I am writing at the end of a wonderful and productive day in Agua Prieta. We just returned from a visit to an after school program called ‘Sembradores de Esperanza’ which translates as “sowing seeds of hope’ or “sowers of hope”. I discovered the program two trips ago (as time is measured in Mexico trips), when we had planned to visit orphanages where other wealthy donors had already been and given plenty of gifts. I did not want to go where there was plenty, but rather where there was greater need. I asked the President of the Rotary Club to take me where nobody else was going, where nobody else had helped. I didn’t want to waste a penny of the funds entrusted to my care, determined to make a difference with every dollar and every visit. He took me to Sembradores de Esperanza and thus the new aspect of this project began.
The Agua Prieta portion of the “Shoebox & Beyond” project uses backpacks (‘muchillos’ in Spanish) in lieu of shoeboxes, thus the children are able to make use of the bags every day. We include school supplies in the backpacks along with some warm clothing and simple toiletries. I budget a very limited amount to buying backpacks and contents because I believe that the muchillos are simply the key to the door of the community.
We travel throughout the community, giving the backpacks to children in desperate need, using this key to the door as we prearrange visits to schools and orphanages. In this way we are granted a very private peek into how things are run and where the greatest needs are. As a result of this insider view, we can assess where we will spend the bulk of our funds; focusing our investment on sustainable, long-term projects.
In my travels I meet with teachers, mentors, principles, parents, press, and more to gain a fuller understanding of the inner-workings of the community. The Rotary Club here supports and encourages that we do that. They are proud and very involved. It is truly an honour to travel through the city with them as they have a powerful network of business associates and friends who are all just like family members. They epitomise all that is good about Rotary in the bonds they have created throughout Agua Prieta.
This morning I was at a school called La Paloma that the government built near the Colonias (the slum areas to put it bluntly). It had no electricity; hence no light, no heat, nor computers. In addition to the backpacks, we take school supplies to the teachers there to try to support their work in this tough environment. The supplies are simple; things that we Canadians take for granted: sticky notes, markers, construction paper, and more. The children sit in freezing cold classrooms with their coats on. I don’t know how they can learn in the bitter cold.
We gave almost 100 backpacks to the gracious and happy students. After, we meet with the principal and teachers and wander through the cold school building. The teachers assure us that our modest investments are stretched as far as possible, and that the education these children are receiving is making a difference. For them. For their families. For their futures.
Rotary donations have supported a few projects at this school, and today I see another one taking shape.
At La Paloma, the teachers have started a reading club. Their efforts are greatly hampered by the fact that they have no library. They dream of a small library; a few shelves in a small room is all they hope for. With books and some simple carpentry, the whole project would cost no more than $1000. Not at all like a library that our Canadian children enjoy. Far simpler but unreachable in this environment. I record the details and hope that we can make another dream come true here, especially when literacy is at the heart of this dream.
We travel in the late afternoon to Sembradores de Esperanza for a much anticipated visit. This part of the Colonias is the most poor and the most heartbreaking area I have ever seen. We are deep into the poverty-ridden Colonias. It is all I can do to keep from weeping. I remind myself that we are here to bring help and not tears.
I take pictures and make notes. These I will take back to project donors to show them where their dollars can have the most impact, providing opportunities to change the direction of young peoples’ lives.
The children who are able to attend this after-school program at Sembradores de Esperanza have to be collaborative and show a strong desire to get through school. They come from homes fragmented with drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, abandonment, neglect and more. Although they are elementary school age (6 -12yrs) they have seen the worst of the worst in life. For the program, there is a waiting list. Only 45 kids get to attend Sembradores de Esperanza under the careful care of Angelica the tiny teacher whom all the kids unequivocally respect.
The students go to school all day and then afterwards they come to Sembradores de Esperanza for mentoring and other help. The objective is to remove them from the negative influences that await them at home for as large a part of their day as possible. The kids go from being dropouts to A and B students. To remain in the program for the designated two or three years, they have to be respectful and work hard. I see the evidence of that clearly in the reports from Angelica and from the director. Most importantly I see it in the faces of the children who look at the visiting Rotarians as heroes.
Last year we provided two computers and a printer. We had no idea at that time the seed that we ourselves would sow with that gift. But, after we bought the computers, other sponsors heard of Rotary’s contribution, and collectively bought ten more. WOW! Sowing seeds of hope indeed.
The first time I went to Sembradores I saw that the only water available to the children was from a dirty hose on the ground and I was outraged that it was all they had. Now, thanks to D7080 they have a water tank of their own, filled with clean water and attached to a beautiful water fountain. They have sports equipment and computers thanks to Rotary, and most importantly they have encouragement as they see that some people who don’t even know them care about their future.
The statistics and reports from the director bear out the results that we have brought to this little program. But there is so much more that we can do for these kids to make sure the service remains and meets their needs.
This year I am delighted to be accompanied by Janet Lucas from the Rotary Club of Burlington Lakeshore and her husband John, who are firsthand witnesses to the magic happening because of our Rotary relationship and involvement in this community. They have been infected with the desire to do more and even bigger things thanks to D7080 and the Rotary Club of Agua Prieta.
District 7080 ‘Shoebox’ Team Leader, Agua Prieta Mexico
Rotary Club of Kitchener