Kids whose families are struggling face tremendous pressure to find a job, forcing far too many students to consider dropping out of school to work full-time, even before they´ve finished junior high.
Many rally to that article in the Constitution that declares every Mexican child is entitled to a free education. But the reality of public education is that the government pays the teachers´ salaries and the construction of the school building. The parents are responsible for the maintenance of that building. So when the school asks for supplies, they often ask for toilet paper and bleach more often than they ask for paper and pencils.
Every school has a registration fee, in the name of parents´ association dues, to maintain the building. Then teachers ask for bleach, toilet paper, and sanitary napkins, and $10 to $20 pesos every few weeks to keep the school functioning. Add in the cost of school supplies, uniforms, and backpacks, and this quickly becomes overwhelming!
How do parents who struggle to put food on the table manage?
Seeing the need of these struggling students, the Christian Relief Fund (CRF), founded the community center last year, with the help of a group of full-time volunters from Ft. Worth. The Christian Relief Fund provides funds for sponsored students to pay their school fees and school supplies, taking some pressure off of parents and providing a safe and supportive place for students to spend their afternoons.
So the community center got the word out, sent around questionnaires for interested families, and those families in the most need now receive uniforms, school supplies, and school fees from the Christian Relief Fund, as well as enrollment at the community center on a regular basis for homework help and enrichment classes. In Saltillo, the Christian Relief Fund currently sponsors 104 children.
The center is open every afternoon, Monday through Friday, and on Saturday mornings. Kids can drop in to do their homework and use the computers. They begin organized activities every afternoon with a short devotion and songs. Then they offer English classes, grammar classes, reading workshops, a career exploration class, and–everyone´s favorite–a “trip around the world” class, exploring different countries. A number of the moms like to join in for that one! On Friday afternoons, they take it easier, playing games and watching movies. Saturday mornings, they serve breakfast and make crafts, in addition to holding a solid class or two.
The children who attend the community center need to be sponsored by the Christian Relief Fund. Sponsored students are required to keep up their grades, write letters to their sponsors, and must visit the center at least once a month. However, many of the kids come just about every day. A number of the kids´ moms help organize snacks, maintain the building, and participate in classes of their own.
In just over a year, they´ve already met with some sucess stories. Brian was a bit of a troublemaker in the spring. The community center offered a day camp program during the summer, and Brian–despite his tendency to cause trouble–came every day. However, by the end of the summer he was volunteering to serve snacks to the other kids, possibly noticing that he got more attention by being helpful than by causing problems.
While the classes offered by the center are largely secular, the Christian Relief Fund does want this to be a place where participants can learn about God, so they begin the afternoon reading a Bible story and singing praise songs together. Now, for those who have spent any time in “church-y” circles in Mexico, it´s abundantly clear that Catholics and Protestants mix like oil and water. So, given the evangelical nature of this project, is the community center more welcoming to Protestant kids? Not at all! Of the current, full-time directors, one is Catholic, one is Protestant, and the third is at home in both camps. It´s encouraging to know that the leadership within this organization is taking a step to stop this inter-religious polarization. Thanks to the example of the directors, the kids who attend have the chance to learn about God together–regardless of their denomination.
Knowing that expats–particularly accompanying spouses–have a need to get out and get involved in the community, I asked if there were any volunteer opportunities at CRF Saltillo. They have a real need for a psychologist on a regular basis. Also, given the number of classes they offer every afternoon, they´d be happy to have volunteers to teach on a regular basis. They already offer English, and anyone with any kind of passion might be welcome to share that passion with the kids. For example, they used to have a dance teacher. But she is no longer able to come. Is anyone willing to fill that void?
If one´s time is more limited, come and share for their career class. This involves coming in once, for one afternoon, and talking about one´s chosen field of work. It´s hard to convince kids to study engineering if they have no idea what an engineer does!
And, of course, the CRF community center would love to have more kids sponsored! There are currently 14 kids on the community center´s waiting list, and they could easily find more. To sponsor a child, check out the Christian Relief Fund´s webpage here.
For kids who are thinking about dropping out of school in junior high, and the fact that high school does become an even bigger financial burden, the CRF community center in Saltillo makes it possible for kids to stay in school, when they might otherwise drop out to look for a job. A high school graduate is now able to continue her studies at the university level–an opportunity she would not likely have been able to take advantage of, without the help she received from the Christian Relief Fund.
The more education kids get, the more likely they are to break the cycle of poverty. The Christian Relief Fund´s community center is Saltillo is making some serious strides to give these kids the means to a better life.
photo credits: Emily Garcia