Small gift, big meaning for Poblado school
By permission from The Barnstable Patrio
Dec 24 2010
Written by Paul Gauvin
December 24, 2010
PAUL GAUVIN PHOTO
BERRY’S BOUNTY – Donation from Barnstable resident Robert Berry is delivered in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, to help build a one-room high school. From left are Deysi Canche, school director; Andy Pittman of the playground committee; Christina Alexander, founder of Anat Kah charitable organization; Doris Jimenez, former public official; and Alonso Castillo, contractor.
Maybe the Grinch stole Christmas, but the Grunt returned it.
It’s a Christmas story of giving and it happened like this.
‘Twas the end of October and I was doing a routine workout at the Cape Cod Fitness Center in the Radisson Hotel in Hyannis when a fellow grunt by the name of Robert Berry, of Barnstable Village, expressed a curiosity about life in Mexico, about which I am as familiar as a toddler learning his way around the cocktail table without spilling the peanut platter.
Berry is a serious fellow, albeit he enjoys soft humor and the banter and repartee over civil matters, politics, science, economics and arcane subjects like that. He also guards his privacy with a croc-filled moat. Like a POW, he gives his name, rank, serial number and abides conversation about anything but himself.
In reply to his queries about Mexico, I said the notorious drug cartel murders are quite limited to the border cities, leaving the other 99 percent of the country in good hands. I endeavored to balance the bad press with the story of the harmless one-room high school the local Mayan population was trying to build in the Poblado of Puerto Aventuras on the Mexican Riviera, a non-violent tourist destination like any other the spinmeisters call “paradise” with their fingers crossed.
A poblado, I explained, is akin to a relatively common-folk village, like Hyannis for example, where the working class people live in less-expensive abodes. They are inhabited generally by the lower-paid workers in the service and retail industries. The poblado, as we would say in the U.S., is on the other side of the tracks, in this case, the other side of the highway that separates it from the affluent beachfront resort. The more fortunate Pobladans live in rows of mini-houses referred to as “shoe-box” housing. The less fortunate ones live under disjointed tin roofs over wooden poles or in converted horse stalls, such is their income. Regardless, families appear joyful and children smile and play happily.
I repeated the story of the one-room schoolhouse as it was told to me by ex-pat Andy Pittman, a retired Ph.D. from Texas, who has involved himself in local volunteer efforts to improve life in the town.
Evidently, the poblado high school, which uses a rented hall, at one point had 99 students but room for only two thirds of them. The remaining students had to take a bus 15 miles to a larger city if they wanted an education. Problem was, most of the families couldn’t afford the bus fare, so half of those students simply didn’t go to school.
Taking note of the situation was another ex-pat, Christina Alexander, a tall, red-haired woman from New York City who has degrees in English literature and social work from Columbia and teaches in the resort’s cosmopolitan private school. She had initiated a charitable organization called Anat Kah, www.anatkha.org, and decided on a drive for 35,000 U.S. dollars to build a one-room school house “with two bathrooms and an office” to handle the overflow kids whose families cannot afford education’s fare.
Some time later, when I was leaving the club and had set our conversation aside, Berry came after me just as I had walked outside. “Wait a minute,” he said. “I need to go to my car and get something.”
So I waited, puzzled.
He came back, thrust out his hand and put something in mine. “It’s all I had with me,” he said. I looked down to see a $50 bill and a $20 bill in my hand.
“What’s this for?” I asked, clueless.
“For the school,” he said. “What school?” I replied.
“The one in Mexico.” He paused a moment. “I was moved by the story,” he said, and walked away to his car, leaving me standing there dumbfounded.
Just before Christmas, Pittman, who serves on the local playground board, and Ms. Alexander and I went to the poblado school, a half-finished cement structure on the edge of the jungle, to meet with a local delegation to deliver Berry’s $70, for which all were most appreciative and evidently bewildered at the thought of a gift from someone so far away, closer, we might say, to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole.
“Be sure to tell Mr. Berry how much we appreciated his gift,” said Ms. Alexander.
Consider it done.
And a Berry Merry Christmas from across the border