From March 16th to 24th 2019, our Canada Chapter continued the Education Project, “Our Continent from North to South” in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with the aim to provide healthy environmental learning for underprivileged children in rural and isolated communities. We returned to the Boca de Tomatlan school, where our first visit took place. We followed up with progress and continued the refurbishment work of the library space. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Yelapa School Community, we began the second part of our project, focusing on the environmental health aspect, in the Primaria and Secundaria schools, located in a small village at Yelapa, Jalisco. We aimed to provide the essential hygienic supplies. The schools also had a huge need on general school supplies. Overall, we brought over 200 interactive English books, abundant school supplies and feature-rich laptops for the schools in Boca and Yelapa.
Since we were back from our visit from Boca de Tomatlan School in Puerto Vallarta last year, we have realized how big an influence we are capable of making in the children’s lives just by simply providing essential supplies and materials, as well as having the warm interactions with them. It was eye-opening to see the children‘s level of enthusiasm and how appreciative and grateful they were for our presence there. This confirmed the importance of visiting the local communities directly and showing the children love and care. This year, once again, we partnered with Isa Mundo Foundation (isamundo.org), a well-established non-profit organization based in Vancouver and Ottawa. After the last trip, our influence created exposure of GYLN’s work and received appreciation from the local community. Nearby schools located in Yelapa, a small fishing village southwest of Puerto Vallarta, would like to have us visit and support. The school community needs similar refurbishment work as the Boca school, and they are desperately in need of general school supplies. So, we decided to extend our project to support the schools in Yelapa.
Three months prior to the trip, we started planning with the local school teachers, Cynthia from Boca and Kelley from Yelapa. Between us, there were a lot of communications through emails such as discussing the direction of our project, estimating the budget, and organizing the logistics for the trip. We went all around Vancouver to gather donations of English books and purchase school supplies. In the end, we managed to gather five suitcases of books, school supplies and refurbished laptops to the schools.
1. Boca de Tomatlan School
We were excited to be back at the Boca de Tomatlan School to continue the work on the library space from last year.
This year, we provided an air conditioner for the school library, as there has always been a strong need for this here. During summertime in Mexico, the heat and humidity become really intense and cause computers to break down on operating easily; which is complicated to fix later on. This has been a major problem that the school has to face. The new air conditioner resolves this issue and we can ensure that the laptops we brought will last longer.
We also funded a projector used for lessons and a printer for preparing handouts and notes for the students. We also provided brand new chairs and a medium sized chalkboard, as well as an extra bookshelf and a cabinet for books and supplies. Moreover, we brought over an English world map and Atlas for the classroom so Cynthia can incorporate them in her lessons.
Besides, we have brought over 100 English books as well as some Spanish books for the school during this visit. It was wonderful to see the storage cabinets we bought last year filled up with a variety of school supplies.
We were very excited to see the students in the classroom filled with energy and full of smiles. We split the students into small groups for conversations and activities to reinforce their English writing and speaking skills. Although the students were all at beginner’s level, they were extremely friendly and welcoming. It was a heart-warming experience for both the students and us to reunite after one year.
We wanted to create something meaningful and long-lasting at the school and so we decided to start a wall mural activity with the students. After some discussions with the teacher, we agreed to create an environmental-themed mural, symbolizing everyone’s role in shaping and protecting our environment. The children were very enthusiastic about the activity and all took turns contributing to the painting. They loved to work with paint and showed their creativity in designing the mural. In the end, we were very proud of the mural. It added a warm and beautiful touch to the classroom.
We had a few physical outdoor activities with the students and played soccer on their playground.
Through the experience of the games, we noticed a few things with the outdoor space needed to be improved. The playground is elevated from the ground. Since there was no fencing on the side, the soccer ball kept falling off the playground and the children would jump off constantly to catch the ball. It is dangerous as the height from the ground was quite high. Students might accidentally fall off from the playground while playing and injure themselves. Many of the outdoor spaces were made of huge loosen rocks and the students were constantly jumping around. We suggested that in the future, a project can be done to build a flat surface over the rocks, so the students have a safer space to go about.
2. Yelapa School Community
Yelapa is a small fishing village by Puerto Vallarta, and it is only accessible by water taxi or private boats. The school community has four divisions: Kindergarten, Primaria, Secundaria and Prepa. Because of limited space, Secundaria and Prepa students share the same classrooms. We visited two campuses: Primaria and Secundaria/Prepa. The main objective was to improve the environmental health aspect of these two schools. For this visit, we began with providing basic hygienic supplies. We installed soap dispensers and toilet paper dispensers in the washrooms at both campuses. The students would be introduced to proper hand washing technique and habits to maintain personal hygiene. We also provided garbage cans for each classroom. Also, the water pump at the Primaria campus was broken down so there was no running water at the school. We planned to provide them the funding and resources to fix the pump. On the side, the printer at Secundaria school was not functioning and we started to look for a new printer for the school with supplies of paper and ink. The schools were also in need of books and general school supplies. We brought over 100 English books and many school supplies, including notebooks, pencils, markers, chalkboard erasers, crayons and much more.
