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At a glance: Mexico

In Mexico City, community centres provide learning opportunities for indigenous children

By Thomas Nybo

UNICEF’s flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’, was launched on 28 February, focusing attention on children in urban areas. One billion children live in urban areas, a number that is growing rapidly. Yet disparities within cities reveal that many lack access to schools, health care and sanitation, despite living alongside these services. This story is part of a series highlighting the needs of these children.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, 23 March 2012 – The journey to the hospital begins early for 13-year-old Lucía Argüelles.

VIDEO: 21 February 2012 - UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on community centres in Mexico City that provide learning opportunities for indigenous children.  Watch in RealPlayer


She lives in a one-room shack in Mexico City with five other family members. They moved here from the mountains of Veracruz so Lucia could be treated for lupus, an autoimmune disorder, which she was diagnosed with a year ago.

A daily ordeal

Lucía's father joins her on the trek to the hospital, which has become routine. They wake up at 5 a.m. and get dressed in the light of a single lightbulb. As they walk through the early morning darkness, Lucía carries a plastic bag filled with all her medical records and medicines. They walk to the subway station, take a crowded train, and then make another long walk to the hospital.

Lucía will spend five hours at the hospital, shuffling between doctors and setting up future appointments. As she spends her day in an examine room, she dreams of the place she’d rather to be – a classroom.

"I would really like to go back to school because I like to study, and I would like to learn more about how to read and how to write," she said. "And especially I would like to know more about math, like adding and multiplying, all these. That is what I would like to know more about."

© UNICEF video
Mexico City is a place of contrasts; prosperity exists alongside poverty. All too often, indigenous people arrive seeking opportunities, but find themselves, and their children, excluded.

Educating indigenous children

Lucía is like many indigenous children in urban Mexico, struggling to be educated. With a population of 19.3 million, Mexico City is a city of contrasts, of prosperity existing alongside poverty.

All too often, indigenous people arrive in the city seeking opportunities, but find themselves, and their children, excluded. Indigenous adolescents face a variety of obstacles to education, especially secondary school, including language barriers, lack of documentation and social expectations that they work instead.
Lucía, fortunately, has been able to attend a community centre that aims to helping indigenous children get an education when they're unable to attend traditional schools. There, she and the others study math, reading and Spanish, as well as their native languages and culture.

Fernando Trinidad is the general coordinator of the centre. "Many of the children who come to this community centre don't go to school, because they don't have the legal documents or because they lack the economic resources to attend school," he said. "We are opening indigenous community centres in all of Mexico City so children can continue their studies and they can build a better future."

© UNICEF video
A child attends an educational session at a community centre in Mexico City, Mexico.

These community centres are part of an educational initiative led by Mexico City's Ministry of Education, bringing non-formal education tools to indigenous children and adolescents in marginalized urban areas.
UNICEF is also working with the Government of Mexico to fulfil children´s right to an education, promoting the implementation of public policies that will guarantee educational inclusion. UNICEF is also providing technical support so that children like Lucía receive the same opportunities as other children.

Determined to learn

Lucía works hard to manage her illness, dutifully attending every medical appointment. She also helps her parents with the chores and looks after her three siblings.

"I need to go to the hospital every eight days, and they give me injections for my lupus,” Lucía said. “All this time I couldn't go to school. But now… I'm going to go back to the hospital and they are going to tell me if I can go back to my town in Veracruz or if I need to stay here longer."

Part of what drives her, she says, is knowing she'll be back in school before too long, whether it's in Mexico City or back home in Veracruz. It is a goal that draws nearer every day.



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