Free kindergarten aids Mexico’s street kids

The United Nations says some 20 million children in Mexico live in poverty. Many are in Mexico City, where their parents find work as day laborers or street vendors. Often, the children have no place to stay while their parents are working. But a state-funded kindergarten is providing some food, care and education.

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Early morning in Mexico City, and it’s business as usual. Across the capital the traffic roars, as the locals wash windscreens, merchants take deliveries from heavy trucks, and workers are noticeably unprotected in the streets. It’s no place for children, as Reina, a mother of two, knows only too well.

“My children have had many accidents here,” she said. “My daughter Alison fell more than a meter off a concrete ramp when she was two years old, and my son Cristian has been run over by a motorbike.”

The safety of children, working alongside their parents in the streets, is a growing concern.

Data from 2015 shows, on average, 21 pedestrians were killed every day on the streets of the capital. On top of that immediate danger there’s the developmental risks to young kids who inhale exhaust and pollution.

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Now, the city government sees a solution.

This is a state-funded kindergarten, named “Boys and Girls Out of Harm’s Way”, aimed specifically towards parents like Reina.

Every day the center’s social workers collect the kids in the capital’s most impoverished districts and teach them reading and writing skills. As well as getting kids off the streets, the program serves a second purpose, offering a formal education to children who rarely attend school.

That exposure is vital.

“The majority of the kids haven’t attended any school at all, so it’s a big challenge as a teacher,” said social worker Mariana Lizet. “We try to plant that seed, that they can change their perspective on life and be whoever they want. People who don’t just love their work, but who love life.”

Throughout the day, the children attend class, exercise in the playground, and get three square meals.

Doris Ortiz is a child psychologist, and says the stabilizing factor will be vital for the children’s future.

“The impact will last for their entire lives,” Ortiz said. “Children should grow up in healthy, peaceful environments, and obviously if this can’t be achieved they can’t develop emotionally or socially, which limits their chances of being successful as adults.”

Month after month, the children here continue to grow. Their teachers hope that the program will give these kids a chance at having a better life than that of their parents.

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Alasdair Baverstock MA is an award-winning multimedia foreign correspondent based in Mexico City, with more than five years of experience covering Latin America. Originally from London, and with full NCTJ certification, he specialises in news and feature journalism for print, radio and television. His work has previously been used as set-texts in British A-Level examinations. He currently works as CGTN America's Mexico correspondent, and has formerly published work in TIME Magazine, Daily Mail, The Atlantic, Penthouse, Fox News, BBC, Daily Telegraph, TRT World, and others.

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