The picture at the foot of this post is one you may have seen before. I took it in March 2013 while visiting San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas.

The three year old’s name is Gladys. Her parents sell embroidered and woven textiles in the Santo Domingo market. She had one little brother when I took the picture last year… I caught a glimpse of him, all bundled up and laying on top of a pile of woolen blankets. By the girth of Gladys’ mama’s middle, I am sure there is another baby by now.

Look at Gladys’ eyes… full of questions. Look how she carries her blonde blue-eyed doll… cuddled in a rebozo and strapped to her back, just the way she sees her mother and other women carrying their babies.

I am often struck by the faces of young children like Gladys. They are loved, anyone can see that, but they are often left to grow up on their own. Mom and Dad are so busy trying to make enough pesos to keep their family alive, there is precious little time for really teaching their sons and daughters… The little ones learn most of what they know by observation.

What does the future hold for the children of Mexico who are born into families without means? About 70% of the country’s young families live precarious financial circumstances and the situation is not getting better for them. The divide between those who have a lot and those who have far too little continues to widen.

If children like Gladys are lucky, at about 6 years of age they start school. There, the maestros will introduce them to the Spanish language. They will learn to count and will memorize the names of Mexico’s capital cities. The learning they receive will be basic, but some of them will be even luckier and they will go on to study high school; a few of these omes will make it as far as the university. And when one child in a family succeeds in attaining a higher degree, the whole family’s lot will improve. I have seen this time and time again, and am convinced that there is nothing more important in Mexico than education.

I am returning to Chiapas this March with a group of 35 people, and I will be on the lookout for Gladys. To come along with Jorge and I, each of these travelers will donate 1,000 pesos towards helping young underprivileged women go to university. A drop in the bucket? Indeed… But the drops add up, and if enough more drops are added, the bucket will fill.


18 thoughts on “Gladys”

  1. This is a haunting and beautiful story. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve gathered 35 like-minded, fun people who will gain an even better insight into Mexico by traveling with you. And thank you for taking the risk of organizing this, plus donating the profit from all your work and experience so that deserving women can become bright lights to lead the way for others in their situation. I’d love to read interviews with some of the successful women who’ve been helped with full university scholarships – and more. This is the type of direct, hands-on charity it’s a privilege to connect with.

    1. Thanks Marianne. I too am happy the tour has filled so quickly. It is a pleasure to show others the wonders of Chiapas. That is a good idea. I am going to see Claudia Amaro today, she the head of the IWC scholarship program and I will ask her to put me in contact with some of the successful beautiful young women who we have known over the years. It will be my honor to present their stories to readers of this blog

  2. Hi Joanna,

    Although I won’t be able to take part in the trip to Chiapas you can count on a 1,000.00 peso donation from me for the cause. I’ll give it to you when I visit in Feb. A great initiative!!!!


      1. Hi Joanna,
        Reading this story takes me back to Chiapas and seeing the faces of these little children. Allan and I often reminisce about our trip to Chiapas with you and the students. I have so many fond memories of such a beautiful place and such great company. I would love to be going on the trip with you and would love to see you again and go back to Chiapas. What you are doing for these woman and children is wonderful and will make such a difference.

        Hugs to you and Jorge and your family, I hope you are all doing well.

        Kelly Chase

      2. I also have such fond memories of that trip to Chiapas. Remember the night in Palenque!?! You’ll be glad to know we are not at that hotel anymore… Whenever you want Kelly, we are here and would really love to have you come back for another visit. Maybe with Gene? Big hugs to all my friends in NB… I miss seeing you.

    1. Going to Chiapas is more than a trip , it is an education. A tour of this region invites reflection and deep thought. It is also makes the traveler so aware of beauty. I know you would love it there, and I hope I will be with you on your first visit.

  3. Are you going to the village again where we showed the women how to knit with circular needles? That was great fun. Once we got past Sergio and you (non-knitters) trying to translate, and you both tried so hard, the women and I got along fine. They were so observant, that they quickly saw what to do and it didn’t matter that we shared no common language. Knitting was all the language we needed.
    Anyone who hasn’t been on that trip, do go when you get the opportunity. You’ll never forget it.

  4. Looking at the eyes of Gladys, I saw the eyes of so many children like her, begging for a coin at impassive drivers who are waiting for the green light. Their mothers do the same, a sad expression on their faces, while the youngest of the family are playing or just sitting on the grass of the medians, surrounded by a cloud of smoke. I look at this and I think this is not fair, this shouldn’t be happening. I want to express my thankfulness and admiration for your generous initiative, which I know will start a chain of blessings for my brothers and sisters in Chiapas.

      1. Never been there, actually. I’ve been told a lot of stories about San Cristobal de las Casas and I’m sure I’ll be visiting there soon. There are also very poor communities in the rural areas of my state, Nuevo Leon, and my friends and I have been there several times to bring clothes and food for the villagers. However, this idea of collecting money to help young women go to the university is very brilliant — reminds me of “give a man a fish…”. It also inspires me to get together with my friends and see what we could do in this respect here.

      2. The International Womens’ Club started this project about 25 years ago. We have seen probably close to 100 young women complete their degrees in Law, Medicine, Education and so on. And as I say, the whole family benefits when one person achieves his or her dream. Good luck with your idea. Start small and takes it from there…

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