Learning Center Opens In Todos Santos

And a famous Mexican author cut the ribbon for the new library

After several years of planning and almost a year of construction, the new Palapa Learning Center in Todos Santos has officially opened. The inaugural school year started in August with classes of 7th and 8th graders. The learning center was funded by the Palapa Society, a charity started and run by good hearted expats who raise money to provide better education for local children.

The center’s recent grand opening included a weekend full of events, including a panel discussion, a dinner and the ribbon cutting of the center’s library. All of these events revolved around Elena Poniatowska, for whom the library is named after. She’s a French-born Mexican journalist and author who has been hailed as “Mexico’s grande dame of letters,” and one of the country’s most important authors. Her story itself has all the makings of a best-selling novel: international intrigue, war and royalty.

05.JPGHer father was a descendant of the last king of Poland. Her mother’s family escaped to France after the Mexican government seized their land during the agrarian reforms of the 1930s. Elena was born in post World War I Paris. Then the Nazis invaded France and Elena’s mother became an ambulance driver for the Allies. Her father joined his French countrymen to continue fighting. In 1943, when Elena was just 10, her mother decided enough was enough and sailed with her daughters back to Mexico.

Elena began her writing career at age 18 as a journalist for the Mexican newspaper Excélsior, doing interviews and society columns. Despite the lack of opportunity for women at the time, from the 1950s to the 1970s she evolved to writing about social and political issues in newspapers and books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her most famous work is “Massacre in Mexico,” about the 1968 killing of 43 students in Mexico City who were protesting government corruption.

Given her background, it seemed fitting to not only name the new library after her, but also have her as the honored guest at the learning center’s grand opening. “Wouldn’t it be incredible if this region’s next generation of architects, scientists, writers, poets, leaders come from the Palapa school?” asked Dave Higgins, one of the learning center’s benefactors. “This is our hope and our goal.”

To help achieve this goal, the Palapa Society gives scholarships to help students cover the cost of tuition, books, uniforms, and supplies. Almost 600 students have benefitted from these scholarships since the Palapa Society started the program in 2003.

And the learning center itself is a demonstration of the society’s commitment to providing Todos Santos kids with a better education. The new school, which will eventually grow to include 9th through 12th grades, will offer students a rigorous Mexican government-certified curriculum, which will help them go on to college.

As for Elena, she’s happy to be a small part of the learning center and the effect it will have on students’ futures. “I’m very touched by people’s interest. I think it’s a wonderful thing,” she says. “I’m very excited that Americans come to Mexico and feel they should give back.”

To learn more about the Palapa Society and the learning center, visit www.palapasociety.org.