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.
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.
This 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. Following 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