Volunteers in Tijuana, Mexico Help Local Children Return to School

National Headquarters  |  March 1, 2023
Unprivileged student and his grandmother
Silas Icam Vásquez beams with joy next to his grandma Vitalina after completing the re-enrollment procedures. Photo/Jing Yi Lee

Written by: Jing Yi Lee, Ah Mui Pse
Edited by: Patrick McShane

While hosting a Tzu Chi campus open house in Tijuana, Mexico, in early December 2022, a Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteer encountered Vitalina, an 85-year-old grandmother, who was severely distressed. Her son had suffered a stroke and passed away, and her daughter-in-law left home many years ago, orphaning their four boys, and leaving them without any resources. The children were forced to drop out of school due to economic hardships. 

At the end of 2022, Tzu Chi volunteers in Tijuana began their outreach work in local vulnerable communities, working with families like Vitalina’s. A volunteer named Cindy took over this case and decided to fight for the orphaned children, hoping to give them a chance to go back to school.

Once a Beneficiary and Now a Giver

Tzu Chi volunteers believe that education can be a significant factor in providing children from disadvantaged families with opportunities to overcome challenging circumstances and transform their lives. All volunteers want to provide children who are out of school with a complete education, which may help them escape poverty. Volunteer Cindy said: “The Tzu Chi Tijuana team and I have been working hard to help this family so that these children who have dropped out of school can get back to their studies. It feels really nice to see the children go back to school.”

Francisca is an enthusiastic parent at the local school. One day at the school, she heard Cindy asking the principal about how children who had dropped out could return to their studies. As soon as she heard that Cindy was doing this for Tzu Chi, she immediately offered to help: “When I heard the volunteers and the principal talking about the incomplete information for the child’s enrollment, I decided to help because preparing those materials is complicated. My husband could also help by being a guardian so that the child will not lose the opportunity to go to school.”

I know about this foundation, and I have been assisted by them. So I asked, is there anything I can do for you?

These two kind-hearted women met through this fateful encounter. They worked together on paperwork, regularly traveling between the school and the children’s location to provide care. According to the school’s regulations, each child needs two guardians to go to school. However, the four grandchildren are all orphans. Apart from the grandmother who is their guardian, they needed another signature. Volunteer Francisca asked her husband whether he could serve as a guardian, and he agreed immediately. He wanted to serve as a bridge between the children and their opportunity to get educated.

Volunteers Pay for Uniforms

Tzu Chi volunteer Yi Lee paying the uniform
Volunteer Jing Yi Lee pays for the children's uniforms. Photo source / Tzu Chi USA
Tzu Chi volunteer preparing new clothes for students and parents
Volunteer Ah Mui Manguy (bottom left) and Cindy (upper left) take the children to buy uniforms. Their grandmother is also taken care of and receives new shoes. Photo/ Jing Yi Lee

The volunteers brought the grandmother and the youngest grandson, 10-year-old Silas Icam Vásquez, to the school to begin the re-registration process. Meanwhile, the school insisted that 15-year-old brother Gamaliel Vásquez needed to take three placement tests to determine his grade level since he was out of school for three years. 

Going to school in Mexico is tuition-free, but uniforms are not provided, they must be purchased at a student’s own expense and can be quite expensive for some families. The school stipulates that the uniforms must be purchased within 15 days of registration, and children must wear uniforms when they go to school.

Volunteers Cindy and Jing Yi Lee personally took the children to pick out their new uniforms. When Gamaliel, who has been out of school for three years, arrived at the clothing store, he was overwhelmed by the dazzling array of clothes and had no idea what style or color of school uniform to choose. Volunteers helped younger brother Silas choose the correct summer and winter uniforms, as well as sportswear and other clothes. At the cash register, volunteer Jing Yi Lee had already taken out her credit card saying: “I will pay for this.”

The little boy took the clothes to the fitting room to try on. Volunteer Cindy waited at the door like a caring mother, asking softly: “Is it the right size? Does it fit well?” This was a touching scene, particularly for a little boy who has not felt a mother’s love and care for a long time, his eyes sparkled with joy and hope. He thanked the volunteers because his dream of going back to school was one step closer to coming true.

Unprivileged family in Tijuana
Families in need are cared for by Tzu Chi volunteers. Photo/ Jing Yi Lee

In just three months, Tzu Chi Tijuana volunteers overcame various difficulties to successfully re-enroll the children in school. During this time, the volunteers went through school visits, investigations, home visits, and more, and diligently completed the mission of helping a family return to normality after a tragedy. 

From this day forward, Tzu Chi will subsidize the children with $200 USD per month to help the children continue their education. Not only will this solve the difficult financial burden on the family and their grandmother, but the children will also be able to go to class with peace of mind, and their grandmother will not worry about their education. Through the efforts of the volunteers, this family’s future looks bright.

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