nothing but some pretty dang good ideas!  Gracias.

Juan

Attendance skyrocketing at Símbolos Patrios

Oaxaca Kids Can Program:

“The children often ask their parents on Saturday and Sunday if they can go to school. They love the school breakfast!” -Símbolos Patrios parent

Attendance at the elementary school is skyrocketing- Between 120 and 130 students regularly attend class!

Lined up for school breakfast at Símbolos Patrios

At 10:30 am, a nutritious meal is served that provides over 100 students with the energy to thrive in the classroom. Before, hungry students struggled to focus as the day went on. Now, the school day has been extended by a half-hour and performance has skyrocketed in the classroom.

OKC

Students helping students

A big round of applause for the St. John the Apostle fourth grade class- their efforts and generosity will provide nearly 750 meals for students at Símbolos Patrios Elementary School in Vicente Guerrero, Oaxaca.

Thank you!!

SJA fourth grade