Por Los Niños has been widely regarded as the premier, all-volunteer educational organization in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero.
It began in 2001 (becoming a registered charity in 2005) with the idea of building one classroom. Since then the foundation has expanded to include the construction of 131 classrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and playgrounds, including 14 new schools and wells which provide water to two schools.
Their nutrition program feeds 30,000-plus breakfasts and lunches a year to students and has helped provide hundreds of scholarships.
With the advent of Covid-19 and the subsequent closing of schools, a concerned volunteer alerted Por Los Niños administrator Carol Romain to the fact that the children of one of the organizations they are associated with, Casa Para Niños Pacífico, would no longer be fed through their rice and beans program.
As well, 65 of the 85 families would need help due to unemployment and other hardships caused by the pandemic.
To start off a campaign to help, the volunteer offered a matching donation of up to US $10,000 which Romain said was reached just days after putting it out on social media. Since then several other donors have come forward offering matching donations of $5,000, all of which have been reached in a matter of days, and primarily by the expat community.
Following this success and seeing even greater need, Por Los Niños decided to expand their help into other colonias. They approached trusted people they knew with whom they had either worked before or who volunteered for the organization to help deliver care packages to the families who needed them.
Each recipient is screened thoroughly and identified according to need, Romain said. Their names and their colonia is entered into a database along with photo ID and the date they received their package.
So far the number of times people have tried to take advantage of the program have been few as most people seem to have been honest about their situation.
Says Romain: “Our original goal was to support 600 families but how can you say no to a young mother who doesn’t have anything to feed her family because she lost her job through no fault of her own? Now we are getting requests from beach and street vendors, waiters, housekeepers, clerks in the stores and even some owners.”
Each food hamper provides the basics for two weeks and includes rice, beans, tuna, pasta, soap, oil, tortilla flour, sugar and other items. The amount each family receives is dependant on the number of persons in the household.
Although there are others, including the municipality, the Rotary club, private citizens and business owners, who are dispensing care packages of their own, to date Por Los Niños has distributed 1,600 packages which Romain estimates has benefited 5,000 people.
Attempts to work with other organizations have been hit and miss and Romain says there has been some overlap. But regardless of the problems, “the main thing is that there are many people who are receiving some sort of relief, no matter who it comes from.”
Asked how long Por Los Niños plans to continue, Romain says “until the money runs out or people start to go back to work.” Even then, she does not believe it will be anytime soon.
“Although some things are beginning to open, I don’t expect a lot of relief until at least July. Even then the concern is that recovery will be slow as people hesitate to travel and spend money. I think this will go on for a long time.”
As of Friday, the municipality of Zihuatanejo had recorded 20 cases of Covid-19, two of which were active, and one death.
More information about Por Los Niños is available on its website.
The writer is a Canadian who has lived and worked in Mexico for many years.