‘When They Come to This Campus, They Feel Like They Are Home.’

National Headquarters  |  July 31, 2022
Tzu Chi USA Headquarters volunteers were invited to participate in the graduation ceremony of Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi in Mexico, on July 10, 2022, and gave each graduate a new school backpack filled with stationery as presents. Photo/ Songgu Cai

Written by Meizhen Qian
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Maggie Morgan

Tzu Chi’s heart beats across the globe, connecting humans through love and compassion and a shared purpose in bettering the world. No language barrier or difference in the background can break these bonds, and it’s miraculous to watch the ways in which it manifests. On July 10, 2022, a group of nearly 20 Tzu-Chi volunteers from the Los Angeles and San Diego areas traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to support the 66 children who were graduating from Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi. They witnessed first-hand the power of Tzu Chi’s positive impact that transformed an underserved community into a thriving middle-class neighborhood.

Community Development Built By Positive Energy

Part of the wasteland in Tijuana is inhabited by people who built homes with planks. Photo/ Songgu Cai
A view of the community. Photo/ Songgu Cai

In some parts of Mexico, graduating from elementary school is a major milestone for children and their families. Tzu Chi is sensitive to the needs of the communities they serve; Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi decided to hold the ceremony on a Sunday evening when most parents are not at work. As the Tzu Chi volunteers crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, they passed through a large area of makeshift homes of planks. Most of the shelters do not have electricity or a water supply, making living conditions merely for necessity and survival. 

A lot of the area surrounding Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi looks much the same: strings of slapdash shelter made of whatever residents could find. The sight speaks a lot of the quality of life for many people in Tijuana, doing the best they can with what they have. A volunteer from Tzu Chi was surprised to arrive in La Morita, the community where the school is located, as she saw a neighborhood quite the opposite.

La Morita is neat and orderly; it is a middle-class community with better road construction, streetlights, and fundamental utilities. There were 7 or 8 vendors on the road in front of the school, selling bouquets, baskets, toys, gift packs, and stationery to passersby. Vendors excitedly shouted to the parents, grabbing their attention before the ceremony to buy gifts for their children. Almost every student had their own private fan club; at least a dozen relatives dressed up and carried flowers for their graduation.

Vendors were selling graduation gifts in front of Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi. Behind them are the brick houses of the local community. Photo/ Meizhen Qian
Graduating Class of 2022 of Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi walked into the site in amidst cheers from guests. Photo/ Zongchang Song

“2022 has been a difficult year for the residents who just came out of the impact of the pandemic. Tzu Chi started building this school in this community in 1996, at that time, the area was desolate, but now, you can see how prosperous the entire community is,” said Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters, she was pleased to see the parents celebrating.

The vendors coming to the graduation today drove the community’s economy. It indicates the progress of the community, which is the result of the cultivation of a positive energy, and which takes a lot of people to make it happen.

Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters

Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi is the first public school in the world built by Tzu Chi in partnership with the country’s Ministry of Education. During the graduation ceremony, Debra Boudreaux announced, “We will build a basketball arena for the school, it can serve as an emergency disaster shelter, and we can hold our graduation ceremony indoors in the future.” The news was met with thunderous applause and cheers from the parents.

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Parents who came to the graduation ceremony were dressed up and carried bouquets and gifts. Photo/ Meizhen Qian
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School students attending the graduation ceremony held up signs in Chinese and welcomed visiting Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/ Shuli Lo

Implementing the teaching of Jing Si Aphorism

Tzu Chi volunteer Kurong Xie, who has long cared for the Tijuana community, recalled that the area previously had no water, electricity, or infrastructure, let alone a community school. When Tzu Chi volunteers from the U.S. came to distribute supplies, they observed the environment that residents were living in. 

They found that the locals had built two houses with planks, which didn’t even have roofs, to serve as classrooms for less than 10 children. The students were accompanied by their parents for self-learning. Volunteers couldn’t bear to see the dire situation, and it sparked the idea of building a school. Through the parents, Tzu Chi contacted the local education authority and obtained approval to begin construction. 

During the first phase, Tzu Chi USA built 8 classrooms, and in the second phase, the infrastructure of Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi was completed. Today, 90 percent of the community’s children attend Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi, and the school has become one of the top elementary schools in the area. Student performance is excellent, especially compared to the country’s norm. The average middle school graduation rate in Mexico is less than half (about 45%), so graduating from an elementary school is a major event for the entire family. 

