FOP’s Dream So Big- a message from John Kerr

Oaxaca Kids CanIt is very exciting when you have the chance to influence the life of a child in a positive way as we all know. Especially if it involves the lifelong benefits of education! I believe it is a once in a lifetime opportunity we have to directly and profoundly influence the lives of hundreds of kids lives…and that is the opportunity that has been presented to us in our Oaxaca Kids Can Program.

First, on behalf of the hundreds of sweet and wonderful Oaxacan kids living around the Oaxaca City Municipal Garbage dump, we say thanks Steve Peifer and family for providing us a wonderful model that we are going to use to change the lives of these very needy kids and their families.  This is the most dramatic, exciting, and powerful project FOP has every undertaken and we already know it works.

As mentioned above, we call this project OAXACA KIDS CAN and it had these three elements:  Extremely poor schools, involved and supportive parent groups who want their kids to succeed in school,  and a supportive principal and staff.  And it would not work if we didn’t have Bonifacio Luis Hernandez as our FOP Director in Oaxaca.

Steve Peifer was/is a missionary in Kenya who just could not get over the hunger he saw in Kenyan kids.  Their resulting inablility to concentrate in school and get the education they desperately needed he saw as so unfair, and he found it very difficult to observe.  Kids who were hungry all the time…who lived with hunger every day.

He prayed that he would never get used to it and he didn’t.  He just couldn’t stand it…and he did something about it…big time! He brought a meal to an exceptionally poor Kenyan school one day and it was obvious to him that these kids had nothing or very little to eat before arriving at school. Steve then figured out that he could deliver a nutritious meal to his schools for a surprisingly low price with amazing results.

Five years ago we had a group named Sustainable Health Abroad survey the families in the Vicente Guerrero area that surrounds the Oaxaca municipal garbage dump, the poorest of the poor areas in the area.  We have a community center in this area and through our Bonifacio, our FOP Director, we support 14 needy schools with books, supplies, adding classrooms, and just about everything.   Through the survey we discovered that 80% of the students in the area arrived at school having eaten NOTHING AT ALL or only bread and COFFEE!!! Our extremely poor Vicente Guerrero kids were arriving at school in basically the same condition as the kids in Steve’s Kenyan schools…and of course one of the ugly consequences was poor academic performance for almost all.

Neither group was getting a nutritious meal at school (many were not getting one good nutritious balanced meal all day) and in both cases school days were ending early to mid-afternoon.  That is a long time with nothing nutritious to eat!…in Kenya and Oaxaca it was near impossible to teach in the afternoon. Steve describes in his book arriving at one very poor school in the afternoon and finding all the kids in one classroom lying on the floor!  Why???  They had such poor nutrition that by early afternoon they didn’t have enough energy to sit any longer!

As Steve Peifer is proving, extremely poor kids can do very well in school but not if they don’t eat!  The 18,000 Kenyan kids now in his program are getting a nutritious meal every day at school. The schools have a computer lab and instructor…funded by “your friends in the United States who love you” and they are thriving!!!  We want to give these wonderful Oaxacan kids the same opportunity.  They deserve it!

Oaxaca Kids Can

So how did our Oaxaca Kids Can Project happen?

Four years ago Karen and I arrived home after our typical Friday night of a movie at our very cool local theatre here called Salem Cinema, dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant called Cristos, and a glass of wine for Karen and two for Juan (maybe three?…probably two).

It was still too early for bed for so I flipped on the TV and there weren’t any good games on so I went to CNN.  The program “CNN Heros” was honoring Steve Peifer and his program Kenya Kids Can!  (It is interesting to note that I had never seen it before and have never seen it since!)

I was spell bound…totally enthralled…watching the inspiring story of Kenya Kids Can and Steve Peifer. I thought, “Damn!!! I bet our VG kids are arriving at school hungry, in about same condition as the Kenyan kids. Our Oaxacan school students, living across the dirt road from the dump are having a tough time in school also, and the teachers and the parents are frustrated too!  I can’t see any reason why a program like Kenya Kids Can wouldn’t work in Oaxaca too!”

