We all know that great, strong oak trees from little acorns grow, and sometimes from the tiniest mistake great things can happen. All one needs to do is look around, absorb everything you can about the experience, and consider the possibilities.
Being in the wrong place at the right time is exactly what happened to Ted Rose. Ted loves volcanoes, and in 1984 decided to explore the famous Volcan de Fuego (Volcano of Fire), the active volcano on the border of Jalisco and Colima States in Mexico. Ted’s wife Susan Hill speaks Spanish, but at that time, Ted did not. Because Susan was not with him, he ended up on the wrong bus, and instead of visiting the volcano, he found himself in the little village of Cofradía de Suchitlán – alone, no idea where he was, and unable to communicate.
A young Mexican child noticed this stranger, and took pity on him. He showed Ted around the village, and then brought him to the albergue , a dormitory for students from outlying villages run by the state. At that time, there were no schools for the children of the other villages, so they attended the school in Cofradía de Suchitlán.
When Ted returned home, he and Susan had a discussion about what they could do for the poor people of this village, and for the next 3 years, they would return bearing loads of gifts.
Over time, Susan realized that giving gifts alone was not helping these people. Ted is a Rotarian, and the motto of Rotary is “Service Above Self.” Also in Susan’s mind was the story about “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he can feed himself for the rest of his life” which emphasized that this problem needed a different approach. So after much thought and discussion, Ted sold his car and his business in California in 1986, and he and Susan moved down here with a bunch of typewriters and opened a typing school, thereby hoping to give marketable skills to the students so that they could more easily find jobs. And it worked – in two years, 8 out of their 12 students were able to get jobs because of the skills they learned in the typing school.
In 1984, the first of the annual Christmas Fiestas was held, and field trips have been added over the years. For the Christmas Fiesta, more than 300 children each year are given gifts of clothing and shoes and treated to food and fun activities. Field trips include visits to the beach, airport, zoo, archeological ruins, among other places of education and interest.
Scholarships were first offered in 1996. These scholarships provided for tuition, clothing and books in their schools. In 2002, the high school graduates broached the idea of obtaining an education at the university level, and so scholarships were now extended from kindergarten through university, and today we now have more than 59 university graduates through Project Amigo in such varied professions as medicine, nursing, engineering, law, accounting, architecture, to name just a few, and our numbers are an indication of the success of Project Amigo in promoting education; the national average for students who complete high is just 5%, while 75% of Project Amigo’s high school graduates enter the university, with most of them continuing through graduation.
Throughout the growth and development of Project Amigo, observations would be made that resulted in additions or changes to the program, so that it is constantly evolving to suit the needs of the students and community.
One of these observations was that only 40-50% of the students remained in the scholarship program from year to year, except in Cofradía, where the students would seek out Ted, Susan and the staff to use their computers in the evening and ask for help with their homework. This led to weekly visits to other villages to similarly help the students, and now one of the requirements for retaining their scholarships is that the students participate in the homework clubs. There are also computer labs in several villages for use by the students.
Another observation was the distance students had to travel to attend higher education. In 2001, the first “Casa Amiga” was rented, providing our scholars attending high school in Colima with a place where they could live, eat and do their homework. Most of the residents at that time then continued on to attend and graduate from the University of Colima.
The current Casa Amigo was donated by Catherine Munson, was remodeled courtesy of donations from board members and other donors, and was furnished with funds provided by a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant. With the addition of a second floor providing a new study area, Casa Amiga will be able to house 28 students.
In all of the work being done by Ted and Susan and Project Amigo, education is the goal to help the impoverished children of this area of rural Mexico to be better prepared to support themselves and their families, which also enriches their communities. Ted, being a Rotarian from California, had many contacts in the world of Rotary International, and Rotary has been heavily involved in Project Amigo – primarily Rotarians in the United States, Canada and Mexico. From building classrooms to providing mini-libraries and “books of their own” to donating clothing and supplies and so much more, the lives of these children, their families and communities are being changed one step at a time, and all because a man who loved volcanoes and didn’t speak a word of Spanish took the wrong bus and not only decided to turn a lemon into a whole plantation of lemon trees but also to build the lemonade factory so that the figurative lemons of Cofradía, Suchitlan, Quesería and other areas in need would become delicious lemonade for all.
Among the many ways to help are sponsoring a student or becoming a volunteer during a work week. To find out more information about Project Amigo and how you can help, please visit the web site at www.projectamigo.org .