Children: Let Them Amaze You
The Girls of Las Varas
This is the story of three young women who spend their days at Escuela Preparatoria 20 de Noviembre, a high school in Las Varas, Mexico, a small farming village about sixty miles north of Puerto Vallarta. The name of the school is translated, “Preparatory School of November 20” which honors the start of the Mexican Revolution on November 20, 1910.
I’ve had the privilege to get to know these three young women while I have been observing the construction work going on at their school to upgrade facilities. The work is being done by over 100 volunteers from 25 Rotary Clubs in the USA and about 300 students, parents, teachers, and local tradesmen from Mexico. My job is to handle public relations, communications, and gather the stories.
From the start of the project on April 17, 2015, I have been impressed by all who are working together to remodel the premises in a very short time. This involved tearing out the main center section of the school to create a new chemistry and culinary lab, and building a new addition for a large computer classroom.
All are working hard on the project, but the ones who have really caught my eye are the students, who are at the job site every morning by 7:00 a.m., before classes start, and often stay after school till early evening, to help make their school an outstanding place to get a high-quality education in Mexcio. Both the boys and girls work equally hard, but it’s the girls that make me smile again and again.
Watch Erica work and you will see a young woman who displays leadership skills, manual labor techniques, and a work ethic that any construction foreman would stand up and notice. And she pulls this off effortlessly in the hot sun on a daily basis with a smile on her face - and - with laughter among her crew. Erica looks as young as her students that work alongside her, yet she is one of their teachers. If only we could bottle these outstanding traits of hers and share the elixir with the whole world. Just think how much could get done - and with smiles all around!
Talk with Lupita for a few minutes and you will soon find out that you are in the presence of a young woman who knows her strengths, doesn’t hide her potential, and avoids false humility. Here is what she said when I first sat down to talk with her the other day.
“I am President of the school!” she stated with pride.
“No, the whole school!” she beamed.
“Your English is very good!” I said, “Where did you learn it?”
“Here at school!” she answered with pride.
“Are you graduating this year?”
“Yes, and then I am going to the University in Tepic to study business administration.”
“And what will you do with your degree?”
“I will work for a big company, like my mother. I love my mother! She is a secretary for the water company.”
“What does your father do?”
“He’s a cowboy! He works with horses and cattle on a big ranch.”
“Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
“I love my big brother! He has the prettiest girlfriend.”
We laughed at that and then I asked Lupita if she could step outside in the sun so I could get a photo of her. We found a spot by a couple of bougainvillea bushes. As soon as I got the shot, I showed it to her.
“I am beautiful!” she declared, and we laughed some more. I told her as we walked back inside the school that she indeed is beautiful and it is a very good thing that she knows that.
When Ashley was in ninth grade at a school in Stockton, California, her family got word that her grandparents in Mexico needed help. They were getting up in years and could no longer care for themselves and their home. Without hesitation, the family decided to move to Las Varas, Mexico.
When Ashley arrived at her new school, she looked around and saw a dilapidated old building with classrooms in need of equipment. The science lab had only one microscope. The culinary lab had a table, an old stove in need of repair, and few utensils. The computer classroom had 26 old desktop computers and only six were working.
Everywhere she went, she noticed more problems with her new school which was an old tobacco barn. The metal roof absorbed the intense heat of the sun. There wasn’t much relief from the ceiling fans that seemed to swirl the heat downward. She longed for the comfort of air conditioning like she had in her old school in California.
Ashley felt upset. How could she adjust, not to mention find new friends in this foreign place?
In less than two weeks, things got better. And it wasn’t that the school suddenly got a new roof, new classrooms, new bathrooms with clean running water, air conditioning, or anything like that. What changed was Ashley’s outlook.
From her first day, students and teachers surrounded her with love and attention. Teachers stayed after school every day to help Ashley with her homework. She knew how to speak Spanish, but needed help with writing and grammar.
When I met Ashley a year and a half ago, when I visited her school in Las Varas as part of a Rotary Planning Team to assess the idea of remodeling the school, I noticed Ashley right away because she served to interpret our meetings with the school administrators. After the meetings were over, I complimented her on her impeccable English. That’s when she told me her story. And when she was finished, I asked how she like her school.
“I love my school!” she replied, and her dazzling smile said it all.
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