By Carol Watts
In June 2010 my husband and I visited Oaxaca for the first time. We found accommodation for a month at The Oacaxa Learning Center (TOLC) in their B&B. We stayed in the lovely garden apartment on the roof! In Canada, we have over the years given support to various nonprofit organizations but at times wondered what portion of our support actually made it to those in need and did it make a difference. For us the Oaxaca Learning Center (TOLC) was the first time we had direct contact with a nonprofit organization like this.
We saw firsthand how this organization worked and we were very impressed. Our host was Gary Titus, who was the founder of the Center. We witnessed his very caring and encouraging attitude towards the students and his humble living circumstances. We arrived with two large suitcases of clothing for the students, which ended up in his bedroom surrounded by young people picking out what they could use. He certainly did not live a grand lifestyle. His continuing friendship and dedication helped us to make our decision to live in Oaxaca!
We were welcomed into the fold like family and were so excited to be able meet some of the current and former students and hear their stories as they went about their studies and work at the center. The stories were of young impoverished people who have had little opportunity or encouragement to finish school. We were very moved by how these students were able to finish their schooling, to go on to post-secondary education and then to become the next generation to lead the Learning Center in its goals and vision, and ultimately help more young people get an education. Since then we have been enthusiastic supporters and friends of the Oaxaca Learning Centre. To understand what TOLC does, here are a few details!
The signature program of the Oaxaca Learning Center provides free academic teaching/learning services to students fourteen years and older. Students come from low-income rural villages, many with indigenous populations, and urban neighborhoods throughout the state of Oaxaca, and have migrated to the capital city to complete their studies.
Students initially come to TOLC to improve their academic performance, but they also find personal support and a much-needed sense of community there. The staff and tutors, from the same social and economic background as the students, are in charge of all aspects of program management. Many are previous participants in Center programs.
Gary Titus was a retired community organizer from San Francisco who arrived in Oaxaca in 1992 and began tutoring a few students who were struggling to further their education. With a small inheritance he received in 2002, he formalized the Centro de Aprendizaje (Learning Center); the Center moved to its current location on Calle Murguia and opened its B&B to support the Center’s financial sustainability. Jaasiel Quero Llaven has been working with Titus almost since the Center was founded; with multiple degrees and teaching experience from elementary through university, Quero served as Program Director from 2007 to 2010, and now directs the overall nonprofit organization.
Together, Titus and Quero developed a program that combines academic tutoring, active coaching and mentoring; their methodology has been modified over time, based on their experiences working with students. Currently, the Leadership and ten tutors provide 600 hours of tutoring per month.
Some Achievements of the TOLC
– Provided with excellence, for over 13 years, services to meet academic and life-skills needs and to support personal growth for low-income Oaxacan youth, with documented improvement in academic performance and success on entrance exams for higher education
– Named one of the five best youth programs in Mexico.
– Served over 10,000 students with approximately 78,000 hours of tutoring.
– Offered over 5,000 hours of workshops dedicated to life skills, study skills, gender equity; one of the first organizations to offer gender equity workshops to male students. These workshops are delivered by former students and other Mexican professionals.
– Developed a network of Oaxacan professionals to assist students in thinking about their futures, and the path to achieve their goals.
You Can Help – by Volunteering
No matter how long you’ll be visiting Oaxaca, the Center can use your help. English tutors are always needed; one way of doing that an intercambio, an exchange through which you practice your Spanish while the students practice their English. If you are in Oaxaca for an extended stay, the Center can assemble a small class for you to teach English. Volunteers have designed workshops to focus on the needs of our students and staff, with such topics as stress management, leadership training, making written and oral presentations, writing essays, and sexual and reproductive health.
You Can Help – by Making a Donation
The Oaxaca Learning Center depends on the support of generous people, charitable organizations and religious groups, businesses and other sources from around the world. You can donate to the Center through one of three platforms – one for Canadian donors, one for Mexican donors, and one for donors from the USA and all other countries. These platforms ensure that the value of your donation is maximized, that your donation is made with legality and safety, and that it is tax-deductible. Go to the Center’s donation page to contribute: http://www.tolc.org.mx/donate.html.
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