The Secondaria 81 School and Aurora Primary School project was proposed to help the marginalised communities of Aurora and Bobadilla districts. The overwhelming majority of residents in these districts live under the poverty line. Many children from these deprived areas go for weeks without showering, have no concept of hygiene, have never owned a toothbrush (or are sharing one with six or seven other family members) and many have had head lice all their lives because of limited access to water at home.
Those children who do have running water in their homes still do not have access to clean drinking water. Similarly these two schools are connected to the mains city water but again this water is not clean.
In October 2012, work began on construction of a Water House in each school which would filter the unclean water. The work was undertaken by Just a Drop through local partner New Life Mexico and was sponsored by the Institute of Travel and Tourism.
Aurora Primary School is located in a built up area near an old housing estate. This estate is the most dangerous in Puerto Vallarta; the crime rate is very high and the local government report there are more single mothers in this area than any other location in Puerto Vallarta. There is a problem not only with unemployment, but drugs, alcohol and gangs.
Secondaria 81 Secondary School in Bobadilla accommodates 1,200 children from approximately 20 districts (700 pupils in the morning, and 600 pupils in the afternoon). The district of Bobadilla is the central artery for the surrounding districts, all of which are deprived. Approximately 30% of all students work part-time before or after attending school to help support their families and pay for their school uniforms, shoes and supplies. Most families suffer from severe financial hardship earning less than the minimum wage ($50 pesos for an eight hour shift – £2.50) and their housing conditions are exceptionally poor.
Ten years ago approximately 50% of students from these deprived areas left school after primary level, if indeed they attended at all. However, in 2011, head teachers explained that, due to additional support from outside charities such as rotary clubs, approximately 95% of students went on to secondary school.
Child labour, exacerbated by the growing tourist industry, is extremely common in Puerto Vallarta. Either before or after going to school, children work to support their financially deprived families. While some pack bags in supermarkets or lay bricks on building sites, others are pushed onto the streets. Desperate to earn money, they become involved in a number of activities ranging from singing on buses and opening taxi doors to stealing.
Being on the streets however is an inappropriate and dangerous environment for these children to flourish in. Coexisting on the streets often leads them to miss school and eventually drop out of full time education altogether. Children are then likely to leave their homes and live on the streets permanently. More vulnerable than ever, they become easy targets for drug dealers which can lead to serious drug addiction and prostitution.
All ‘Working Children’ come from disadvantaged colonias (districts). Only the routes used by local buses are paved, all other routes are dirt tracks prone to severe flooding during the rainy season which in turn causes health and hygiene issues with human and industrial waste flowing uncontrollably.
Drug addiction, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases are some of the major risks due to the lack of adequate information. The children in the deprived areas of Puerto Vallarta are particularly susceptible to these problems as the overwhelming majority suffer from varying degrees of economic, social, physical and mental abuse and are consequently classified as ‘at risk’.
The water provided by the local water company, Sepal, in theory is clean. When it leaves the Sepal plant it is safe to drink (according to Mexican standards of ‘clean water’, rather than international standards); however, the pipes and drainage system in Puerto Vallarta is archaic and thus the water becomes contaminated by the time it reaches a tap.
Filtered water is sold on trucks (by companies owned by Coke and Pepsi) to all residents in 20 litre bottles at a cost of £1.20. Families living in deprived areas or living on the minimum wage are unable to afford the cost of filtered water. These families therefore drink the contaminated water, or water from the nearby rivers, which leads to multiple health issues. In the heat of the summer months, many children also suffer from severe dehydration.
Both Aurora and Bobadilla have no clean drinking water available to the students in the schools. The schools have taps connected to the mains water and the schools have no other alternative but to let students drink this contaminated, dirty water.
The construction at Aurora Primary School was completed on the 24th October. Work at Secondaria 81 School was completed on the 9th November. Final inspections of both Water Houses were made on the 28th November.
More than 1,250 children in Aurora Primary School and 1,100 students at Secondaria 81 are now receiving clean drinking water. In addition, at both locations, taps have been fitted to the side of the system block, to allow 20 litre plastic bottles to be filled for the classrooms. Children also fill bottles up (in some cases multiple bottles) to take home.
New Life Mexico and both schools would like to pass on their sincere thanks to Just a Drop and the Institute of Travel and Tourism for enabling over 2,350 children to access clean safe water.
Project Sponsor: Institute of Travel and Tourism
Date of Project: December 2012