Giving The Powerful Gift of Education
by James Allen on January 9, 2017
There are endless debates in academic circles on concepts like school choice and standardized testing. At the same time, there are many children and youth close to home who have zero access to education.
During the dark period of slavery in the United States, it was illegal for slaves to learn to read. Frederick Douglass, a prominent human rights leader and abolitionist from the 1800s, knew this first hand. His covert education helped him form his views on human rights and ultimately led to his freedom.
Today, there are still thousands of children and youth around the world unable to obtain an education. It is not necessarily because of institutional oppression, but often for lack of stability at home and lack of money. Mr. Douglass once said “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” His profound statement remains true today, and education is one of the most crucial components for building strong and independent people.
Frederick Douglass, c. 1874 — Above: Rows of tiny homes line the neighborhood of Jonathan and Alfredo
Jonathan and Alfredo are brothers who live about 30 minutes south of the Mexico–United States border. They live with their mother and four younger siblings in a home consisting of a small living room, one bathroom, and a single bedroom.
Jonathan (left) and Alfredo stand in the living room of their home Friday, Aug. 5, 2016, a few days before leaving home to start high school for the very first time. They were somewhat nervous about leaving their mother and siblings behind, but eager for what lay ahead.
Life was not always this way. Tragedy struck their family approximately six years ago when their father unexpectedly passed away. Being the two oldest children in the household, they took up the responsibility of working along with their mother to help support the family.
This meant that they could not go to school anymore. At that point in time, they had not begun their high school education. While some of their peers continued their studies, the brothers had no choice but to seek employment at the local factories. Working long hours doing manual labor in less-than-ideal conditions took a toll on them, as it did on their mother.
My family and I learned about the brothers and their family’s situation through a friend who attends the local church in their community. After meeting them in person at their home, we realized the best way to help their entire family would be to send Jonathan and Alfredo to a private boarding school a little over 700 miles away from their home in Sonora, Mexico.
Both brothers are already young adults, so they hesitated at the thought of going to high school. Jonathan, the older of the two brothers, displayed more interest from the very beginning. Alfredo, on the other hand, was more hesitant. He readily admitted that while he appreciated the opportunity, he did not want to leave his family, friends, and girlfriend behind.
With help from his family, we eventually convinced him to seize the opportunity and he began to take ownership of his education and overall future. Today, Alfredo is one of the most motivated and enthusiastic students at his school.
Approximately six months have passed since Jonathan and Alfredo left home to continue their education. In this short amount of time, we have already noticed a positive change and they’ve noticed it, too. Some of their friends back home have also taken notice.
Alfredo recently wrote to us in a Facebook message that one of his friends is interested in attending the same boarding school. Part of his message, translated into English, said “He told me, ‘Hey, you have changed! You look different and the way you speak is different, too.’ He also wants to change and finish his studies.”
It is very encouraging to see the brothers’ renewed sense of purpose and hope for the future. Just as exciting is the fact that the changes happening in their lives are resulting in a positive influence on their friends. This ripple effect can be powerful enough to change families, neighborhoods, and entire communities.
In the past few months, the brothers have been given a new perspective of the world and what they are capable of achieving.
Jonathan is interested in learning to code, which, as Fast Company put it, is the most important job skill of the future. Alfredo wishes to become a chef, having learned more about nutrition, and is taking cooking classes at the school. In addition to their core classes, both brothers are studying English and other subjects that will help prepare them for college and, ultimately, better paying jobs.
Jonathan (left) and Alfredo stand in the living room of their home Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, while on their winter break. Despite having been gone for only a few months, there was a visible difference in both brothers.
The friend who introduced us to the brothers is all too familiar with stories like Jonathan’s and Alfredo’s. Faced with the impossible choice of continuing one’s education or paying for food and rent, many teenagers and young adults make the life-altering decision to quit school and look for work. It is common for them to get married soon after and have children, often subjecting them to the same fate.
The key to breaking the cycle of poverty is removing all the barriers, real and imagined, preventing children and youth from receiving the quality education they need. This includes enabling youth to complete their high school education, even after they’ve passed the “high school age.” While adult education does exist in many parts of Mexico, it relies heavily on unpaid volunteers and workers who earn low wages. This method, while better than nothing, does not address the needs of students like Jonathan and Alfredo.
In order to break free and get ahead, young people need individualized and specialized education. They need caring teachers and mentors who can unleash their trapped potential and guide them to have the right priorities.
While many successful education nonprofits and programs exist for children, there are not as many programs available for students who are already young adults. In Jonathan and Alfredo’s case, finding a good school that would accept them as incoming freshman despite being over 18 would normally be a challenge.
Fortunately, the school they attend is an accredited Christian boarding school whose mission is to offer economically disadvantaged students of all ages the opportunity to complete a high school education. This school provides students like Jonathan and Alfredo a second chance at completing their high school education and ultimately obtaining a college degree.
As mentioned on our website, our vision for sponsoring students was inspired by the TOMS® One-for-One® model. For each student in our homestay program, our goal is to sponsor at least one child or youth who cannot afford education. Alfredo is the first of many students that Passport Scholars will sponsor directly, in addition to working with nonprofit giving partners like Compassion International to sponsor children in their programs.
We also hope to continue expanding our efforts to directly sponsor students with help from generous donors like Kendra and DeJuan. Both Kendra and DeJuan have visited Mexico with us multiple times to deliver gifts to children at the church that Jonathan’s family attends. They have also gone with us to visit the brothers’ home on several occasions, which is how they got to know them.
After one of these visits, they asked us what it would take to help them receive their high school education. A few weeks later, the tuition for both brothers was covered, along with all other expenses—clothing, toiletries, backpacks, school supplies, laptops, and bus tickets. Kendra and DeJuan covered the costs for Jonathan, while Passport Scholars covered the costs for Alfredo.
Sponsoring quality education is truly a team effort. Without them, and without our students, our mission would be nothing more than a nice idea on paper. The same is true of the boarding school in Mexico which accepted the brothers. As our business advances, we will continue to surround ourselves with mission-minded individuals and organizations to give more students like Jonathan and Alfredo a brighter future, along with their families and communities.
From left: Nimci, Mark, Rosa, Xingbin, Kendra, DeJuan, James, and Mark stand inside an abandoned home in the brothers’ neighborhood to distribute gifts Dec. 19, 2015. Students like Xingbin and generous donors like Kendra and DeJuan made it possible to send Jonathan and Alfredo to the boarding school.
To our past and current students, supporters, and partners, thank you for everything you do and choosing to work with us. Carrying out our mission would not be possible without you.
To prospective students, parents, homestay parents, and partner schools, I would like to personally extend an invitation for you to join us on our mission. By choosing to work with us, you will play an important role in helping us, as Mr. Douglass said, “build strong children” around the world, improving their lives and the lives of their families.
Together, we are making and will continue to make a positive, lasting difference.
Do you have questions, comments, or concerns? Get in touch or voice your opinion on social media!