45.5 Percent: Impoverished Without Education

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I was born in Mexico City and lived there until I was seven years old before moving to the United States. My house in Mexico was located in a decently nice area. I went to a Jewish Day School during the day and played soccer in a Jewish Community Center during the afternoons. Despite living in a country that had an astonishing poverty rate of 45.5 percent, my daily routine shielded me from noticing it. The only exposure I had to the devastating poverty were the disheveled homes on the side of the road – homes that were built from almost nothing. Despite my limited exposure to poverty as a child, a recent visit to Mexico opened my eyes.

Neza-Chalco-Itza Slum, Mexico City Population 4 million

Neza-Chalco-Itza Slum, Mexico City
Population 4 million

This past year, I was in Mexico visiting my extended family. As we were driving to my grandma’s house, we stopped at a light. I turned to my right and saw a boy that was selling candy bars to cars that were halted by the light. From his stature and clearly malnourished body, he seemed to be eight years old. His deep brown eyes, scarred face, and pre-pubescent moustache suggested he was more like twelve. The child had a look in his brown eyes that suggested a stunted childhood, dwarfed by the need to work to support his family and himself. It weren’t his physical characteristics that really struck me, but rather the object he was carrying on his back. It was noon, on a Wednesday, and this little boy was selling candy while carrying a school backpack. I immediately started asking myself difficult questions. How can this kid be afforded the opportunity to study when he has to provide for his family and himself at the age of twelve? Why is he walking on the dust-filled asphalt streets of Mexico? I was taken aback. I was at Tufts University, a fantastic school for which the tuition cost more than that child could ever imagine making, and he was selling candy on the streets of a dangerous country at the age of twelve. He should have been playing with toys like I did as a child. Why was he in that position and why was I in mine? Should I just accept the universal lottery that allowed me to be born into a family that could afford my education? I had a tough time processing my thoughts at that moment.

I was quiet during the entire family lunch. Jack, my cousin who lives in Mexico, noticed my dejected behavior and asked me what was wrong. I took him to the side and fervently explained my experience. I wasn’t angry or annoyed but rather filled with an uncomfortable feeling of undeserved privilege. What did I do to deserve this, and what did that kid do to deserve that? Jack spoke in a calm matter and told me something that inspired me. He said, “The universe put you in this place to help the people that were put in that one.” I understood but wasn’t satisfied with the answer. I knew I could not change the lives of 45.5 percent of the population of Mexico. I shrugged him off and continued to sulk at the lunch table.

Later that night, I checked my university email when it struck me. I can’t help everyone in Mexico who struggles with poverty, but they can help themselves with a chance at education.

After talking with Jack about my little epiphany, we came up with the idea of starting a non-profit organization. This organization would be like a foreign exchange program with private schools. Kids from the age of five would be awarded education at a private school. There are organizations in Mexico that sponsor children to go to school, but they are badly organized and the child often skips school to work on the streets anyway. These kids have to provide for their families immediately. They don’t have the resources or time to attend school. The details of the non-profit that we want to create are still being discussed. The trip to Mexico that inspired me to act was two weeks ago, so this is something that is still fresh in my mind. We believe that we can create an organization that will help poverty-stricken children stay in school until they can get a job and provide for their families and themselves through education. Next time I go to Mexico and am approached by a child on the streets, I will hand him or her a book instead of money.

– Gaston Becherano, Tufts University, 2015

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