And thus in August of 2011 we raised enough money to start Oaxacan Kids Can in Vicente Guerrero, Oaxaca, Mexico.  We wanted to start with a breakfast program at the Simbolos Patrios Primary School, the poorest and largest of this group of 14 schools, right accross the street from the Oaxaca municipal garbage dump.  One of our most faithful longstanding donors gave a donation to run the breakfast program for six months…then another six months.

Our Director in Oaxaca, who we call Boni, was and is the prefect man for this job.  It took us a while and we ended up serving our first meal when school started in August of 2012!

We needed to get the parents of the Sim Pat (Simbolos Patrios) students on board and the faculty as well in preparing the location for our program.  The 14 schools in the area we work have very little in the way of supplies etc…almost nothing in the way of books, notebooks, instructional materials etc. but they do have strong parent groups who are involved and care, and they do have amazing teachers and principals who care…and they have Boni, FOP, and you and me and that is a lot.

Two weeks after we served our first meal at Sim Pat it was obvious that we had a big winner on our hands!  Parents were telling us that they had never seen their kids so enthusiastic about going to school.  Some kids were asking their parents if they could go to school on the weekend! The staff at the school said the kids were much more attentive in class and it was possible to teach during the afternoon classes. In fact they were able to add 30 minutes to the school day.

Before the Oaxaca Kids Can breakfast attendance ran around 80 students per day.  Now we feed over 105 kids per school day and it is rising.  We will be adding the Computer Lab to the Sim Pat School before school is out and we have selected our second school to have our OKC breakfast and computer lab program, hopefully in 2014.

I visited Simbolos Patrios for the first time about 8 years ago.  There were three or four tin shack school rooms stuffed full of these beautiful kids and I am going to try and locate my photos from that visit and post them on my blog alongside this years photos.  Thanks largely to the first MAPS Credit Union Employees team and a few others who raised the funds to “encourage” the government, five beautiful new permanent buildings have been built right there across from the dump…and they have the OKC Breakfast program!  The school and its student body has been transformed and of course none of this happens without strong parent group participation, dedicated teachers and staff, and our wonderful community leader Boni!

SO…We started our prototype at Sim Pat in August of 2012 and I visited for the first time last week when I was there with the second Maps Credit Union Team, my long time friend Mark Wulf, and our Executive Director Lindsey Thomas.

I didn’t lose it!…no never…well, I kind of did I guess.  To look at more than 100 kids eating a really nutritious meal…and to think we played a role in this together…I was a bit overwhelmed at times…found it difficult to talk…had to spend a moment or two by myself to gather myself…seeing these sweet, really cute, fun and funny kids…many whom I know… loving the wonderfully nutritious lentil with carrots and other stuff, stew or thick soup (another day it was eggs and beans)!  Coming back for seconds…big smiles…I asked maybe 25 kids, maybe more, what they thought about the meal at school and they obviously love it!

I couldn’t help but reflect on, and ask the others on the team to remember, that before this program 8 out of 10 of these precious little beauties were arriving here with only bread and coffee or nothing at all and getting nothing nutritious for the rest of the school day!!!  Look at them now!  They look better, are more healthy, more energetic (understatement), and are doing much better in school and attendance is up 20%!  OKC is a winner!  Look what we have helped Boni, the parent group, and the faculty do!

The new principal took quite a bit of time to spend with us and tell us how wonderful it was and how great it was for us to see the potential in these kids who live in the area of the municipal garbage dump because no one else does, not even his own friends! No one wants to go there!

It is weird huh?  Because our teams love to go there because we love the Sim Pat kids and we believe in them…we believe in kids like Blas (go to our web site and see our wonderful WAVELENGTH video about Blas. You will be glad you did.) and believe they are going to do some amazing things.

It is moments like these when a wonderful guy like the Principal of Sim Pat says some really nice things about you that I am most proud of Boni and FOP, Lindsey and our Board, our teams and our volunteers and all the good work we are doing together…so I tried not to embarrass you because I look like a monkey when I cry.  Un ugly monkey not a cute one…maybe a baboon. 

