Overgrown shrubs lashed the red pickup as it bobbed up and down along the serpentine dirt roads of Oaxaca, Mexico. In the back of the truck, Ted Nye and his former students, Vianey Mateo and Tae Kyun Kim, were tucked in with groceries and cans of gasoline. The cramped ride was not part of Nye’s original plan, but the terrain required an off-road vehicle. They were relieved when the police officers they met in Santiago Jamiltepec just hours earlier offered to give them a lift on their supply run. After the convoy reached the hilltop and came to a stop, Nye, Mateo and Kim hopped down from the truck to size up the location for their project at Escuela Primaria Bilingüe Niños Héroes in El Huamuche. Though the school was named for the Boy Heroes of the Battle of Chapultepec, the buildings inside appeared in need of rescue. Barred windows were the only decorations on an otherwise plain classroom building painted in cream and faded mustard. The trio had passed probably 25 schools on the 10 hour trip up from the state capital, and any one of them could benefit from a solar power system and computers. “How did you find this place?” Nye asks Mateo. “Well,” she responds, “you said to get the worst of the worst.” Mateo spent months working through back channels with educators that serve poor, isolated indigenous communities of the region to identify the school of greatest need. And this was it. Nye and his engineering students would construct a sustainable power system to connect this remote community to the modern age. All equipment would need to be trucked in, as well as a generator to power the tools. Food and water would have to be delivered from outside so that the team doesn’t lose members to illness during the tight construction schedule. And the only available lodging is an abandoned police outpost. But solar power and a classroom full of computers for the 109 children attending the elementary school would mean a big change in this agricultural community. The proposition seems risky. But the trio has decided to go for it. After all, they’ve already seen the success of this project in a similar community.
The vision was to install a big power system in a community that has few resources to help their people achieve higher education
San Juan Teitpac
The schools in San Juan Teitpac
“When those computers got turned on for the first time, the screen savers mesmerized them. Seeing their text come up on the screen as they typed, that was thrilling enough for them.” — Ted Nye
A crucial element of the project’s success was Mateo’s role in serving as project organizer, says Nye.
“She’s come back, and she’s investing in their community. I couldn’t tell if it was inspiring the students, but I could tell it inspired the parents. You could see it in their faces,” says Nye.
After the group left Mexico that summer, Nye and Kim returned to Cal State LA, and Mateo went to Canada to begin work on her master’s degree in power systems at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.
She’s been working remotely with the team ever since.
Vargas sends regular updates to Mateo. They share ideas on how to improve the school curriculum and find new teaching resources.
“We are very grateful for all her help,” Vargas says. “We don’t have any money to pay her and it seems her only satisfaction is seeing that the children have access to all this… the only way we have been able to have learning tools is thanks to this partnership with Miss Vianey and Cal State LA.”