Tzu Chi “Classroom of Hope” Shines in Tijuana, Offering Hope for Young School Dropouts

National Headquarters  |  May 31, 2023
Victor, a teacher of the Classroom of Hope, works with the students
Victor, a teacher of the Classroom of Hope, works with the students. Photo/Jing Yi Lee

Written by Jing Yi Lee Lee, Ah Mui Manguy, Mark Chou, Michael Tseng
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

During a six-day clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, the Tzu Chi Tijuana Medical Campus volunteers made a significant discovery. In addition to residents struggling with poverty and experiencing illness, they uncovered another pressing issue: a high rate of children dropping out of school.

Collaboration With the Instituto Nacional Para la Educación de Los Adultos (INEA)

Upon learning that numerous children could not attend or continue their studies in school due to the lingering impact of the previous pandemic or other factors like the lack of birth certificates or uniforms, the volunteers in Tijuana made a decision. They collaborated with the National Institute for Adult Education (Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos or INEA), a division of the Department of Education. However, since INEA primarily focuses on adult education and only offers half-day weekend programs, they couldn’t provide sufficient assistance to the dropout students. To bridge this gap, the medical campus volunteers took the initiative to hire teachers and establish a “Classroom of Hope” within the INEA educational system. This classroom caters to students under 18 and operates five days a week.

Establishing the “Classroom of Hope” did not require the formalities of starting a school, nor did the medical campus need an educational license to enroll students and provide educational programs. Instead, the campus takes care of all the essential needs of the students, including stationery, free lunches, exempting tuition and fees, and offering subsidized bus fares for those who live far away. Additionally, the campus extends its philanthropic and medical care services to support the children’s and their families’ physical and mental well-being, ensuring a conducive environment where the children can attend school with peace of mind.

Highly Challenging Teaching

While April 3, 2023, marked the beginning of spring break across Mexico, it held a different significance for the Tzu Chi Medical Campus “Classroom of Hope.” It was the inaugural day of school for this initiative. Before that, word of mouth and mobile social media helped enroll eight students between 10 and 16 years old.

These children came from diverse backgrounds. Some had recently relocated from other towns, while others had experienced interrupted schooling due to the pandemic. Additionally, there was one student with developmental differences. Yet, on the first day of school, each arrived, one by one, at the “Classroom of Hope,” filled with curiosity and a joyful spirit.

Although I am an experienced teacher, this school is highly challenging for me.

Victor Alfonso Galindo Hernandez is the teacher, while his wife, Francisca, assists him in the Classroom of Hope. This dedicated couple exhibits remarkable patience and care in their approach. Given the children’s varying learning abilities, educational levels, and ages, they provide almost one-on-one instruction.

“On this first day of school, our aim is to inspire the students to comprehend the purpose of life,” Victor expressed. “We encourage them to think critically and make decisions while teaching them essential life skills that become second nature. That is one of the core objectives of our Classroom of Hope.” To assess the student’s proficiency levels, Victor administered Spanish, English, and mathematics assessments. He aspires to welcome more young children to this classroom in the future, enabling them to catch up on the learning progress they may have missed due to dropping out of school.

Tzu Chi Humanities holds a special place in Tzu Chi education. The initial lessons focus on nurturing the children’s character and behavior, emphasizing adherence to the five rules of decorum within the classroom:

  1. Set daily goals for oneself.
  2. Abide by the teacher’s directions.
  3. Foster mutual understanding with classmates.
  4. Maintain a tidy appearance.
  5. Cherish all public items within the classroom.

Rich Learning Environment

The teaching sessions were highly informative, encompassing various subjects, from engaging math games to moments of meditation and self-reflection, even amidst exhaustion. Through students’ homework, the teachers clearly understood each child’s academic level. Despite each session lasting only three hours, everyone immersed themselves in a learning environment filled with education and enjoyment under the teacher’s guidance.

One of the students, Karina Lizeth Díaz González, is 14 years old. She had been unable to progress beyond sixth grade due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the local middle school did not accept her due to the pandemic. Reflecting on her first day in her new classroom, she expressed, “I learned a lot today, especially in math since it was the first day, although there is still much more to learn.”

I saw this opportunity through a message from the community, and in my opinion, it is a very good opportunity, because my daughters could not finish school because of the pandemic. I am really grateful, I hope that my daughters do everything that I could not do.

Mayra, Karina’s mother, decided to bring her daughters to the Tzu Chi Medical Campus, hoping they would have the opportunity to study there. She said, “Even though we live quite far away, and I had to pay for the bus fare to come here, it feels like an impossible dream that has become a reality.”

Before the lunch provided by the Tzu Chi Medical Campus, Ah Mui Pse, a dedicated veteran volunteer, led the group in expressing gratitude through prayer. Throughout the morning session, eight students and two teachers spent their first day at the Classroom of Hope. They were accompanied by compassionate campus volunteers, providing a supportive environment for local under-resourced children to resume their studies. This initiative aims to break free from the disadvantages of underprivileged circumstances and empower these children to strive for a hopeful future.

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