Thanks for all of this!  I am now going to post some really cool photos if I can figure out how!

Juan/John/Pops 

PS.  To know more about Steve Peifer and his program I strongly recommend his book:  A Dream So Big.  He is an amazing person.  Spiritual, humble and very funny!  It has 155 reviews on Amazon and is 5 stars!  Read it and you will know why we are so excited about this program and the potential for these kids!

Oaxaca Kids Can returns for the new school year

Students are back to school at Símbolos Patrios, seen here eating breakfast at the Oaxaca Kids Can Program. Over 100 students are thriving in the classroom- they have even extended the school day by a half hour!

Please visit Oaxaca Kids Can to learn more about the program

Oaxaca Kids Can

FOP Team 52 and OAXACA KIDS CAN!


This past Fall, Friends of Pimpollo Team 52 served breakfast with the OAXACA KIDS CAN! Program- A unique way to connect with community members and school children. It looks like they had fun!

Oaxaca Kids Can- The power of combining a nutritious meal and computer lab

Si­mbolos Patrios Elementary School, located in the Vicente Guerrero community by the Oaxaca municipal garbage dump, is home to our newest program,  Oaxaca Kids Can!

Oaxaca Kids Can is a prototype program modeled after Steve Peifer’s Kenya Kids Can (www.kenyakidscan.org). The program combines an on-site nutritious meal and an on-site computer lab. At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year we began serving a nutritious breakfast to the nearly 100 students at the school. Prior to the program, 80 percent of the students came to school having had a breakfast of bread and coffee, or nothing at all.  The Oaxaca Kids Can Program will expand to include the on-site computer lab and courses next fall.

After only the first week, parents and staff began to provide us with positive feedback on the children’s behavior, which includes increased attendance, improved attitudes about school, and paying better attention in class. Parents described that their children are always excited for the school week to start.

Debuting a new FOP Program: “Oaxaca Kids Can”

Students at Si­mbolos Patrios elementary enjoy daily breakfast at school through “Oaxaca Kids Can”, a new FOP program being implemented in the school located next to the Oaxaca municipal garbage dump. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting new project!

We Are Back and Better Than Ever!

Welcome back to FOP! We’ve been off the radar a bit, gracias a the transition to a new intern and a lot of people traveling/getting kids back to school. The 2010/2011 intern, Marina, has finished her full-time internship, although she’s still helping with our new Oaxaca Kids Can program (more about that below!) and we’re thankful for her help. My name is Rachel Mills, and I started as the FOP intern in July. When I first heard about Friends of Pimpollo from Lizzie Martinez, the 2009/2010 intern, two years ago, I thought it sounded like a neat little organization. Key word: little. In the last three months, in changing from the new hire to the intern involved in myriad aspects of the organization, in translating reports from Vicente Guerrero and Pimpollo and Tuxtla Learning Center, in brainstorming for events and keeping records and processing donations and planning for our November team, I’ve learned that there is nothing œlittle  about Friends of Pimpollo. As the leaves fall and we leave the sluggish summer behind, here’s an update on FOP, from the œnewbie’s  perspective.

Team 50

The countdown to Team 50 is almost into single digits, and the flurry of activity as we arrange lodging and agendas and transportation is giving way to pure excitement: we are sending out FIFTIETH team to volunteer in Mexico. We are an organization with one paid employee and 12 years of history, yet fifty teams of people have believed in us enough to give up their time and volunteer with our programs. That’s pretty darn awesome!

It is also exciting to note that this is our very first corporate team! Team 50 boasts a total of fourteen people, including myself, President John Kerr, Board Member Julie Hoy, and three long-time supporters of FOP, Roy Cook, Susan Castor, and Wayne George. In addition, we are partnering with Maps Credit Union for the Oaxaca portion of the trip. The Vice President of Development, Jill Nowacki, is the team leader for a group of eight, including the Board of Directors Chair Joe Phillippay and Director Tom Marks, as well as Barbara Cecil, Bobbie Concepcion, Paige Pena, Oscar Porras, and Stephanie Young. The majority of these group members are new to Friends of Pimpollo, and we welcome the wave of enthusiasm that they are bringing. We are excited to head down to Oaxaca with them and enjoy one another’s company for a week of work, education, enlightenment, friendship-building, and fun! I’ll try to keep blogging while I’m down there, so stay tuned  .

