Mex­i­can chil­dren get help­ing hand

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Recreation & Investment Properties -

It’s got all the mak­ings of a movie plot line. A cou­ple vis­it­ing a for­eign coun­try fall in love with the place they are stay­ing.

They plan to spend more time there, so they be­gin to learn more about the peo­ple in the small town nearby.

They be­come in­volved with lo­cal school­child­ren and set about pro­vid­ing some of the ed­u­ca­tional tools the stu­dents are so lack­ing.

This story is about Dale and Lynda Lys­ter, re­tired Cal­gary teach­ers who have be­come per­son­ally in­volved with giv­ing a help­ing hand to the school­child­ren of Bar­ron, Mex­ico.

Al­though the stu­dents want to learn, they have been held back by the lack of ed­u­ca­tional fun­da­men­tals — things Cana­dian kids take for granted, like com­put­ers, li­brary books and black­boards.

The Lys­ters are part of a move­ment called the Friends of Bar­ron.

The cou­ple bought a condo at Estrella Del Mar re­sort in 2003 and de­vel­oped a frac­tional own­er­ship ar­range­ment with six friends so they could go to Mex­ico twice a year for a month at a time.

Since then, they have pur­chased a sec­ond condo and have staked their claim to a build­ing site on the Robert Trent Jones, Jr., golf course that is part of the re­sort, with an eye to us­ing it as a re­tire­ment res­i­dence.

In 2006, the Lys­ters were ex­plor­ing Bar­ron — a town of 3,000 which has al­ways had a close con­nec­tion with Estrella be­cause many of the staff at the re­sort’s golf course, res­tau­rant, grounds and house­keep­ing ser­vices come from there.

The lit­tle town has a bak­ery, small stores, a cantina, res­tau­rant, ball di­a­mond and three schools.

It was on one of these side trips that the Lys­ters stopped in at the ele­men­tary school to see if there was an op­por­tu­nity to vol­un­teer.

At their first tour of the school, the lan­guage bar­rier was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent.

Nei­ther the prin­ci­pal or teach­ers spoke English and the Lys­ters didn’t know Span­ish.

It was also ob­vi­ous the school needed help.

“We were sad to see the poor con­di­tion of the ta­bles, chairs and desks and the poor qual­ity of the black­boards that had been painted with black­board paint so of­ten, you could no longer see the chalk,” says Dale. “The stu­dents, dressed in their navy pants and skirts with white shirts, were ready to learn, but there were no books in the class­rooms, no art sup­plies and very few re­sources.”

When asked about com­put­ers, the prin­ci­pal proudly showed the cou­ple four out­dated ma­chines in a room the size of a closet where three chil­dren sat on old metal benches, fas­ci­nated by what was hap­pen­ing on the screen. There was no In­ter­net con­nec­tion. The teacher only had ac­cess to a cou­ple of read­ing and writ­ing pro­grams.

“In an­other closet space was the li­brary,” says Dale.

“About 100 Span­ish books were im­pris­oned in boxes sit­ting on the floor. There were no book­shelves for the books and the chil­dren were not al­lowed to use the books as the school had no way of track­ing them.”

The Lys­ters be­came de­ter­mined to help the town’s 300 or so chil­dren.

On Valen­tine’s Day in 2007, the cou­ple held the first of many meet­ings with the prin­ci­pals of the kinder­garten, ele­men­tary and sec­ondary schools, who were joined by an in­ter­preter and the town’s mayor.

“Wish lists were gen­er­ated from the school staffs and prin­ci­pals and that was the be­gin­ning of an amaz­ing jour­ney over the next three years that has cul­mi­nated in wiring an empty class­room and equip­ping it with 30 com­put­ers and restor­ing a di­lap­i­dated class­room into a beau­ti­ful new lit­tle li­brary,” says Dale.

Through the fi­nan­cial sup­port of Pat But­ler — the pres­i­dent of Club Ac­qui­si­tion Co. which de­vel­oped Es­tralla Del Mar — his staff and the gen­er­ous Amer­i­cans and Cana­di­ans from the condo com­plex, the Lys­ters started a fundrais­ing pro­gram for the schools that con­tin­ues to­day through the Friends of Bar­ron.

The char­ity’s fo­cus in 2011 will be on the cre­ation of more schol­ar­ships for de­serv­ing Grade 9 stu­dents to at­tend high school in Mazat­lan — and the build­ing of a com­puter lab for the 100 grade 7, 8 and 9 stu­dents who have only three com­put­ers in the en­tire school.

“Lynda and I be­lieve that pro­vid­ing an ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion is the best way to change the fu­ture of the young stu­dents who live in Bar­ron,” says Dale. “Ed­u­ca­tion can open doors to a bet­ter stan­dard of liv­ing and em­ploy­ment for Mex­ico’s bright young stu­dents.”

Condo buy­ers and re­tired Cal­gary school­teach­ers Dale and Linda Lys­ter.

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