Friday, January 25, 2008

Cambiando Vidas Newsletter

A visitors description of Chacala reads,
“We walk down the early morning beach, footprints wiped clean by the tide, pristine. A couple hundred pelicans float the shallow waters, rising and dive-bombing the unsuspecting sardines and other bait fish, packed tight near the shore. A feeding frenzy for three days now. The magnificent frigates shadow the pelicans, looking for a dropped fish, or snatching a piece from a pelican’s immense beak.”

This is an everyday scene on the pristine beach in our beautiful little bay. Up the hill at the Learning Center and elementary classrooms, children run in and out, playing and laughing. They are being educated and enriched as never before. It is seven years since Cambiando Vidas initiated the Scholarship Program and support of the Learning Center. What a miracle of hope that a little help from our friends has brought to the children of Chacala. We are so grateful to all those folks in Chacala, the USA and Canada for all the help in creating a brighter future for these children.

The winter in Chacala was successful and productive. Mariana arrived mid-November and began working with Viky and the scholarship students. Viky left the next week for a well deserved week's vacation to Vera Cruz to visit her family.

Ana was able to come for a couple of short visits, surprised mostly by how big the little kids have gotten, and how mature the teen-agers look and act. She wasn’t able to recognize some of the kids. We were impressed by Viky—she has made great strides in her English and is speaking in English with our visitors. The pueblo is filled with the not always pleasant sounds of construction—everywhere. New homes, condos, restaurants, and motels springing up everywhere. It is a real boon for the local business owners, but a little sad for those of us who have loved Chacala since the days before the road from the highway was paved.


Chad Waters, long time supporter and sometime resident, has been financing the town's garbage pick up service for the past several years and has donated funding to Cambiando Vidas to keep the recycling project going as well. Many folks have mentioned that they thought the town was looking cleaner. That is very satisfying—what we have been working toward for years.

We are sad to tell you that June Constant, Susana Escobido’s mother, passed away this year. June, who lived in Ajijic, was a regular donor to Cambiando Vidas. After June’s death, Susana made a lovely donation for maintenance in her name, which allowed us to hire Juan, our favorite local painter, to put a fresh coat of paint on the outside of the Learning Center. It looks wonderful.

Viky has taken the kids on two summer enrichment trips, and this summer she is dreaming of taking the kids to Mexico City. Although these trips provide wonderful enrichment for the kids, they are beyond the mission of Cambiando Vidas, and with all the students entering University the budget doesn’t allow for a summer trip. The government will provide a bus for her, but she also needs $16,000 pesos (about $1500 U.S.) for lodging and meals for about 20 kids and EBACH supervisors. She has received a partial donation from a friend. If you are interested in sponsoring the trip or making a special contribution for this, please let Mariana know (_madak99@aol.com_
( ).


We are so pleased to honor Teresa Freeburn as our volunteer of the year. She came to Chacala mid-Jaunuary and immediately began working with the children in the Learning Center. She is originally from Cuba, and thus completely fluent in Spanish. In her “spare time,” Teresa helped Viky with her English.

Teresa lives in Ellensburg, WA where her husband is pursuing a Master's Degree in History. She taught full time for 5 years and has been substituting for 12. Her two sons are in college, which gives her the opportunity to do some traveling. While staying in Sayulita on a previous trip, she visited Chacala and fell in love with it. ”I love the Mexican people, the culture, and especially working with the children,” she says.

About her Learning Center experience, Teresa says, “I really enjoyed working with the kids and it's nice to know that I made a difference in their lives. I worked with them 3 afternoons a week teaching English, creative writing, listening to them read, reading to them, and asking questions to check on their comprehension. We did a little math to reinforce what they were doing in their regular class. I also did a few art projects although I am not the
most artistic person around.”

Teresa invited guest speakers to come to her classroom after school and talk about their jobs or teach a lesson. Rick and Serena Raskin who own a pizza parlor in Hornby Island, B.C. came and taught the kids how to make pizza. Of course the best part was eating it.) She invited musicians, a personal trainer who did a workout with the kids, and two women who did art projects. She had a total of 15 friends come to share with the children. There are so many interesting visitors in Chacala and coordinating them to come into the Learning Center was a stroke of genius.

“I wanted to broaden [the children’s] horizons as the town where they live is so tiny—I wanted to expose them to the outside world. I took lots of pictures of them and made them each a little photo album which I gave them on the last day of class.”

The children loved Teresa and many didn’t miss a day when she was there. The Friday before Teresa left some of the moms gave her a surprise going away party with a three leche cakes (these delicious milk soaked-cakes are aspecialty of the area). The kids had written some very sweet letters for her (assisted by their regular after-school teacher, Isaac.) After the party they all went swimming at one of the student's pool. There were many sad little faces around town when Teresa left, mid-March. “I absolutely love that little town and hope to go back in about two years.”