Wears My Shirt

We also have another exciting partnership in the works, this time with a T-shirt sales/marketing organization called Wears My Shirt. Basically, WMS works with nonprofit organizations to design T-shirts to sell online and in retail outlets, and on each T-shirt, they include a code that leads you to a website tied uniquely to WMS and the nonprofit partner.

Picture this:

You walk into Target and see a T-shirt with a design you like, so you buy it.

You go to your computer and type in the code from the shirt. This takes you to a special FOP website, where you spend hours exploring the

  • contests (for uploading photos or videos of people wearing our shirts)
  • map so you can mark where in the world you’ve worn the shirt
  • forums for comments or ideas
  • photos and videos of the kids getting an education because you bought a cool T-shirt
  • information about FOP, our mission, how to volunteer, and how to donate
  • links to our Facebook page, to our website, to our œstore  and products, and to our blog

You get (more) excited about FOP and tell your friends, so they buy T-shirts.

Someone wins an iPad or a trip to Mexico, you all get excited and start getting (even more) excited about FOP, and we send scholarships to (even more) deserving college students.

All of that, just from buying a T-shirt. Pretty neat, right?

Right now, our friends at WMS, including founder Josh Unruh, are working on some T-shirts and another project, a sugarlump. A sugarlump is the feeling you get when you do something nice for someone else, and the WMS sugarlump project is designed to teach kids about that feeling by helping them help others. We are planning to kick-off our partnership with WMS at the holiday party in December.

Oaxaca Kids Can and Building Healthy Habits

In the upcoming months, we will be starting two new projects in cooperation with the community center in Vicente Guerrero. One program is based on the project run by Steve Peifer, Kenya Kids Can. Peifer runs a program in Kenya where he began by serving breakfasts to students, because he found that kids weren’t able to focus on an empty stomach. He then expanded that program to include computer labs and teachers. (Check out Kenyakidscan.com for more info. It’s pretty neat!)

In Mexico, John Kerr, Marina Cheatham, and Bonifacio Hernandez are starting a similar program, which we hope to begin in January or February. Vicente Guerrero is such a low income community, and we believe that education can change that. Providing breakfasts will convince parents to send their kids to school, and providing computers will give the students incentive to come and give them access to the education that changes lives. Makes sense, right? We can’t wait to see how it goes!

Also in January, Lindsey Thomas, a health education major at Linfield College, will be moving to Vicente Guerrero to start a program called Building Healthy Habits. Lindsey plans to teach health lessons at the schools, focusing on prevention- teeth brushing, hand washing, exercise, nutrition, etc. She will also plan activities at the community center that will reinforce these lessons, ranging from sports teams to nutrition talks. Lindsey studied abroad in Oaxaca in the spring of 2011, and she saw firsthand the passion that the children had for learning and the social issues that keep them out of school. She hopes that her program will prevent problems and give the children the boost they need to succeed. FOP is working with Lindsey, and we are looking forward to watching her program come together in the next few months.

Portland Celebration

Last but not least, we want to recognize all of the friends who celebrated with us and supported us at the Portland Celebration on September 28. The program included an update on Vicente Guerrero from Cecelia Monto, a presentation from students at the Queen of Peace school, Loretta Brenner and April Edwards on their experience as the volunteers of Team 49, and John Kerr’s talk about the education scholarship program. Last but not least, Julie Hoy entertained us all with her music, beautiful as always. It was a fantastic night, and to everyone who attended, thank you!

If you weren’t able to come, live in the Portland/Salem area, and would like to attend future events, contact us via info@friendsofpimpollo.org and let us know.

FOP clearly has a lot going on, and even with it all, our programs are running wonderfully. We are celebrating two graduations, a successful summer program with 84 students, and a smoothly operating Pimpollo Home for Children. Your support is changing lives, and we thank you for it!