Travel Tips

Voluntourism Spotlight: Working with Oaxacan Children

We’ve told you about arts and culture in Oaxaca and now we’re focusing on the state’s youngest residents. Find out the unique socioeconomic problems in the community and what you can do to help in our latest Voluntourism Spotlight.  Check back every Wednesday for more voluntourism opportunities and tune into Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio on Saturday for more information.

Oaxaca StreetChildren Grassroots is a U.S. non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to provide Oaxacan children living in extreme poverty with an education. At their center in Oaxaca, El Centro de Esperanza Infantil, they provide nutritious meals, medical care, and all support necessary for more than 600 children to attend public school.

Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states. Many of its more than 3 million inhabitants subsist on a few dollars a day. Rural children lack clean drinking water and basic sanitation. Many children and their families move from isolated and rural regions to Oaxaca City (the capital) in search of safety and a better life. However, once there, the youngest members of the family often sell trinkets to tourists on the street to help support their family.

At El Centro de Esperanza Infantil, Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots aims to break this cycle by giving children the opportunity to attend school and gain the skills necessary to become successful and contributing members of Mexican society.

A brief history

Harold and Jodi Bauman founded Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots in 1996. They first came to Oaxaca on vacation in 1984 were deeply troubled by the many young children they saw selling trinkets in the streets and parks during the day and late into the night.

Initially Jodi and Harold began to help one Triqui (a Oaxacan Indigenous group) family enroll their children in school. Each year they expanded their efforts and spent more and more time in Oaxaca, eventually moving there. By 1996, with the generous help of friends, Jodi and Harold were supporting approximately seventy children. They soon realized that they could help even more children attend school if they formalized their initiative; with the help of others, they chartered Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots creating the child-sponsorship program.

By the end of 1997, 148 children had found sponsors with the help of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots. The number continues to climb and today over 600 children have sponsors who support them through Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots.

The organization holds the Mexican equivalent of a United States 501(c) (3) charitable organization status. As a result, Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots is able to fund services on site in Oaxaca.

What you can do

Volunteers play a vital role in keeping  El Centro de Esperanza Infantil alive. Opportunities range from a day of short-term work assisting in the kitchen or working with the children on art projects to long-term work fundraising and grant writing. Volunteers are needed year round. They have been known to take walk-ins, but they recommend contacting them directly to make arrangements.

This opportunity is only volunteer work, participants are responsible for their own travel accommodations. No monetary donations are required although donations are kindly accepted. Click here to find out more.

By Kari Adwell for

Feature image credit Wikimedia user Hajor