In most of Tijuana’s underserved communities, the majority of students do not go on to secondary education after finishing elementary school. Kunrong Xie said, “Many families in Tijuana have children who go into child labor before they graduate from elementary school. During the pandemic, the school switched to remote learning, forcing children who don’t have the devices at home to drop out of school to work. As a result, this year’s graduates are almost half of that of the previous years. But it is gratifying that the principal mentioned that the parents of the 66 graduates this year are committed to allowing children to secondary education.”

The walls of Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi are donned with paintings of Jing Si Aphorism, done entirely by the students and teachers. The classrooms are tidy, with a large Tzu Chi logo on the back of each chair. The Spanish versions of Jing Si Aphorism are posted in the rooms for students to learn by themselves. This is not only a school with Tzu Chi hardware but also a space that quietly implements the Tzu-Chi philosophies.

The school's teachers are actively promoting the teaching of Jing Si Aphorism, which incorporates Mexican culture. The children are immersed in the teaching of Jing Si Aphorism every day. The school promotes the Tzu Chi philosophy one step at a time, which leads the community in a positive way.

Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters

The principal, Graciela Sanchez, was one of the first teachers at the school. She had visited Taiwan and met with Master Cheng Yen and was taught by Spanish-speaking masters there. Ms. Sanchez greatly respects the educational philosophy of Master Cheng Yen, and has been weaving it into the school for over twenty years.

Debra Boudreaux noted, “The entire campus is litter-free, and they have done a very solid job of implementing Tzu Chi education regarding environmental protection. The principal also mentioned that she wanted to teach Jing Si Aphorism in Chinese, which is really very thoughtful.”

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Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA Headquarters presented awards to the outstanding graduates at the arrangement of the school. Photo/ Shuli Lo
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Parents and students of the school joyfully took photos with Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/ Shuli Lo

Changing for the Better: Creating a New Home Through Hope

“Ever since Tzu Chi came to the La Morita community, there have been a lot of changes to the community.” Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi’s principal Graciela Sanchez affirmed. “We educate our children with Tzu Chi’s gratitude, respect, and love, ensuring that they grow up in a loving environment. When they come to this clean, beautiful campus, they feel like they are at home. “

Because of Tzu Chi's influence, we started to love nature and work with the community on recycling programs to maintain the tidiness and sanitation of the community. Parents have been called on by students during the implementation of environmental education in the community.

Graciela Sanchez, Principal of Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi
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The school teacher Flor Abigail Pech Aguilar and his son Diego Pech like Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi very much. Photo/ Shuli Lo
The 12 students who were awarded Tzu Chi prizes pose with volunteers and teachers. Photo/ Shuli Lo

I've been teaching here since 2009, and my eldest son Diego Pech came here to study. My son and I both agreed that we made the best choice by coming to Escuela Primaria Tijuana Tzu-Chi. Tzu Chi provides assistance and care around the world, and I have witnessed that Tzu Chi volunteers truly helped people in need everywhere. What we have learned here is that we should all care and help others equally, regardless of religious background or other factors.

Flor Abigail Pech Aguilar, a teacher at the school whose son is a graduate this year.

The school arranged for Tzu Chi volunteers to present certificates to the graduates. The volunteers handed out new school backpacks filled with stationery and awarded prizes to outstanding students as an incentive for them to continue their hard work. The final moment of the ceremony touched the audience of parents, teachers, and volunteers. Students put on a dance routine to celebrate their accomplishments. Joyful Mexican music brought all the guests to the playground to dance together. The children, through the performance, thanked their teachers and parents for their guidance, and also thanked the Tzu Chi volunteers for their continuous companionship over the years.

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Tzu Chi volunteers presented gifts to the school's teachers, thanking them for their dedication to teaching the children. Photo/ Songgu Cai
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Students, teachers, parents, and Tzu Chi volunteers joined together and danced to the music in the playground at the end of the graduation ceremony. Photo/ Zongchang Song

Even in the darkest of situations, even through generations of poverty and struggle, a little hope and a big idea can change the narrative. Tzu Chi seeks to end the suffering of all beings, and sometimes that looks like breathing new life into a community. Giving these children a space to learn and grow turned into something so much more. As volunteers watched families celebrate their children, and teachers saw their work come to fruition, it was clear that this school was more than just a place to learn – it was a sacred beacon of hope for a better life to come.

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