It 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!
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!
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!