The word “ojala” originates in ancient Arabic as “inshala”, a petition to God for his will to be done…God Willing. After centuries of travel, coming finally to Mexico, the sound became OJALÁ…O-HA-LÁ.
In daily Spanish conversation, it’s used to mean hope, but with the same deference to God’s will.
OJALÁ began when the children themselves took full advantage of a place at a table, with a stool to sit on and nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper. They were completely delighted and engrossed in this simple setting.
Observing their responses brought about our response to them… giving them a place with materials, offering ideas and guidance…this is the foundation of what we do and how we grow at OJALÁ NIÑOS.
San Miguel Viejo
Ojala Niños serves 120 children and their families in an indigenous rural community in central Mexico. The village is called San Miguel Viejo and is located 3 miles from the center of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.
The village is an Otomí “ejido”… an indigenous community of about 500 people who were slaves to the Spanish hacienda until the revolution in 1910, after which the government gave them collective ownership to the land they occupied.
The community lacks access to telephone, cable and internet. There is a local kinder and primary school, but many families cannot afford to send their children to either one. The local primary school is sorely lacking in books, materials and competent teachers. Every year several children graduate from the sixth grade without being able to read or write. There is no meeting place, playground or clinic in this community. Most of the adults are illiterate, partly or completely. They still live in incomplete houses without kitchens or bathrooms, with dirt floors. Most collect wood for cooking over an open fire. They have intermittent service for water and electricity.
The expectation and/or support for education for the children is lacking in many families. If a child of 14+ can get any kind of work, it contributes a little more to the family’s basic needs. Their poverty is exacerbated by a lack of local jobs and the municipal government makes little effort to change these circumstances. The recent building explosion in San Miguel de Allende has been given to outsiders who have brought their own workers, minimizing the hiring of local workers.
How Ojalá Niños Began
The program began in 2008, with one new resident, Elsmarie Norby, giving space and materials to curious children in her garden and house. Seeing the enthusiasm from the children and the clear need, she continued to offer this opportunity. More children came, friends came as volunteers from town to help and offered books, materials and ideas for projects. In September, 2010, with around 65 children participating, it became a non-profit organization with a name and a specific mission: OJALA NINOS - to offer opportunities for exploration & discovery.
The program grew and developed by following the children and being open to all offers from many enthusiastic folks. There are now 9 teachers and assistants, 3 administrators, and 7 board members.
OJALA NIÑOS is now a recognized Mexican non-profit organization which has a ten year history of providing alternative education opportunities.
During all this time, the classes and activities have been held at 2 private homes in the community – the home of Elsmarie Norby and later, a neighbor who is a local mother of 2 girls. Classes in arts, music and literacy are given to all ages at no charge.
Now the established program has a much expanded mission, is legally certified by state and federal educational agencies, and sees the need to also expand the physical reality ie: a building on a piece of land that belongs to the foundation and functions as a community learning center, is open at least 5 full days a week, and offers many opportunities to learn cooperation and skills that will overcome the conditions of poverty and lack of pride. This center will also serve other smaller nearby communities that have even less access to education and hope/opportunities.