Sunday, April 28, 2013

Loreto - Pueblo Magico for the Children

This past week there was another fundraising event here in Loreto Bay, this time to benefit the Loreto Internado, organized in large part by the Loreto Bay Volunteers - but including a number of key Volunteers from the town as well.  The theme was “Pueblo Magico” (Magic Town) which was a designation that Loreto received last year from the Mexican Government as part of a tourism promotion program that focuses on destinations in Mexico that combine natural beauty and historical significance.
The Golf Course Clubhouse was the scene for the event and about 40 children from the Internado performed a fantasy story that was loosely based on a girl who felt lonely and met a whale who introduced her to all the other sea creatures including mermaids, lobsters, and turtles, among others.  These characters were all inventively costumed and choreographed by the Volunteers and each group of creatures performed their “scene” to a recorded musical soundtrack in front of a painted backdrop of the Sierra de la Gigante Mountains.

About 200, mainly Loreto Bay residents attended and purchased 50 peso (about $4.00 US) tickets and filled the colonnade surrounding the Clubhouse Courtyard, which was the “stage” for the children’s performance.  Wine, beer and cold drinks were available and following the performance “kid’s food” in the form of hot dogs, tacos, guacamole and flan was sold, and the crowd filled tables and chairs that had been set up around the outside of the Clubhouse.  As people finished eating, the 5 man version of Los Beach Dogs took to the stage and played two sets into the early evening when it was the adults turn to dance to the popular classic rock repertoire.   
As usual, a great time was had by all, but I wanted to focus on the beneficiary of the fundraising – the Internado, which is a residential educational support system that will be unfamiliar to many of you who do not spend time here in Mexico.

Loreto has a surprisingly large number of schools for a town this size, but the Internado plays a unique role among them and traces its history here back almost 60 years.  Basically the Internado is a residential facility serving elementary school children from the surrounding rancheros, who would otherwise be unable to attend school due to their remote living circumstances, being too far from town to attend on a daily basis.  Therefore the system of residential dormitories was developed to accommodate the students from Monday to Friday and return them home to the rancheros to spend the weekends with their families.   
The roots of this go back to the Mexican Constitution in 1917 which declared that every child in the country was to learn to read and write, at the minimum.  The first Internado opened here in Loreto in 1946, almost 30 years before the highway that opened most of the Baja was built, and its first home was in several rooms in the ruins of the old storehouse next to the Loreto Mission (which now houses the Mission Museum).

While this was far from an ideal situation, almost 70 years ago in Loreto it was the only suitable building available.  Finally, in 1971 the Mexican government built the present facility, with two dormitories, a dining hall and kitchen, and a house for the director in Colonia Zaragoza, a “suburb” of Loreto across the large arroyo south of town.  Needless to say, this was a huge improvement - but without sufficient funds from the Government to maintain the facility, things started to deteriorate with the wear and tear from the large numbers of children passing through.  Even sufficient food became a challenge because Government funds only supplied a subsistence diet of beans and rice which many of the families could not afford to supplement from home.

By 1982 when a new Director took over the Internado things were pretty grim for the kids,  only two of the toilets and one shower worked and the children were getting one tortilla and half a cup of coffee for breakfast before they went to school.  He appealed to the then small ex-pat community in Loreto for assistance and soon the plumbing was fixed and food and other basics like soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste were donated and the Volunteer support of the Internado had begun.

English lessons conducted by Volunteers soon followed, along with others who spent time enriching the kids learning experiences, including Linda, a Nopolo resident who is still very active after 20 years - she even had a cameo appearance in this evening’s performance.  The Internado has become an important focus of the Loreto Bay Volunteers, an ad hoc group that has become quite active in many areas within the larger community of Loreto.  These volunteers operate under the umbrella of “Los Amigos de Loreto” whose operations I described in some detail in an earlier Blog, and who also organized the very successful Food and Wine Festival

The next major challenge faced by these volunteers who want to assist with the education of the children of the area, is replenishing the scholarship fund that has been in operation here for a number of years.  Here in Mexico, education is free up to the grade six level, but there are fees to attend Junior and Senior High Schools amounting to about $200 US per student per year to cover uniforms, school supplies, lab fees etc.  – a modest amount by North American standards, but beyond the reach of many of the Internado children’s families, who live on a subsistence level in the remote rancheros described in last week’s Blog

As a result, without sufficient funds for the higher education fees, many promising elementary students unfortunately finish their education at the grade 6 level, denying them the opportunity to improve their opportunities and continuing the cycle of subsistence that has been their family’s lot for generations.  To this end there have been some endowments and generous donations in the past to the scholarship fund, and currently it is supporting 19 students learning at the Junior High to University level.

However, these funds have been depleted and more support is required to keep this valuable and important program viable going forward.  You can make a difference by contributing on line through the Amigos de Loreto website ( or there is a foundation that can accept donations, you can reach the O’Neil Loreto Education Fund through: Kirk Connally, 665 Tabor Lane, Santa Barbara, CA. 93108 and mark your check “OLEF” so the contribution finds its way back to Loreto to keep on the good work.

Sharing in the fun and excitement of 40 kids performing a pageant about the “Magic Town” they live in, and seeing the pleasure that 200 ex-pats and volunteers received from their efforts (many of whom who have grandkids the same ages) while contributing modest amounts that will have a major impact on the way that these kid’s can live while away from home getting a basic education – this was one of the more important parts of “Living Loreto”!