By John Warren
Most of the members of the International Friendship Club (IFC) count themselves phenomenally lucky. For a few weeks, a few months or for years we live in this paradise on the Pacific in pleasant accommodation with good food to enjoy each day. We know that we drew some pretty good cards in this game of life and we appreciate that. Many of us chose our parents well and enjoyed love and encouragement as children and, for some, an excellent education. We also know that for some families and children in Puerto Vallarta the cards they drew were not so good. If you had been born in some of the poorer colonias (districts) of this city life would be totally different.
Take the colonia of Volcanes, for example. It’s half an hour’s drive from Los Muertos beach. Most of the streets are not paved and there are no streetlights. Some homes have neither electricity nor water. Their roofs are corrugated iron. Poverty is a way of life here.
Sadly, many personal and societal problems flow from poverty. While the most common effect of poverty is malnutrition, health and education are also affected.
The health of poor people is worse than those with money. Sanitation in poor areas is bad and increases the chance of contracting a disease. People living in poverty cannot afford appropriate medicines to treat these illnesses.
Many people living in poverty are unable to attend school from a very early age. Families may not be able to afford the necessary shoes, clothing or school supplies. Others may not have a way for their children to get to school. Whatever the reason, there is a clear correlation between families living in poverty and their lack of education. Without the ability to attend school, many people go through life illiterate. ( Here’s a thought…If you live in a condo that employs staff, ask around to learn the number of employees who cannot read. I just did. Where I live half can read and half can’t!)
However, there is excellent news for children living in Volcanes. It’s the Volcanes Community Education Project (VCEP), which offers free extra-curricular classes to local students and encourages students to come to school and stay in school. The public school in this area holds classes in two shifts per day, and even then the teachers struggle with 40+ students per class. The school is not equipped with computers and teachers do not have the time to offer individual attention to each student.
In 2011, when it started, VCEP offered English and Computer classes to 60 kids who were taught by two volunteer teachers. Now the children are taught by professional, full-time teachers and learn English, Computer, Remedial Reading, Music and Dance. All of the children pledge to commit to serve their community and VCEP and they do.
In 2012 Eagle Wings Foundation started a scholarship program for six Volcanes kids by helping to pay for their education costs in the regular school system. With additional scholarships now sponsored by Rotary Clubs and private individuals the number of kids in the scholarship program is 90. And the program is working! Francisco Ramos, one of the original scholarship students is in 2nd year of medical school and on his way to become a neurosurgeon, Jessica Aguirre is studying architecture and Alicia Ramirez has graduated with a BSc Admin. Many more students are in the pipeline.
For more information on VCEP please go to http://www.volcanescommunityproject.com/
VCEP receives no government funding and relies totally on donations from organizations, businesses and individuals. Members of the International Friendship Club are pleased to help VCEP by contributing to the fund that pays the teachers salaries for, without them, there would be no program.
The IFC generates funds each year by running its fabulous IFC Home Tours, by charging fees for membership, for bridge lessons, social bridge, Spanish classes and other social activities. We have one staff member but volunteers do all of the rest of the work.
After deducting rent and other operating expenses IFC distributes all of its surplus funds to various medical and educational projects and charities in Puerto Vallarta. Please see http://www.ifcvallarta.com/index.cfm for information on the club and http://www.toursforvallarta.com for Home Tours.