When we arrived at the pier, Kelley was there to meet us. The roads in Yelapa were not well-developed and there were no cars for transportation. People got around by riding ATVs, horses or mules. We carried the luggage to Kelley’s English school called “Mi Escuilita”, and arranged an ATV to transport the luggage to the Secundaria school.
We participated in the spring festival organized by the Primaria students on the beach. They were dressed up as different forest animals and insects, celebrating the coming of spring.
We visited the Secundaria/Prepa school first. It was located deep in the village and we had a long walk up to the school. When we arrived at the school, we greeted the principal and she gave us a tour of the school. We went to the washrooms and checked our newly installed soap dispensers. We also discussed with the school principal and the teachers about their needs and potential future plans for the classrooms.
There were three classes in total in Secundaria. For each class, we interacted with the students and explained the goal of GYLN and the work we did. They were curious about our involvement and some even wanted to join. We had a great time interacting with them, it was a nice experience to exchange ideas and experiences. Then, we distributed the books to individual students, and they were so happy to own an English book.
One of the challenges we faced was the uneven roads in the village, where it is difficult to drag and carry the luggage. On arrival, we introduced ourselves to the teachers and discussed the conditions and future plans for the school. Then, we started to assess the condition of the campus.
We visited the classrooms and the dining room, including a little kitchen for the teachers to cook. The teachers also washed their clothes in the same room and hung them outside to dry because there was not enough room in their small living space.
We checked the washrooms and set up the soap dispensers.
For this school, we saw a lot of safety issues that should be addressed immediately. We were shocked to find that because the space was so limited two teachers were living inside a very small room whose ceiling was falling apart and may collapse at any moment. The living environment was dangerous and unpleasant, and thus the turnover rate of the teachers was quite high.
The pathway in front of the bathrooms of the school was elevated from the ground, without any safety protection. The teachers informed us that a lot of students got injured by accidentally falling offs. Ledges should be installed to ensure the safety of the students. Safety should always come first before education, so this is a high priority for the school.
3. Casa Connor
Casa Connor is a facility for the program called Pasitos de Luz (pasitosdeluz.org), a non-profit charity that provides care for children with disabilities from low income families in Banderas Bay, Mexico.
We volunteered at Casa Connor again, and we were happy to see all the children and staff again. This time, we also got to meet Peter and Teena, the founder of Casa Connor. From discussion with the owners and local staff, we knew that they were trying hard to fundraise for the program, because they provided the service for families for free and the cost to maintain the facilities was high. Hence, they were finding ways to lower the cost such as growing their own garden to self-sustain their food supply. Together with Isa Mundo Foundation, we donated a Vitamix Blender to the facility.
We helped feed the children.
Although this project trip went smoothly, we faced a few challenges. When we were planning the visit for Yelapa, there were many concerns regarding to the logistics: whether we could bring the heavy suitcases on the boat, how to get the suitcase on and off the boat at the pier, and the prices to include the suitcases. We made sure the suitcases were packed appropriately. In the end, we managed to bring three heavy suitcases filled with books and school supplies to Yelapa. It was also physically challenging to visit schools in Yelapa as some roads were very inclined and there was a lot of walking under the hot weather.
Overall, this was a productive and fulfilling experience for us. For Boca de Tomatlan School, we were amazed at how the library space was transformed from an unused storage space by the support of GYLN. For Yelapa, it was a wonderful experience to explore the village and visit the schools and the wonderful teachers and students. There is still so much work to do in Yelapa School Community. The washrooms need to be refurbished completely since plumbing does not work. There are safety issues at the Primaria school and installments of safety fences are required for some areas. The condition of the teachers’ homes is desperately in need to be improved. Most of all, they are always looking for donations of books and school supplies for the students. We will keep in contact with Kelley to continue our support for the schools.
We are so grateful to have the opportunity to provide a healthy learning environment for the students. The most inspiring moments were when the children showed us so much love. They were appreciative and thankful for everything. This showed us the importance of going back to connect with the local communities to show our love and support for the students.
We would like to thank all the donors who donated books and school supplies for this project, and also Cynthia and Kelley, the teachers in Boca and Yelapa for all their efforts in organizing and planning this trip with us. We also appreciate the sponsorship of flight ticket discount and checked baggage exemption from Air Transat.
Once again, it was a successful partnership with Isa Mundo Foundation, and we look forward to continuing our collaborations to serve the communities more.