Mercury in the bottom fish of Lake Chapala in central Mexico has produced a high incidence of brain damage among area children. Many of the special-needs kids are treated as objects of shame by their muy macho fathers, written off as losses from birth and kept out of sight.
Others spend their youth in regular schools, where they learn lots about how cruel kids can be toward slow learners and little from their teachers because, academically, they're in way over their heads.
A few of the learning-impaired children get the help they need to be all they can be. Among them are the 92 kids who attend La Escuela Para Ninos Especiales, a school for special-needs children in Jocotepec, a town whose adult residents typically tend berry fields for US$20 a day.
The school was founded by two Canadian teachers in 1979 and to this day is chiefly supported by retirees from Canada and the USA. Director Salvador Nacias Cuevas gave my taxi driver and me a tour of the school in 2016.
We entered classrooms where teachers taught from blackboards or coloring books or performed physical therapy on handicapped students. We roamed the dining area, crafts shop and library. We received lots of smiles from curious children, many who struck poses when they saw my camera.
The taxi driver and I showed up with US$250 worth of notebooks, pencils, pencil sharpeners and erasers—school supplies that Salvador invited us to give directly to the students. The kids merrily accepted them. I felt like Santa Claus.
It's remarkable how many bags of school supplies US$250 can buy in Mexico. And it astounded me to learn that the school fed all of the students and the 21 teachers their main meal of the day at a cost of just 5 pesos—30 U.S. pennies—per person.
I'm writing this from a café not far from the school. It occurs to me now that I can treat everyone at the school—111 people in all—to their main meal for the day for less than US$35. And for a pittance I could offer them ice cream for dessert. It's hot today. What a cool idea!