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by Nancy Ortiz

When I was certified as a teacher, I had to go to a small town in Mexico. It took 4 buses. When I arrived, there was no one. Looking for someone to ask about the school, I found it inside a family’s property. They made it clear to me that they didn’t like educators there. The children arrived alone at school. I didn’t see their parents in two months.

The school was a square building with a cement floor. Inside, there was a chalkboard and wooden benches. I only had some students, first grade through sixth.

One afternoon, I prepared for class, and I heard: “Teacher..!” It was my student. “What’s going on?” There was Gustavo, Samuel’s brother. His back against a tree, his body rigid, and kids surrounding him. Gustavo was silent but remained strong while everyone shouted. “Thief!” The crowd yelled. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Gustavo stole something!” they said. Looking over, Gustavo said, “I have nothing.” Jesus said, “Rosa caught him!” I looked at Rosa, she nodded. I approached Gustavo, “Can I check your pockets?” I said. His look told me yes. I checked his left pocket. I turned and said, “It’s empty.” I checked the next pocket; I slipped my hand into it and could feel something. Gustavo looked sad, his cheeks red. I squeezed what I found and put it in my pocket. I said, “He has nothing.” “I saw it!” Rosa exclaimed. The boys ran to check him—nothing. I went to the classroom. It was a piece of chocolate – bitten. This chocolate was known
to be bitter.

They stayed after class and I took out the chocolate, “I want to talk about this.” Samuel looked at his brother and yelled. “Don’t you know that it’s bad to steal?” Gustavo told me with terror, “I was hungry!” Samuel told me, “Yesterday Dad said to graze the cattle. Gustavo didn’t take some of the cows out. Father realized and was upset, and being drunk, he left us without eating.” Gustavo continued, “Later when father left, Gustavo got on my shoulders and grabbed the food my dad had put in the loft. He didn’t want to help but I was hungry too.” We lowered the basket, grabbed two tortillas but my father came, he fell while squeezing the tortillas. My father whipped us. Samuel’s back was bloody and swollen. Gustavo had arrived at school with a bruised cheekbone. Samuel continued, “After beating Gustavo, father said he would sleep outside. This morning he was asleep in the cow trough. Then we came to school. He hasn’t eaten anything.”

It was painful to hear what these two children were experiencing. “You will have to return the chocolate,” I said.

That week I had to collect money for books, and the parents had to pay a fee. I had to visit each family. When I arrived at their house, their father had a machete. I said I was collecting a fee. The father pointed the machete at me. He said, “No, we’re not interested in teaching them to read or write. I just want you to teach them numbers and counting. I’m not giving money for books. Don’t overstep.” “Ok!” I said and left. The experience frightened me.

I reflected on the chocolate theft and how hard it is for children without education or supportive parents in a place far from opportunities.