Escuela La Esperanza- An Oasis of Hope
We have been driving around the dusty, convoluted streets of Tijuana for more than an hour in search of El Colegio La Esperanza. My husband Marco is getting frustrated. Gesturing towards one of the many ramshackle hillsides he mutters, “It’s up there somewhere. I know it!” Its been a few years since his last visit and Tijuana is a city of constant reinvention. Getting “up there somewhere” is not as easy as it seems. There are road works everywhere, torn up sections of asphalt and rock, blaring horns, mud splattered trucks and crucifixes swinging wildly from rear-vision mirrors. We ask the girls to describe what they see and Sienna says, “it looks like a tornado has just passed through.”
We swing left onto a street that appears to ascend towards the area we want and find ourselves winding upwards on a dirt road which grows steadily more narrow until it disappears completely and we are stranded at the top of a rocky trail on a 45 degree angle with no way to turn around. Always calm, Marco expertly maneuvers our car backwards down the steep, crumbling slope until, thankfully we are able to turn around. Finally we find the right road and head uphill again, past dilapidated shacks and listless locals. Mangy dogs lick their scabby skin and a tank rumbles slowly by. Atop, a grim-faced soldier grips his gun nervously while shreds of black plastic hang above us from every power line, flapping in the breeze.
This is the Colonia La Esperanza in the Sanchez Taboada borough of Tijuana, a city of three million at the US/Mexico border. It is one of the poorer colonias in the city and we have come to visit The Schools of Hope and meet with their Founder and President, Christine Brady.
I had come across her name by chance, on the internet, more than eight years before and our family had been fund raising from afar, in Australia, ever since.
Marco had already had the chance to visit the school on several occasions but for Santana (age 15), Sienna(age 11) and I, it was the first time.
Finally we see the sign we are looking for and swing right into a potholed street, lined with tattered buildings tacked together with scraps of timber, tar paper and corrugated iron. Amongst the squalor, the schools stand out as a riot of colour and creativity. Aqua blue wrought iron gates adorned with butterflies mark the entrance to the preschool/kindergarten “El Jardin de Ninos La Esperanza” and art is everywhere; in the sculpted architecture of visionary artist James Hubbell, who has volunteered his services since 1990, and in the mosaics which adorn every wall and surface, laid by hand during the many volunteer workshops, attended by both local members of the community and volunteers from the US and elsewhere.
Although it is Summer vacation, the school is a hive of activity. Workers are busy constructing the new classrooms that will serve the high school and be up and running by the beginning of the school year. On the top of their wish list is a video projector or “Smart board”, a kind of overhead projector which is able to link to the internet and open up much broader educational opportunities for the students. The school coffers often run on empty. Brady confesses that she doesn’t know where the money is coming from to pay the local workers at the end of the week.
Luckily we have bought $1500.00 from our last fundraiser in Australia and this should cover the bill, until next week.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the La Esperanza schools and the project has come a long way in that time. When Brady first arrived in 1987 to work in a local orphanage, Colonia La Esperanza had neither running water or electricity. Initially, she says, she attended a community meeting to discuss the idea of opening a medical clinic, but the people expressed a greater desire for a kindergarten and the “El Jardin de Ninos La Esperanza” was born.
A woman of rare determination, Brady, single, white, female, tackled the local bureaucracy to gain the correct permits and licenses. Undeterred by the lack of facilities she made use of a half mile long extension cord in order to commence building.
To date more than 4000 Students have been enrolled at the schools. When asked about the impact of such a creative haven on the community, Brady replies laughingly ,” Well, everyone is now an architecture critic and balletomane!”
Through exposure to the arts, members of the community now have a much broader view of the world and the confidence to express their opinions and ideas.
The schools seem to cast a magical spell on those who enter. Russian ballerinas, Valeri and Tatiana Tchekacheva, graduates of the School of the Kirov Ballet arrived in 1998. Intending to teach for a year they stayed for eight instead, enriching the children’s lives with the discipline of dance.
Brady is an inspiration; a woman on a mission who will not be deterred. She understands the importance of community and individual pride and through her curriculum which includes many forms of creative and performing arts, she has widened the perspective of all of her students and their families.
The schools receive no government funding and are run entirely on donations. Those wishing to help can sponsor a child’s education with a half or full scholarship ($45 to $90 per month), provide educational materials or help out in the hands-on workshops that are held periodically at the school.
It takes determination, persistence, courage and a kind of manic single-mindedness to achieve such a feat and Christine Brady is a woman who possesses all of these attributes and more.
In a community where many families live lives of economic hardship and little hope, the School of Hope is an oasis of learning and a step towards the promise and possibility of a better future.
The schools are a testament to the power of vision and service and the magic which is born of teaching others to recognize and be proud of their own innate and unique creative powers.
To find out more about the Escuelas La Esperanza (also known as the Colegio La Esperanza) and how you can help go to http://www.americasfoundation.net/
Tracy Verdugo is an artist, singer & writer. She is currently on a 7 month adventure from Canada to Oaxaca, Mexico with her husband and 2 daughters. To check in on their travel tales
To hear Marco & Tracy’s music go to www.myspace.com/theloooooooonggoodbyes