Each Girl Is A Miracle
By Harriet Hart
“Each girl is a story, each girl is a miracle,” says Lupita Canepa, the Director of Education for the Centro Educativo Jaltepec, a learning center situated high on a hill overlooking Lake Chapala. “When they arrive,” she continued, “they are shy, timid, awkward girls from low income families. They have low self-esteem. You can watch them change. They begin to stand taller, speak up more. It’s a beautiful process, from cocoon to butterfly.”
Linda Buckthorp, the community facilitator and driving force behind the program, invited me to tour Jaltepec and introduced me to Lupita and two other young women affiliated with the school: Ana Lucia Mariscal Villanueva, who works for the Beca Foundation in Guadalajara, and Cristal Zapata, a graduate currently employed as an instructor in the restaurant section. Cristal poured us coffee, and Ana Lucia passed the plate of cookies and tarts, lovingly prepared by students in the nearby kitchen.
I was eager to learn as much as I could about the Jaltepec facility, its history, mission, curriculum and future plans so after coffee we had the grand tour, which began with the student lounge where evenings, after homework is done, the students and faculty gather to talk, celebrate special occasions and bond. “We call it tertulia,” Ana Lucia explained. “It means creating a family atmosphere.”
Next I saw the classrooms, a multi purpose room that also serves as a computer lab, the laundry with its commercial grade washers and dryers, the kitchens, also professionally equipped, the student dormitory and two chapels, one for the students, one for staff and visitors.
Young girls from all over Mexico come to Centro Educativo Jaltepec every year to participate in the Center’s various programs, which offer comprehensive and intensive courses in cooking, cleaning, laundering, and hotel & administrative techniques including Food and Beverage management, computer word-processing skills, accounting and training in English language and grammar. The Center’s mission is to develop high standards of academic performance, competence and professionalism among its students and to nurture an ethical and spiritual awareness in them that will guide them through a useful and rewarding life after they leave.
Centro Educativo Jaltepec is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. In 1968 four benefactors donated land and buildings to create this hotel and hospitality management school, and requested Opus Dei provide the administrative staff and instructors. The students carry out their professional practices within the two conference centers.
The first generation started with students from the communities of Ribera de Chapala such as Chante, San Juan Cosalá, Jocotepec, San Luis Soyatlán, and some others.
From the beginning, the curriculum sought to positively influence the integral training of women, through hospitality services, always adapting to the circumstances and needs of the time and social environment.
In 2001, the Jalisco Secretary of Public Education (SEP) upgraded Jaltepec to a Tecnico Universitario due to its high standards of education in hotel and hospitality management. There are five such schools in Mexico, Jaltepec being the only one to be certified a Tecnico Universitario.
In September 2014, Jaltepec became an advisory center for the Colegio de Bachilleres of the state of Jalisco (COBAEJ) with the Open High School System (SPA). With the aim that the students that finished middle school can complete high school in a year and then continue with the career of Superior University Technician in Hospitality (TSHU) with a total duration of 3 years.
So far 700 students from different parts of the Mexican Republic, Jalisco, Michoacán, Sinaloa, State of Mexico, Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero, and others, have completed their studies.
Transforming lives one girl at a time is achieved by a strict regimen. Students get up at 6:00 a.m. and begin their day by cleaning the dorms and conference center guest rooms. Breakfast is served at 8:00 a.m., followed by a rotation in the laundry or kitchen, learning the practical aspects of the hospitality business from folding cloth napkins and ironing tablecloths to meal planning and preparation. After lunch and a short break, the students go to the classrooms where they learn the theoretical side of things until dinner at 8:00 p.m. They are trained in personal grooming, deportment and spirituality.
There is also a work component to the program. Each student must complete 1750 hours of a practicum in one of 20 participating hotels and restaurants including The Monte Carlo Hotel, the Real de Chapala Hotel, Los Telares Restaurant, Viva Mexico Restaurant in San Juan Cosala, Café Grano in Ajijic and several large hotels in Guadalajara.
I asked Linda Buckthorp how she became involved in Jaltepec. Linda said that when she first arrived at lakeside over twenty years ago, she met Nancy Price, an expat and major philanthropist who introduced Linda to the institute, Nancy’s favorite charity. Linda sponsored two students in 1998. When Nancy died an untimely death, Linda was motivated to help Jaltepec in memory of Nancy Price. In June 2000 Linda stepped into Nancy’s shoes, finding sponsors and organizing fundraising events such as the annual Christmas dinner held at the institute with Los Cantantes del Lago performing a Christmas concert in the chapel.
Linda also hosts events in her own home, like the Music & Moussaka afternoon, scheduled for October 28th and the Open House slated for January/February when 60 registrants will get to tour the facility and enjoy lunch prepared by the students. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes one to transform a girl’s life. You can be part of the miracle.
For more information, contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org.