Rotaract Club joins Lethbridge Rotary in bringing Mexican school dream to reality

In honour of National Philanthropy Day on Wednesday, Nov. 15, those of us at the U of L's UNews website wanted to highlight some stories from our archives. Each day this week, we'll republish a story that demonstrates the many ways the campus community benefits from philanthropy. Our first story looks at the efforts to create a much-needed school in Mazatlán, Mexico.

An earnest belief in the value of education has led to the creation of an accredited school in Mazatlán, Mexico, where children were once educated by volunteers in a ramshackle structure made of discarded pallets.

The Pallet School Project brought together the University of Lethbridge Rotaract Club, the Rotary Club of Lethbridge East and the Rotary Club of Mazatlán Norte to create a fully-accredited, government-supported, six-classroom school in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. What began as an idea in summer 2014 was realized just last week when the Kinder Urbivilla del Real school welcomed 200 students through its doors.

The former Pallet School was just that, a building constructed of discarded pallets.

“It’s very exciting that it actually came together the way it has,” says Katie Wilson, a U of L PhD student in chemistry and Rotaract Club member. “You look at it now that it is done and it looks like a school – it’s not just something thrown together – but a real school for them to be proud of.”

The need for a school was identified in 2014 when a group of Rotarians were in Mazatlán as part of the Los Amigos Project, an initiative where decommissioned fleet vehicles are donated to Mexican communities. On delivering a collection of fire trucks, handi-buses and ambulances, the Rotarians struck up conversations with some of the locals, who spoke about a school for kindergarten students that had been constructed out of discarded pallets.

“A group of four teachers essentially made a school, with the help of community members, out of scavenged materials, largely pallets sitting on end, stacked up on top of each other and held in place with whatever they could find for columns and posts,” says Rotary Club member and retired U of L geography professor Dr. Ian MacLachlan. “These teachers would volunteer their time and teach the children in the morning and then go to work for paid employment in the afternoon.”

This is one of two buildings that make up the new, modern schoolhouse.

The Catch-22 with Mexican education is that kindergarten is not funded by the State of Sinaloa but is necessary to attend primary school, which is free and fully funded. In the poorest neighbourhoods such as these, it means communities band together to do their best to provide kindergarten so their children won’t be shut out of primary school.

“It’s crazy to think that these kids do not have the opportunity to attend school available to them like we do, and how much effort their parents and their community are putting in to provide them with that,” says Wilson. “For us, being able to support them and to give them that is pretty cool.”

Crammed into tight spaces and working on a dirt floor has now given way to a modern classroom setting, below.

With the need for the school identified, the Rotary Club of Lethbridge East wanted to help build a real school but didn’t have the funds to get it started. Rotaract, through a pair of dinners and silent auctions, did, and could devote $36,500 to the project. Using that as leverage, the Rotary Club of Mazatlán worked with local and state governments to secure the necessary permits in short time and begin construction. With additional government funding, what started as a two-room schoolhouse quickly blossomed into more and began to take shape.

Two buildings were constructed, one with four classrooms, the other with two, as well as a bathroom and administrative office, all enclosed by a security fence. The Rotary Club of Lethbridge East is on board to help stock the school with supplies. Nine fully accredited and government-supported teachers are now on staff for the 200 students.

“We had the goal to build this community a proper building where they could have kindergarten but we didn’t want them to just have kindergarten, we wanted it to be accredited by the government, so that it was recognized to allow the kids into Grade 1,” says Wilson. “Now, they also have a building they can use for community outreach. They want to bring in a dentist and a doctor and they now have a modern facility to host things like that.”

The University of Lethbridge Rotaract Club is a group of university students with a love for humanity and humanitarian service, chartered by Rotary International and ratified by the University of Lethbridge Students' Union. Their charitable efforts have benefited a number of projects over the years, with funds generated through the annual dinner and silent auction. The 12th Annual Dinner and Silent Auction takes place January 21, 2017 at the Sandman Hotel and will support the Lethbridge District Boys & Girls Club graffiti program.

For more information and to view an album of photos on the Pallet School Project, visit: