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Paying it forward, getting it back

By Janell Meador

This is a story of people helping people, of paying it forward and getting it back.

Casita Linda, a Mexican nonprofit organization, builds hope one house at a time. They raise funds through donations and benefit events organized by many devoted volunteers. On February 14, Casita Linda hosted a benefit at Plaza San Arvino: Get Loose Under the Goose. The event was a ‘60s-themed party to raise funds to build more homes, so it is no surprise that they didn’t want to spend a lot of money on decorations.

The sound you hear now is the mighty engine of San Miguel de Allende’s volunteer train building up steam, connecting its cars. Lyn Garwon of Casita Linda connected with Colleen Sorenson of Muros en Blanco, a project that seeks to bring youth to urban art intervention. Sorenson connected Garwon with Efrain González, artist, educator, businessman and, apparently, wandering angel. Gonzalez offered to contact Elsmarie Norby of Ojalá Niños, an after-school art, music and literacy program in San Miguel Viejo. Norby, who named González an angel, agreed that the Ojalá Niños would help Casita Linda by creating banners full of peace and love for the party.

Elsmarie Norby, who may also be an angel, moved to San Miguel Viejo six years ago for solace and seclusion. What she found was simply “the greatest thing in my life,” she says. Norby was an outsider in the village. The indigenous Otomi children walking by her house were curious. “The children were my first visitors,” says Norby, “My first friends.” She entertained them with art supplies.

“Follow the children,” is Norby’s guiding principle. She does not teach; she provides space, materials, ideas, and guidance. “The children are very considerate,” she says. “I have never seen so much as an argument. What I see is the most extraordinary display of joyful energy. The older children tell the younger ones to clean up and put everything away when they are finished, and they always say, ‘Thank you.’”

Today, Ojalá Niños includes over 120 children of all ages, has 16 teachers, and has become a model for after-school education in rural Mexico. The program includes art, music, literacy, and instruction in the cooperative business model. “No traditional schools give students insight into their talents in this way. I hope for them to learn pride in their abilities,” says Norby. “I want the children to be inspired to do anything they want.”

At the benefit under the goose, under the banners painted by Ojalá Niños, the moon was in the seventh house, Jupiter aligned with Mars, and Casita Linda realized their dream of raising enough money to build more homes for those living in extreme poverty. To date, Casita Linda has built over 85 homes, providing dignity and shelter for deserving families. Let the sun shine in!,,


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