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Published: August 8th 2007
I tried to eat breakfast in the Zocalo, but most meal times involves being harassed by numerous kids asking for money or selling yellow skinned rubber chicken key rings, along with beaded necklaces or various nuts in small bags. With every tiny hand on my arm I met their needy eyes and swallowed huge chunks of guilt, some were as young as three years old, I tried to look for mothers hidden behind lamp posts but I saw none. I needed to do something positive, to contribute something of myself, I have been given a vast amount of time and I have the energy, I must use this wisely.
I found an organisation called Oaxaca Street Children Project In brief this is not an orphanage, as priests and nuns usually in century’s old convents run these places and they have a more tightly knit construction for very obvious protection reasons. To voluntarily work for an orphanage here you need to speak fluent Spanish and be around for a long period of time to gain trust and have many good solid references. The kids there are either from enormous families who are so poor they cannot afford to feed or educate
them or victims of terrible abuse or really have no family at all experiencing a small lifetime of people leaving them.
The Oaxaca Street Children’s project is different the kids here come from very large loving families who are just too poor due to birth control education, religion, economic and social structure issues, so they are unable to send the kids to school. The projects aim is to help find sponsors to fund a single child from the earliest kindergarten age four through to high school or even go on to complete college.
The child is carefully selected by the administrators out of many on file and all school uniforms, books, equipment, daily meals and emergency medical expenses will be bought from your fund for your child.
The kids all come from very poor families, no electricity, dirt floors, tin roofs, lucky if there is even any brick in the walls, no plumbing and many share the same bed and yet I can now say with my hand fully placed on my heart that I have never seen such happy soulful and grateful children. The project is currently educating over 600 children ranging from the ages
of 4 to 27 (2007).
I turned up on Saturday morning with a bag full of paper, felt tips and colour by numbers paintings. I met Alejandro Leyva who is one of the devoted administrators along with Lucy. I told them abit about myself. Most importantly that this cause was very important to me as during the best part of my teenage years I myself grew up in a children’s care home in England, it was the steady support of a very good form teacher and care staff who sponsored and guided me through my very black years until I left college. So I speak from pure experience, there is always someone around who does care and abandonment has no class rules. I offered to help the project in any way I could, by working in the kitchens under the firm hand of Juanita (wan-eater) the projects amazing chef. She and nearly all who attend are from the Triquis tribes of Oaxaca, the smallest and poorest indigenous groups of refugees.
Juanita runs the kitchen like Jamie Oliver runs his school dinner’s project; she cooks everything from scratch, low fat, healthy. Juanita makes breakfast six days a week for
the ten kindergarten kids on site, after eating them the kids automatically brushed their teeth standing on footstools to reach the sink. Juanita set me to work for the lunchtime meal by separating all the micro small good pure lentils from the bad lentils as the packet had teeth shattering stones hidden within, it was a bit like counting grass in a football field, cross eyed. I learnt how to make Dahl/lentil soups, prime beef with potatoes and crisp vegetables, homemade salsa and mango custards.
I chopped, sorted, cleaned, washed, made from scratch the ‘comida corrida’ which is the Mexican staple diet of many dishes in one. I made vats of homemade juice drinks from the herbs and fruit of hibiscus, guava, mango with fresh purified water and very little sugar added, it tasted divine. Around eighty kids that live within the neighbourhood and are also sponsored in schools nearby are encouraged to come to the project center to have at least one square meal a day, after eating they are all taught to bring their bowls to the buckets of water outside to clean.
There is nothing wasted in this kitchen, what is not finished
on one day is recycled the next. As part of my rigorous cleaning chores I came across the last paper filter for the coffee machine in an old packet, which was stuffed in the corner crumpled and torn, I was about to throw it in the bin, when it was lifted out by thrifty hands, swiftly flattened out and put directly in the coffee peculator, of course it held the granules in perfect place, what was I thinking to throw it away, it was just crumpled! One day Juanita was visibly moody, I could not understand what the problem was, so I carried on washing up the mountains of dishes, it turned out that when I washed the pots I was using too much water, the rules were to scrub with soap ‘dry’ then rinse in the bucket in the second sink already millimetres deep with old water, then rinse for a split second under the tap as the water comes from a small tank on the roof which needs to be filled up once a week with a special long hose, I was using up there weeks quota of clean water in one sitting.
in my list of rules that one of my jobs was to make sure the kids said “Por Favor” and “Gracias” when they asked and took the food. I had much fun with this and it was a great icebreaker at the start. One thing they are all taught throughout is good old-fashioned manners. I had a smashing week working there.
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