Starting up!

Once I realized there was something called ALC and that what they were doing really appealed to me, I downloaded the starter-kit. I nodded my head through the first thirty pages: everything that was mentioned about what to think of when opening up a school, I already knew was true from my own experiences. It made me feel these guys knew what they were talking about.

It was also really nice to see that they had defined what kind of qualities the people on your team needs to have. Not that I had a team (this time I wanted to do it on my own and avoid any potential problems that can arise while working with others). But it so happens that I have all those qualities, plus seven years of experience of doing this kind of stuff so I figured I´d be fine.

I contacted Tomis, paid the membership fee, and started working on my business plan. Oh dear how tedious, but oh my God what a great document to have! It really helped me clear my thoughts and word them in a way that would make sense not only to me but to parents and future sponsors. It also helped me creating attractive and clear texts for my website that I was working on at the same time.

I know the importance of branding, and asked a graphic designing friend to help me create a logo. Thanks to the clarity of the business plan, it was easy for me to explain to her what I wanted: something that looked cool, unique and clean, that would appeal to adults (they´re also the target group since they´re the ones that pay), with the idea of exploration and learning for life expressed in some way (which is why my logo has both a magnifying glass and an infinity sign in it).

EXPLORA-MAGENTA

I also started contacting a couple of directors at other schools, because I knew that since I no longer represented competition, I might be able to convince them to spread the word to other parents. That prooved to be a really good idea, and I now have what I call allies in the schoolworld: people who have loads of contacts with other families and who will help me in some way or another of letting people know about Explora.

One of them specifically said: “I really support your idea, it´s brilliant and it´s exactly what my students need. I will strongly recommend your project to all of my families – I don´t want to brag, but they usually pay attention to my recommendations.” YAY!!!

By February it struck me that renting a house for only three hours per day is kind of bad business. That´s when I decided that I would create two projects at the same time: In the mornings I´d have a small kindergarten running, and in the afternoons Explora. That would mean: two separate projects with separate budgets sharing the same facilities AND sharing many of the expenses (rent, maintenance, administration etc.).

In no time I had three new teachers to train, local girls that really wanted an opportunity like the one I was offering them, and I started training them on a weekly basis. (For Explora I already had four people in my mind, but I will write more about that in another post.)

I knew I was on the right track when three of my “old” families showed up and said “Your old school is going down the drain without you. Can´t you open up another kindergarten?”. And I realized it was actually a really good idea because I knew that I´d get inscription fees at an earlier stage than with Explora (simply because people don´t pay for extra-curricular activities until the semester starts) which would help me set up the facilities – wherever those would be…

The search for a place took forever, and I was focusing really hard on trust. Everything was flowing in such an amazing way, the house just had to exist. I just needed to find it. I knew I wanted a good house for the kindergarten, but for Explora I wanted land. Loads of land.

I was driving around searching every area. Small houses with no land. Huge houses with not even a garden. Huge chunks of land but no house. Found one perfect place but with owners unwilling to rent. Nothing. I started to get desperate. I was asking all my contacts. They came up with ideas, but nothing that would work for my projects. Not both simultaneously. Trust is really hard, especially when May is ending and I had been so sure I would have the house by then.

Mid-June, there it was! The perfect place: a huge house with two floors, one for the kinder and one for Explora. A small garden for the small kids, and two huge chunks of land for the older ones. And I mean: HUGE!!! Just the way I wanted them. One a little bit arid, but the other is really a small forest. Trees, tiny paths, a big rock to climb, rabbits… I mean: how could it get any better than that?

And all of this for a rent that is so low I can hardly believe it! Just because the house has been a burden to the owners and they´re so grateful that someone is going to take care of it.

The only catch: burglars had taken everything. And I mean everything: toilets, showers, and all the electricity cables including lamps, buttons – it was all gone.

So the rest of June and all July has had me busy dealing with electricians, plumbers, running around all over Puerto Escondido buying stuff I don´t even know what it´s called. Also ordering tables, chairs, curtains, matrasses, cushions and stuff that would make the kindergarten look inviting and cozy so that I´d be able to receive the little ones as from the 1st of August when the kindergarten summer camp would start.

That, I thought, would give me the entire month of August to focus on Explora.

This is where I stand today. In three days it´s time for kindergarten summer camp! And I have exactly ONE MONTH to turn Explora into what I want it to be: a welcoming creative environment that makes kids feel it´s the coolest place they´ve ever seen.

Ahead of me lies:

  • Promotion (radio interviews, informational meetings, putting up posters and distributing flyers – material that has already been prepared – but not yet paid for…)
  • Continue training my team of facilitators, now adding on the agile tools.
  • Finding sponsors for kids from families that lacks the resources to enroll them.
  • Cleaning the land, preparing games (kubb – yes!), making the facilities welcoming and functional.
  • And, ideally finding a sponsor or someone that can lend me a 1000 USD which is what I need in order to be able to furnish the place.