Thank you, thank you Teresa. Your presence was such a gift and creates a model for how other visiting teachers can help. We would also like to acknowledge Nancy LeHocky Preston, a new winter resident in Chacala. Nancy and her helpers painted the entire inside of thelibrary, went through and organized all the books, and gleaned duplicated andoutdated reference books. She alphabetized the fiction and made an inviting displayfor the younger children, as well as a special place for the after school primary teachers to read. The scholarship students and other volunteers helped make this all happen during the two-week Christmas holiday. Volunteer helpers were Viky, Mariana, Nancy, Sue Vohanka, and Jacob and Clay, beach campers from Seattle. Students who helped included Gustavo Flores, Karina, Carolina, Sofia. According to Nancy Preston and Betty Todd, another librarian living in Chacala, our library now is equal to any in the U.S. Thanks to Nancy for creating a wonderful project and carrying it out. The library looks beautiful and inviting. Isaac, our after school enrichment teacher, was pleasantly surprised when he returned from the Christmas break.

The gleaned books were boxed up and delivered to smaller pueblos who do not have the blessing of tourism and donations of books.

Philip Botwink, friend of a regular donor, has sent us 6 Leggo Sets. They are wonderful toys for the kids. Evelyn Kerber from Canyon Lake, CA took Viky on a couple of shopping trips for school supplies. Tony Davis from New York, a friend of friends, sent us a very generous unexpected donation. It’s amazing how word gets around and the generosity flows.

Most of all, we cherish our regular donors and sponsors. Your commitment is what makes the program run, month after month, year after year. In the fall newsletter we will list all our regular donors. We are so grateful for your commitment and generosity.

NEWS FROM EBACH (Estudiantes Becados Agradecidos de Chacala, or Grateful Scholarship Students of Chacala)

We are happy to announce that we graduated our first University student, Candelario Serrano Gomez from the Universidad Autonoma Agraria Antonio Narro, Coahuila, Mex. with a degree "Ingeniero en Parasitologia.” Candelario has had three job offers in different parts of Mexico and has not yet decided where he will work.

Pablo Arturo will graduate in July 2007 with his degree in tourism. Last summer he did his practical working in a big hotel in Puerto Vallarta—experiencing all parts of the hospitality business. His English has improved as well as his self confidence. We suspect he will start working with his brothers(Cundo and Juan) in their local tourism business and will be able to add his expertise to help them expand and become successful entrepreneurs in Chacala.

Four more students will be starting university in August 2007 (Ulises, Antonelly, Ernesto, and Teresa) bringing the total in University to seven (Carolina will be in her second year, and Gerardo and Gustavo will be in their third year).

This year we have started a mentoring program within the scholarship program. we have inducted two new students this year to fill the spots of the graduating university students using this new system. Roberto Carlos will be mentored by Gerardo and Dalia, who will be mentored by Raul. This program is to help new students integrate into EBACH.

Susana learned about a Toys for Tots program when she met Kelley Trainer, the American Consulate in Puerto Vallarta. So in early January, Alonso and Monica, representing EBACH, went to a meeting in Puerto Vallarta to learn about the program. EBACH agreed to participate and to deliver the toys in our area.

On January 7th, some of the students piled into Mariana’s car and Gerardo’s truck to go to Puerto Vallarta to pick up over 300 toys for the small pueblos in our area. The toys distribution coincided with Three King’s Day, a traditional gift giving time in Mexico. The kids participating in the pickup and in the distribution were Monica, Erika, Gerardo, Chuy, Pedro, Lety, Nena, Gustavo, Alonso and Oscar, They, along with Viky, delivered soccer, volley and basket balls, Barbie dolls, trucks and blocks to nearby barrios, including Las Varas, El Capomo, Divisadero, LaCuata, and Paso de las Palmas. We will stay in touch with Kelley at the Embassy, and are hoping to be invited to do this again next year.

One of our University students, Carolina, is also enrolled in the "Big Learning School" in Tepic which is an accelerated and intense English program. They claim that in one year Carolina will be speaking English fluently. The cost for this program is $1300 US for the 365 days of class. Carolina is getting a special scholarship student rate to introduce this new school to Cambiando Vidas. Carolina, one of our brightest students, wants to study Business Administration with an emphasis on hospitality.

Carolina has been invited to spend a month this summer in Canada for a total immersion in English. This trip is sponsored by Justin and Susan Fryer who are opening their hearts and home to make a dream come true for her.

All of the 29 students in the program are doing really well and we are extremely proud of them! When we reflect back just a few years when only a few of the children in Chacala went to high school and most left school after 6th grade We are so pleased that education has become more important to the kids and their parents.


