By Elsmarie Norby
I moved to the indigenous rural community of San Miguel Viejo in 2007, built a modest house, and planned to “drop out” from a life of busyness concerning career goals and the needs of others. Local children were very curious about this intruder but also extremely shy and sweet. One day I gave each one a new pencil, another day, seats at my patio table with two pieces of recycled paper. They were joyful and amazingly creative. They kept coming, always polite, always excited to be in a new, free, creative space. Their ideas blossomed, and I did nothing except provide a table and a few simple materials. Eventually that became the program called Ojalá Niños. A few months later, we established a Mexican non-profit, offering classes every weekday afternoon in arts, literacy, and music, plus anything else brought by volunteers from the San Miguel de Allende community who’d heard about this wonderful adventure. We also provided healthy snacks and lunches. The children were always hungry.
Twelve years later I was becoming tired and had been looking to find good people to take over. Miraculously, in the fall of 2019, a couple happened to donate something. They were very impressed but didn’t just walk away, waving kudos to me. They found someone else, brought him by to see the program—and then another and another and another. They became a proactive, professional board of directors, dedicated to making Ojalá Niños a model of integrated education for rural children in Mexico, sustainable and transparent. They hired Irene Fuentes, an experienced Mexican woman as executive director to lead the program into post-COVID times.
January 1, 2020, was my 80th birthday. I officially retired and celebrated at Ojalá with friends, family, and Ojalá’s new leadership. I’ve since moved to a tiny place in Guadiana, emptying my house which has now been transformed into the learning center for the second and third generation of Ojalá Niños! Ours is a truly happy story from 2020.
Heartfelt thanks to the many of you who have supported Ojalá Niños during the past years. I hope you will join us again for our “bright future.”
Now please read the following message from the president of Ojalá Niños, Norman Briere.
“The path forward for Ojalá Niños is clear, and the future is bright! I say that fully aware of the challenges that we all faced in 2020. The toll of COVID-19 is incalculable. Millions of lives have been lost, and billions have felt the impact. The suffering is palpable in the air. Yet Ojalá Niños continued to safely meet our mission: providing integrated learning programs for the children of San Miguel Viejo to inspire creativity, critical thinking, and self-confidence.
And we did more than just meet the mission. We prepared for the future. We will emerge from the pandemic more robust and resilient. We are building on our strengths: a solid history, a dedicated staff, an educational philosophy that fosters critical thinking, and our vision where every child can reach their full potential. We are reviewing every facet of Ojalá Niños and have identified four areas of change that will strengthen us now and into the future. We are Ojalá Niños 2.0—excelling in a Post-Pandemic World.
Strengthen our Foundation. We have integrated our core values of Learning, Opportunity, Integrity, and Inclusion into every fiber of the organization. This ensures that we are not only doing the right things, but we are doing them in the right way. We have changed our programs, by-laws, and policies, and even our organizational structure and relationship with our volunteers and donors to reflect our core values.
Continuous Assessment and Improvement. The children of Ojalá must be prepared for whatever the future holds. We must assess if our offerings are what is needed and then apply metrics to determine the effectiveness of our offerings. This philosophy will keep us in step with the children’s and society’s needs.
Leverage All Who Can Help. Ojalá Niños knows the boundaries of its mission. We recognize that those we serve have other needs. Therefore, we are establishing working relationships with other NGOs, government agencies, and individuals who can meet needs we cannot. The days of acting alone are behind us.
A Culture of Change. Ojalá Niños has introduced and will maintain a culture of embracing change. The future is uncertain but that cannot prevent us from moving forward. We will move ahead based on the best available facts. We may need to adjust course from time to time, but this is what leaders must do if they want any chance of success.
The pandemic’s impact will be felt for generations in ways that we can’t imagine. Understanding this fact is key to our continued success. We will continue to prepare the children to assume their rightful place in the local, national, and international economies. Every child will be afforded the opportunity to achieve a better life for themselves, their families, and their community by being prepared to think critically and act ethically.”