Alternative Education is Secured for Children from San Miguel Viejo
By Jesús Aguado
San Miguel Viejo is a rural community situated near the former train station on the new road to Guanajuato. The community has fewer than 400 residents living in 64 houses, where there are no computers. In fact, in that community, 10 houses do not have a floor of concrete but of soil, and eight have only one bedroom. Fifty-four families have television, electricity, and a drainage system. Over six generations, residents have attended school. However, the average level of education does not exceed four years.
Because of this problem, Ojalá Niños was created, to help young students from San Miguel Viejo to have a space that provides materials, ideas, and guidance for exploring their ideas and discovering their talents. They can find out what they like to do and what they are capable of.
Currently Ojalá is located at the house of Elsmarie Norby, Ojalá’s initiator. Now the property will be expanded, thanks to the purchase of an adjacent plot, where a community-learning center will be constructed for the children and their parents.
Ojalá and Elsemarie Norby
Ojalá Niños Foundation is a nonprofit organization that offers 110 children of San Miguel Viejo an after-school model of education. The institution provides a well-rounded program allowing the children to explore their strengths though art, music, and literacy. It also guides them to start cooperative businesses. All the classes and guidance are free.
Elsa, as she is known to the children, arrived in San Miguel in 1994 and knew since the first morning she woke up in San Miguel that this would be her home. “If you really want to experience peace and joy, go to any rural village in the world, sit, and have no plans. Children will find you and will show you. Follow the children,” says Elsmarie. After 12 years working in a nonprofit organization called ONIE that offered music programs in public rural schools, this American decided to retire eight years ago, following loss of financing and a partner. She just wanted to rest and live a tranquil life in San Miguel Viejo, but children found her. They used to come to her door and call out, “Elsa, Elsa!” With no plans at all, she let them into her house and lent them colored pencils, paper, and scissors, and they began to draw and to be entertained.
The number of children visiting her started increasing. That led her to decide to start Ojalá in order to provide them a place where the seeds of self-confidence are planted and nurtured. According to Verónica Ramírez, director of programs, Norby has made more room for the children. Nowadays, her whole house and Veronica’s fill with more than 100 children who come to express their creativity after school. Norby is a 75-year-old musician, artist, and photographer who does not get tired of working. In the TOSMA (organic farmers’ market), there is a stand where the art created by children is sold.
Norby’s or the Children’s House
Students in the community go to regular school from Monday through Friday from 7am to 2pm. After school, they can go home, eat something, and get ready for going to their Ojalá classes at 3pm. When visitors go to Elsa’s and Verónica’s houses, they can see children painting apple trees next to a river, sheep, and even a false Picasso. They also paint all kinds of houses, landscapes, and fruit.
In another workshop, the girls learn to sew, making dresses, bags, skirts, and even fabric toys for cats or adornments for key rings. Gisela, the teacher, comments that the students are pretty smart, and they have made their own skirts for their uniforms. This information was confirmed by a shy 13-year-old girl who commented that she had made a skirt for her school uniform, but she abandoned the workshop because she was not that attracted to sewing and wanted to experience something different. She was making a tiny convenience store where the potatoes were made of popcorn. Another girl proudly showed a fish that she just made with colored fabrics.
At Veronica’s house are the youngest children, whom teacher Clara guides to model fruit with clay. Each of them is making a specific fruit. The volunteer teacher explains that once the children have finished the fruit, it will be dried. In the meantime, they will team up to make a fruit bowl, which will be decorated with the pieces. “They will not be fired, just painted, because we do not have a kiln,” said the teacher.
Next to this group, there were more children making some mobile objects with colored pipe cleaners. I wanted to look closer, and Gustavo came to me, telling me they were making dreamcatchers. “I will hang mine in my window to scare those bad spirits from my room and also to catch nightmares.” Other children came to me and, smiling happily, showed me what they had done. In the meantime, Adelita explains that in many cultures people believe that those items are for filtering people’s dreams. The dreamcatchers purify the dreams and catch the nightmares, which are stored in a stone. In the morning, when the sunlight lights it up, the nightmares are burned. At both houses children are happy, playing and learning at the same time, building their dreams, finding their strength and fulfillment unconsciously—Ojalá Niño’s mission. Three 14-year-old students have been learning at Elsa’s space since she arrived in the community in 2007. They work with stained glass, and now that they do a more professional job, they sell their products at the farmers market on Saturdays and also at La Abeja on calle Correo. Of the revenue, 80 percent is theirs and 20 percent goes to a fund. The work of these students also fulfills another of Norby’s missions, “to resurrect the paradigm of cooperatives and not the corporate spirit.”
Ojalá now and for the future
In January of this year, a new board of directors for Ojalá Niños was formed. The executive direction is under Irma Rosado Soto, former director of the Nonprofit Organization Department of the local administration. The treasurer is David González, who said that he has the challenge of administering the donors’ money in the best way.
González explained that their first achievement was the purchase of the land next to Elsa´s house, a 450-square-meter plot, a piece of land that Norby had always wanted to buy with the idea of constructing a community center where not only children can learn, but also their parents. That center would include a computing room, a community eatery, a small theater, and more workshops. Currently just half of the price has been paid, and the organization is seeking more funds in order to legally possess the land.
Norby assures that in the future, Ojalá Niños will have not just that community center, but also her house, which will be donated to the organization. “When I die I will leave my house for Ojalá.”
To participate in the organization with your time, funds, or talent, contact Irma Rosato at email@example.com or visit www.ojalaninos.org.