I have just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where my sister Philippa runs our now long-standing children’s charity New Life Mexico (NLM).
It is over eleven years since Philippa became initially involved in assisting a couple of local social workers with the distressing plight of itinerant street children. After helping with the process of assisting children off the streets Philippa decided to register New Life Mexico as a UK charity – with the specific aim of ‘rehabilitating abused children’.
For the next eight years our efforts focused on assisting DIF (local social services) with the running and considerable development of this local rehabilitation centre. While NLM’s daily work involved clothing, feeding, health-checking and educating the children, our support included an over-arching emphasis on empowering and inspiring children to embrace better life opportunities in the future.
Something a lot easier said than done.
Throughout our relatively short history the charity has remained non-judgemental, non- political and non-religious, preferring instead to be guided by a humanitarian philosophy. Nomadic Thoughts have always provided NLM’s UK office back up, and are the official Registered charity HQ.
The rehabilitation centre was so successful that it was classed as a local state ‘flagship children’s project’. Philippa and her colleague at New Life Mexico, Ivan Bravo, decided that as they had witnessed the transition from disused building (Philippa’s initial fund-raising covered mattresses, bedding, pots, pans and a fridge freezer) to flagship children’s home, it was time to re-focus the charity’s work to engage the local community, with a specific emphasis on ‘pro-active’, as opposed to ‘reactive’ engagement.
Indeed Philippa and Ivan, so inspired by the energy and ‘never say die’ attitude of so many of ‘our’ children, have broadened NLM’s work into an exciting variety of local community projects, and I would like to describe here in some detail what these projects are.
Water Houses: In 2010 NLM commenced a programme to put a ‘water house’ in each of the 130 schools (primary, secondary and high school) in Puerto Vallarta. NLM partnered with foundations to build each one and to provide monthly maintenance of clean filters and UV lamps. Each water house can provide approximately 1,168,000 cups of clean drinking water a year.
During the period of 2010 – 2014 NLM built a total of 32 water houses, including in the offices of Child Protection Services in Coapinole, and in the health department in El Pitillal. The water houses provide 52 schools with clean drinking water, and over 37,300,000 glasses of clean drinking water a year. This amazing statistic is wholeheartedly championed by the local community. As the images from last week’s opening ceremony show, we put a huge emphasis on explaining the importance, value and sustainability of clean drinking water.
Football Programme: NLM’s Chidongongo Football programme started in 2013 in four Colonias. The programme, with ex-professional footballers and sports teachers, commenced with a 10 session ‘mini football clinic’ for girls and boys aged 8-10, and continued with 18 sessions for 10-13 year olds. The programme ended with an inter-colonia tournament in March 2014, with over 750 girls and boys taking part in the programme.
In addition to the trainer’s talks, the club received visiting speakers, all of whom highlighted the importance of team work in their respective areas. Speakers included a professional football player, fire-fighters, a psychologist and covered subjects including bullying, self-esteem, morals and values. This programme has taken place in the Colonias of Lomas de Coapinole, Loma Bonita, St Esteban, 12 Octobre and Coapinole.
Plasma Dancing: Plasma Dancing is an activity which develops the mind and body, and social and emotional growth, providing a healthy alternative to gang activities, as well as awakening artistic senses. It also develops a passion for creative arts. These activities offer an appreciation for possibilities of a life with music and art rather than drugs, violence and anti-social behaviour. The programme was created by NLM in 2012 for Club Chidongongo. This programme has taken place in the Colonias of Joyas de Pedegral, Progreso, Villa de Flores, Brisas de Pacifico and Mojoneras with over 250 kids enjoying this club to date.
Vocational School: NLM strongly believes that education helps break the cycle of poverty. Since higher education is not always the best option for some students, NLM feels that vocational training is an excellent path for many leading to job fulfilment and satisfaction, and has supported it in Puerto Vallarta since 2010.
In 2012 NLM entered a strategic partnership for a new vocational training school – CENCAP (Centro de Captación). The three partners include IDEFT (Instituto de Formación Para el Trabajo Del Estado de Jalisco), the Institute for the Formation of Work for the State of Jalisco, who provide the teachers and course accreditation for the school; NLM, who provide the equipment for courses; and Seapal Vallarta who provide the building and maintenance for the school.
The CENCAP vocational school is open to anyone over the age of 15 offering training in three month modular courses enabling students to continue their education when time permits. Each module is accredited for the course content. Courses available at CENCAP include Dressmaking and Sewing, Computers, English, Manicure and Pedicure, Make Up, Hair Dressing, Massage, and Spa. IDEFT has another vocational school providing courses in Car Mechanics and also has a bakery for which NLM provided a commercial oven.
The State of Jalisco has a programme to provide grants to unemployed people to undertake accredited courses enabling them to find employment or to set up their own business. In 2014 Carlos Caire Herrera, Co-ordinator for Puerto Vallarta, awarded 25 grants to students at CENCAP for Level 1 sewing/dressmaking, and 25 grants to students studying Level 1 hair colour/cutting. Grants are paid once the course has been completed. Students are paid a minimum wage of $65 pesos (£ 3.50) a day for the course duration and $400 pesos (£20.00) towards transport.
NLM is very proud to be part of this programme and actively encourages the young people we work with to attend the school. CENCAP is heavily subsidised by both Seapal and the State of Jalisco and therefore courses are very affordable at approximately $200 pesos (£10.00) per month, for those not receiving grants.
As a founder trustee of the charity I am immensely proud of New Life Mexico’s achievements over the years and am constantly humbled by the impact our local team makes on so many lives. Visiting Philippa last week was a joy, and experiencing our work first hand was, as ever, an inspiring experience.
The constant energy, focus and diligence of our local team – led by Philippa and Ivan – have quite simply brought successes and achievements far beyond our initial dreams. The fondness felt for the charity is illustrated by the fact that the vast majority of the children helped by NLM keep in touch with Philippa and Ivan through social media platforms and local ‘street-meets’.
While we were extremely proud when Philippa was nominated, by the British Embassy in Mexico, to run with the London 2012 Olympic torch, we were even more delighted when she was chosen to do so in Glastonbury in May 2012. Although a fun Olympic day, the truth is without our local team and brilliant band of NLM supporters (from all over the world) we would not have been able to achieve so much.
We have received finance and support from so many – from the 5 year-old girl recently donating £5 for her ice-bucket-challenge, to the British Mexico Society who continue to fly our flag.