Hope for the Niños

What this big, fat, wide, wonderful (yet worrisome) world needs right now, it seems to me, is more wise older women like 76-year-old Elsmarie Norby. Single-handedly and unflinchingly, after a major life setback, she founded a many-faceted after-school arts-and-literacy program that has enriched and continues to enrich the lives of more than 100 children in her community.

That community is Rancho de San Miguel Viejo (“old San Miguel”), just outside of the charming, thriving (and touristy) city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Elsmarie arrived in San Miguel twenty years ago and moved to this rural community to enjoy the “contentment” she discovered here [more on her personal story later].

Elsmarie on her front porch in San Miguel Viejo last week
Elsmarie on her front porch in San Miguel Viejo last week

The program Elsmarie created is called Ojala Niños – “ojala” meaning “hope,” and “niños,” of course, meaning children – and I was fortunate this past week to visit Elsmarie and to see her after-school program, in action, first-hand. The free, year-round classes, offered every weekday afternoon and designed for children aged three through eighteen, cover: art, music, Spanish literacy, environmental issues, health, sports, social justice, and social service.

Elsmarie, who herself is a musician, photographer, and community organizer, provides the space, materials, ideas, and guidance. A small, paid staff and a dedicated group of volunteer-teachers all help to make Ojala Niños possible.

The day I visited, I saw older children learning how to work with stained glass to make colorful butterflies, middle-school-age girls making intricate dioramas under the guidance of artist-instructor Bobbie Norris (who received an award that day for her volunteer efforts), and the littlest niños stringing naturally-dyed dried pasta into pretty necklaces.

Ninos making stained glass butterflies
Ninos making stained glass butterflies
One of the nina's dioramas
One of the nina’s dioramas
Artist-instructor Bobbie Norris receiving an award
Artist-instructor Bobbie Norris receiving an award
One of the littlest ninos stringing pasta beads
One of the littlest ninos stringing pasta beads
Too sweet for words
Too sweet for words

I’d wanted to quietly interview Elsmarie for my blog, but she was too much in demand by her adoring entourage. So our interview will have to wait for a quieter moment together [stay tuned!].

In the meantime, I’m happy to share with WOW readers these photos of that visit, to give you all a sense of this inspiring, hope-filled program for indigenous children. I would urge you, too, to go to their website, www.ojala-ninos.org, for more information, and then see a wonderful video that will take you on a tour of this model for after-school education in rural Mexico: http://igg.me/at/27-9vnZDtCs/x/13281724.

Be warned, though: this video might bring tears to your eyes (as it did mine), or it might inspire you to start your own after-school program for kids, or it might even make you want to support this program through a generous donation. I hope so.

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