Local Man Dedicates His Life To Educate Children In Tijuana And Nicaragua - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: News

Local Man Dedicates His Life To Educate Children In Tijuana And Nicaragua

by Alessandra Selgi-Harrigan | Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013 4:50 pm

At the age of 27, David Lynch was a special education teacher at a public school in New York City when he decided to join a group of teachers from Philadelphia traveling to Tijuana to teach for one month in the summer of 1980. 

At the end his experience, Lynch was ready to go back to New York. His classroom in Tijuana was a blue tarp and his students were children who lived with their families across from the trash dump. Their houses were very rudimentary, built with cardboard and whatever else was found in the dump and had no electricity or running water. The families picked through the dump and the children did not go to school. “I believed I did my good deed,” he said about his first experience. Lynch thought he’d never go back to Colonia Pan Americano also known as El Dompe or the dump. “It was awful. I never experienced any type of poverty ... the stench, and to top it off the zillions of flies all over the place,” he explained. Every once in a while a chicken, pig or cow would walk across the “classroom” and the children didn’t even flinch. “It was so normal to them,” he said.

After returning to New York he realized his view of the world had changed. Every time he heard a parent, teacher or student complain he would say to himself “You think you have it bad.” The next summer he decided to go back to the colonia again and did so for three summers in a row. He ended up staying for six weeks at the end of the third summer. “These kids need a year-round teacher,” he said to himself. So he went back to his school in New York and asked for a year’s leave of absence. In September of 1983 he moved to Tijuana and continued teaching. “The first year flew by, asked for a second year and the district gave it to me, then asked for a third year and they said ‘you can have it but you have to come back at the end of the third year or resign,’ ” he recalled. At that point he realized that he was never going back to teach in New York so he resigned on the spot. 

Lynch affiliated himself with Rosemont College, and was able to use their non-profit status to raise funds to support the “school” which was still without a building. He raised $10,000 and the Rosemont Sisters of the Holy Child donated $5,000. Other teachers joined him for short periods of time. Lynch improved his Spanish. “People heard from all over what I was doing and didn’t need much,” he said about the donations. He paid $55 in rent for a place to live four miles away. 

By this time 65 children were attending school and a family who lived in the colonia built an addition to their shack and offered their “living room” to use as a school. Lynch used that room until a school was built a year-and-a-half later. The one-room preschool/kindergarten and a medical clinic was a boost to the community. Lynch taught kindergarten, English and basic literacy. He explained his main focus was teaching culture to the children. “My main thing was to take them out of the garbage dump, to the world beyond,” he said. Lynch felt the children were too secluded. Public transportation was two miles away and and a small convenience store was half a mile away. He would take them to the city and to businesses where children could get a chance to see the different jobs. In 1985 Lynch received a grant to bring four children to New York for Christmas. That was when things started to change. In 1998 he developed a not-for-profit organization called Responsibility. “I was [teaching] out of the goodness of my heart with no salary. I was turning 40, so either I go back to teaching in California or develop a non-profit and get a salary,” he explained. Both of those goals became a reality with the creation of Responsibility and getting a job at Southwestern College. Fast forward to 1991, the Colonia Pan Americano moved to another neighborhood called Fausto Gonzalez, the site of the new dump. That’s where Lynch built a new school in 1992. He contacted the Mexican department of education to see if it would partner to build the school. “If we proved the children would go to school they’d take over,” he recalled them saying. That’s what happened in 1994. 

In the meantime, newspapers and television stations took notice of Lynch’s work and in 1990 TV personality Bill O’Reilly went to Tijuana to interview him twice. That was a boost to the organization. “The money Bill O’Reilly raised paid for the first school,” he said. After the the government took over the first school, Home Depot donated materials to build a second school. The third school was built with donations made by a group of Lynch’s friends from Rancho Santa Fe. The fourth school was built on the site of the third that was torn down because of a need for more space. It was funded by NRG, an energy company. NRG funded the school after one of the company’s employees went to see a musical called “Responsibility” written about Lynch and his work.

All the teachers at the school are Mexican. One of his former students, Felipe is now a teacher at Lynch’s school. “He started school between the age of 9 and 11. He was a garbage picker and had no birth certificate but a certificate of remembrance. He went through my English classes, then Mexican culture,” said Lynch. Felipe went on to teach at private schools, but then approached Lynch and told him he wanted to teach preschool with him.

The dump at Colonia Fausto Gonzalez is now closed and people commute to the new dump to scavenge for anything of value, but the school is still there. Lynch was originally the director of the school, but he has since hired a principal. Four teachers and one teaching assistant work there and one person Lynch calls an all-around guy that helps with anything that comes up.

In 2008, Lynch became aware of a garbage dump community in Mategalpa, Nicaragua. Lynch heard that film director John Sheedy had done a documentary about that community. (Sheedy had also done a documentary on the Fausto Gonzalez community called “The Tijuana Project.”)

When Lynch went to Mategalpa he thought he would set up a school. “The first thing people asked for was water not a school, They showed me the river they drank from...we thought Tijuana was bad,” he said. Lynch explained that many single moms lived in that community and they took the entire family to work in the dump. Moms would bring babies in a cardboard box. By chance he met a young man named Leonardo Luquez who was a college student who also heard about the community and had decided to set up a school there. The two started working together. Lynch first raised money to get water to the community. Lynch’s uncle Robert Keenan heard about the need and donated the money to build a school. It took two years between Lynch’s first visit to when the school was built. Luquez is the director of the new school that now serves 560 kids that range from 6 years old to adult. Lynch’s goal for that school is to raise $35,000 to buy textbooks. Right now the children are learning by lecture, the teacher writes on the blackboard and they take notes. 

Lynch recalled an incident at the school. When he walked in the classroom the children did not turn their heads to see who was coming in as it would have happened in any other classroom. Lynch asked the teacher how there could be such discipline and control. The answer was       “ ‘All students here are invited. They choose to come,’ ” recalled Lynch.

Lynch is currently raising funds to send children to summer camp which include trips to museums, field trips and the beach. “For a lot of them, it’s the first time they leave the dump,” he said.

Lynch, a resident of Coronado Shores now spends most of his time teaching at Southwestern College and at working at the Responsibility office in San Ysidro.

For more information log on www.responsibilityonline.org.