Friday, March 16, 2007

Rural Education

On Tuesday I rode out in the campo with some of the women who volunteer with Feed the Hungry. We turned left off the highway onto a paved road for a short distance and then on to an unpaved road and as we made more zigs and zags onto other roads and across the dry river bed, the road became worse and worse until soon it was a road of small boulders and potholes through the village and up a hill to a small school perched in the open with just a small tree or two. The school yard was fenced and inside was a large paved area. The school had a deep portico across the front and some playground equipment on the side. This was one of the 27 schools where Feed the Hungry has built a kitchen and hired cooks from the surrounding area to prepare a nutritious meal for the children everyday. The focus of Feed the Hungry is mainly in the rural areas where children are not getting enough to eat.
I had the opportunity to be in a classroom and photograph some of the children. The children are beautiful and lively and they were very warm and loving to us gringas. But as I looked in the classrooms basically all I saw were desks and blackboards. No stacks of books to read, no children's artwork on the walls, no children's written papers on the walls, no baskets of crayons, no pots of tempera paints. It is a very basic school. It is a school with very dedicated teachers who have few materials to work with. I have to tell you that my mind has been heavy with the problems that these children and their families face.
On the one hand, Mexico has so much potential. Recently the Financial Times ran an article about Mexico's economy which quoted Mr. Carstens, the new Financial Minister, as saying that Mexico today was comparable with Spain or Ireland two decades ago, and it could undergo a similar transformation in the years to come. Could Mexico become a fully developed nation in the next 20 years? There is no question the potential is there.
Although there are many political and economic issues that Mexico has to deal with, in my opinion one of the keys is education, especially education out in these rural areas but the children can't learn when they are hungry, really hungry. Feed the Hungry is doing what they can but they get more and more requests for other villages that need a kitchen in the school so that a nutritious meal can be prepared each day for the children. I don't know how they stay focused on their goal of feeding as many children as they can when I can see myself becoming so overwhelmed with all the needs in just one school.

See more of my pictures of the children here
Look here if you want to know more about Feed the Hungry
Read another point of view of the problems faced by children in the rural areas, Life Can Be So Hard.


Anonymous said...

What a stark contrast to the school where I teach in Mexico (see

I bought many hundreds of dollars worth of supplies (from my own pocket money) because I lacked much...though not as much compared to the schools you visited. Since I teach wealthy kids, parents are able (and happily do) provide me with extra materials. Still, I wondered how certain subjects were taught without a few basic things (like dictionaries). I had a workshop on this with my parents and later all 50 bought dictionaries for their kids (not Spanish/English ones either, but academic English dictionaries). I look at your pics and see so much the classrooms need. WOnder what the price of one of my ditionaries would have done for such a class? I am contemplating putting my own daughters in a poorer school next year. They now attend the private school where I teach...but we want to move to the country, enroll them in public school there and homeschool the English. If we do this, I am sure I will then REALLY exerience a culture shock. Keep up the good work, you are doing a WONDERFUL thing there. Wish I could go visit one area with you all.

John H said...

Billie, once I accompanied a group of young family violence counselors to Jalpa, just east of SMA. At the elementary school, I found the fourth and fifth grades sharing the same classroom--about 60 kids in all. They sat two to a chair. Yet, when a girl was asked to read part of the Mexican Constitution aloud, she did it perfectly, and I could see comprehension on the faces of the other students. How do they do it?

Billie said...

Claudine, I'm really doing nothing but there are so many volunteers who are amazing. And the teachers are so dedicated and concerned about these children. As I understand it this school has a pretty good rate of children that go on to "middle" school but it means walking out to the highway about 2 miles or longer when the river is full and then taking a bus. And this is just one of many schools in the rural areas.

I have visions of a bookmobile or some kind of library/resource space. There is a group who are refurbishing old computers to put in the schools who have some kind of an internet connection.

John, I think that Feed the Hungry also has a kitchen in Jalpa. I hope to get there also before too long. I hear that some of the schools are really overcrowded.

wolverinemx said...

It is sad... I share your opinion, the education is the key to resolve the problems.