Teacher’s Adventures In Mexico

A Teacher’s Adventures In Mexico

Having read some of Mrs Jones’s recollections of her teaching career in a recent What’s On, it has prompted me to share some of my memories and experiences at the chalk face!

In September 1985, I boarded a plane to fly to Mexico City, the capital and largest city of Mexico and the most-populous city in North America. Located in the Valley of Mexico (Valle de México), a large valley in the high plateaus in the centre of Mexico, it lies at an altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 ft). I was to work at a large 3 -18 years International school in the north of the city. Over 60 nationalities were represented at the school with children coming from all around the world, including England, USA, Spain, Colombia, South Africa, Egypt. The attraction was to work in a multi-cultural school… and have the opportunity to eat real tacos and burritos, learn a new language and visit the pyramids and coastlines of Mexico and neighbouring countries!

In the first week new staff had the opportunity to get to know each other, and the school, and to travel to some of the sights of the city. The most memorable visit was the day trip to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan. This enormous complex is found on the outskirts of modern-day Mexico City and is the site of some of the largest freestanding pyramids in the world.

School started. I was teaching throughout the age range from 3 to 18 years and had classes of energetic, enthusiastic kindergarten children one lesson, and streetwise, lackadaisical, less energetic 18 year olds the next! But it was all a wonderful, fantastic teaching experience… and I knew I would enjoy my time at the school, and in Mexico.

Then, on September 19th, two weeks after arriving …….catastrophe for Mexico. As I sat in my house contemplating the day ahead, I felt the house shake, breakfast dishes on the table were juddering and the light fitments on the ceiling were swinging around. It was only when I arrived in school, I realised what had happened: a powerful earthquake, magnitude 8.1, had struck Mexico City. The quake was centred off the Pacific coast of Michoacán, more than 200 miles west of Mexico City, yet, much of the damage was in Mexico City, which was constructed on an ancient lake bed whose soft sediments amplify seismic waves.

Mexico’s president, Miguel de la Madrid was criticized for his government’s weak response to the disaster. At first, the president rejected offers of international aid and played down the damage caused by the quake. Mexican citizens themselves started to organise their own rescue operations and emergency support. My school contributed to this emergency support, by becoming an Earthquake support centre. Fortunately, the school and its immediate surrounding area had escaped the damage to buildings that the city centre had experienced. Staff could volunteer to collect, collate and distribute food, clothing, medicines, blankets and water for some of the people made homeless by the earthquake. Donations poured into the school. It was the job of school staff to sort the donations and then for some staff to travel in school minibuses to the city centre to distribute the aid.

The city centre was a disaster zone: mangled buildings, roads strewn with rubble, crushed bridges, shocked and confused people. I had taught about the effects of earthquakes in GCSE Geography lessons, and now I was witnessing them firsthand. Some people had lost everything and individuals and families were grateful for any assistance we provided. It was a sobering and sombre experience for all of us; it was always a very subdued group that travelled back to the relative safety of the school.

More than 10,000 people died as a result of the quake, some 30,000 others were injured and an estimated 250,000 people were left homeless. More than 400 buildings collapsed and thousands more were damaged. International and government aid eventually arrived and the school’s contribution became less essential.

For many people around the world, the 1985 Mexican earthquake is remembered for the ‘ninos del sismo’ or ‘the children of the earthquake’. Sixteen ‘miracle babies’ were pulled from the rubble of a maternity hospital that had collapsed in the earthquake; 14 survived. Some of the babies had survived 8 days without nourishment, warmth, human contact and water. Life emerging from the ruins gave hope to Mexicans who had lost everything.

School reopened and teachers and pupils returned to classes. The earthquake had been an unforgettable, remarkable and humbling start to my 4 years in Mexico. It had been a privilege to be a tiny part of the support effort.

Lynne Frugtniet