Costs for the high school students are still $720 USD a year, $360 of which is transportation to and from Las Varas and the balance is for tuition, uniforms and school supplies. If you sponsor a student studying locally in Chacala, who does not require $720, please know that your donation helps pay for the extra costs of the University students as well as all the programs and expenses in the Learning Center. We count on that extra money as not all donors can pay the entire expense incurred by their student. As you know, all the money donated to Cambiando Vidas must be held in one big pot and distributed according the the needs of the program. It cannot legally be earmarked for a particular student.

While in university each student requires $200 a month for 10 months of the year, or about $8,000 for the year. We trust our loyal donors will come through and help make this happen. We are so grateful for all who have really stepped up to the plate.

In the 2006 calendar year, total donations collected were $41,550
Our Expenses included:
Salaries of $9,052 (Our only paid staff are local Mexicans)
Learning Center maintenance was $2,491
Bank and Exchange Fees totaled $573
Scholarship Program expenses (including tuition, uniforms, books,
transport, etc.) for 29 students were $26,180
Our Total Expenses were $38,296, leaving us $3,254 to carry forward into

You can see how critical it is that your donations keep coming in.


Thanks to our devoted Rotary Clubs, our plea for new computers has been answered beyond our expectations. and we have acquired 8 new computers. What would we do without our Rotary supporters? We can always count on them.

George Luna from Berkeley Rotary had taken up a casual collection of his members (our plea was too late for their 2007 budget). Berkeley contributors to this special fund include Bob Randell, Grier Graff, George Hasa, Pamela Doolan, Pate Thompson, Gerry Cote, Mary Alice Rathbun, Jack MacPhail, Allen Leggett, Jackie Hammon, Reg Garcia, George Luna and Scott Garmon from the Garmon Corporation.

Since Berkeley Rotary worked in New Orleans this past winter, the New Orleans Club, in gratitude for the help from Berkeley Rotary, added a very generous donation to the computer fund. This generosity was from people who have lost homes and businesses, everything. The New Orleans contributors, led by Henry Lowentritt, include Gayle Dillenger, Susan Simon, Jane Sumner, Mike & Lisa Ryan, George Hero III, Hilton Bell, Phil Nimmo, Christine Hoffman, Carol Neff, Donald Hoffman, Dick McCarthy lll, James and Susan Peterson, Frank and Leslie Carbon. and Frank Stewart. We are so grateful to you all, who reached into your pockets for our remote little village, when your own needs are monumental. What heart!

George and Reg Garcia came to Chacala in the fall and purchased four new computers at Wal-Mart and delivered them in person to the Learning Center. Buying the computers here gives us Spanish operating systems and local support. We are so blessed. Referring to Berkeley and New Orleans, George wrote, “We are all friends of Chacala.”

BK Barringer & Dale Elks, Rotarians from North Carolina, have put together a plea to their clubs and are working with Compostela (MX) Rotary and Rotary International to obtain a matching grant $10,000 for new computers, desks and supplies for the computer center. Dale also worked with Dale Reinhardt and his son Mark, as well as Compostela (MX) Rotary on a book buying donation. We picked up the donation from Compostela and were able to buy dictionaries for every child in school this year as well as some wonderful reference books for the library.

Art Thompson of the Kalispell Rotary Club sent us a check which enabled us to purchase two more new computers. We put the two working older computers downstairs in the library so the little ones will be able to use the donated interactive games and begin to build their skills and start learning about computers and the internet.

Finally, thanks to Scott Turner and John Melius from North Carolina , who donated laptops.


We have recently found out that Telmex Prodigy DSL is offering a router that can handle the ten workstations for $500 pesos ($46USD) per month. For less than $600 per year, the LC could provide much improved Internet access. The DSL solution sounds perfect for us and could make a difference for allour scholars. We would be so grateful to have a sponsor take on this commitment.


You can make a contribution to Cambiando Vidas by mailing a check to:
Cambiando Vidas, 245 Mt. Hermon Rd., PMB 312, Scotts Valley, Ca. 95066
OR by using PayPal on our web site. THANKS!


Mariana is looking into a way that you can take a deduction on your Canadian Income Tax by donating through the Tides Canada Foundation. The way it would work is that you would send a check to Tides Canada, who will take 5% for handling and forward the remaining monies to Tides San Francisco, who in turn will send us a check in US funds. Tides Canada will send you a tax receipt for your income taxes as part of the service. You will have to submit a form letter along with your check—Mariana will send this to you upon request.

If you are interested in more information or the form letter please contact

CAMBIANDO VIDAS is a charitable organization with United States Internal
Revenue Service 501 (c) 3 tax -exempt status. EIN 73-1668982


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