I have no idea how I´ll be able to pull it off, money-wise that is. But I so trust that everything will sort itself out perfectly. The flow has been amazing ever since I decided to do this. On the other hand, I´ve never known from the beginning how I´ll succeed. I just do it. And that is part of the beauty of creating something new. I see things so clearly in my mind, I know so strongly what I want that I don´t let anything stop me: least my own fears. And step after step I figure out the way, and suddenly I´ve made it. My vision has manifested into reality through focus, clarity, perseverance, resilience and trust. Loads and loads of trust.

A brilliant idea

Early January I woke up in the middle of the night, and I knew I had it! 

I wouldn´t create another school. I would create an after-school program.

For several years I had been wondering what to offer teens. In a small town like Puerto Escondido that doesn´t have much else to offer than surf, the challenges for teens to develop in a healthy and creative ways are huge.

Realizing that not many families were seriously interested in offering an alternative education to their kids (very few daring to take the step and enroll them in the waldorfy primary I had created) I knew that the target group was too reduced to make any alternative school sustainable.

I had already decided that whatever it was that I was going to create, it would be something like a democratic school – but I just couldn´t figure out how to make it attractive enough to all the parents whose teens really need it.

And so, when I woke up in the middle of the night, I knew I had found the solution.

An after-school program doesn´t compete with parents´ fears of their children not getting what they believe school is offering that is fundamental for survival in this world. It complements traditional education, offering all the stuff parents wish school would really give to their kids – without them having to miss out on school.

An after-school program doesn´t need to adapt to any curriculum. It´s free to be whatever the founder (me!) chooses it to be.

An after-school program doesn´t have any problems with the Ministry of Public Education. Since it´s not a school, they don´t care.

An after-school program offers the possibility for parents to drop their kids off in a safe environment and have some extra time for work or other things in the afternoons, without having to feel guilty about not being able to hang out with their children.

An after-school program can transcend socio-economical levels because anyone can enroll, and those who don´t have the money can always receive sponsored grants.

An after-school program can offer everything I wish a “real” school would offer to a whole bunch of kids, thus bringing alternative education to the masses.

Plus: the competition here is basically zero. The only options are for smaller children (once they get older it´s only sports that is being offered), they´re all adult-directed and based upon what the adults can and want to offer. And there are literally NO spaces for kids and teens to hang out and just be.

I have to say I felt like a genius! I would still be able to offer everything I wanted and I would reach more kids, hence having a greater impact on society than any of my previous school projects have had.

It felt so good! The more I thought about it the more I knew I was on the right track. I just chose to adapt a little to the fact that my son is still not a teen and no longer in a school, so I decided I´d start by opening up to primary kids. In two years from now I will receive the teens as well.

I didn´t have a name yet, but when I was expressing to a friend what it was I wanted to offer – a place where kids could play and explore freely – it just came to me: EXPLORA (or Explore, in English).

A couple of days later, a friend of mine introduced me to the ALC network. That´s when I knew I had hit home. I had found the perfect format for Explora!

A healing experience

I knew it was going to be really good. Actually I suspected it was going to be great. But I didn´t expect any inner transformations to occur when I signed up for the ALF summer 2016.

Maybe because personal development and inner work is something I do on a daily basis, and when that is part of your everyday life you should be used to going deep and finding both crap and gold without it necessarily being a huge thing every time. Or maybe it was just because I knew I was going to be so focused on learning, playing and making loads of connections, that I really didn´t expect anything else. That mix is already juicy enough, if you know what I mean.

But I was wrong.  Totally wrong.

I came to Charlotte full of happy expectations but also carrying a deep wound inside me. Healing is a process that takes time, and I was okay with that. Some days are rough, others are great. You slowly move out of it. That´s just the way it is.

Being surrounded with more than 40 ALFs, so many like-minded passionate visionaries with the same passion for alternative education as myself, was thrilling, intense, crazy, and simply wonderful. But it also made me realize how lonely I´ve been down in Mexico.

No one to talk to about alternative education and self-directed learning. No one who could really appreciate what I was doing. No one who´s seen me for who I am, or who could understand and support me on a really deep level.

But the loneliness went so much deeper than that. I realized that I´d never before felt part of anything. I´ve always been the outsider, perceiving the world as a quite hostile and unfriendly place.

And there I was at Mosaic, feeling seen, heard, understood, supported, protected, loved, contained, cheered, hugged and PART OF an amazing group of people, all incredible role models. I felt I found my tribe, finally.

My tribe. What a special feeling.

And suddenly I felt crap about going back to Mexico. Mexico can be a really tough place to live in. I´ve never felt afraid or threatened or that it´s actually dangerous for me to be there. But it´s a macho country and I´m a foreign woman on my own. Things aren´t always moving easy and smoothly, to say the least.

I wasn´t at all okay with having to go back and confront that loneliness. I just wanted to stay with my tribe. Or maybe I could convince all of them to move to Mexico with me?

But everything has an end. And as I sat at the airport in Mexico City waiting for my flight to Puerto Escondido, I realized something had shifted within me. The way I perceive the world had changed. I could no longer see that hostility or unfriendliness. All I saw was a loving and supporting world. A world that loves me and that is safe for me to be in.

I don´t feel like an outsider any longer. I feel like I belong. Not only in my newly found tribe. I belong in this world and I am part of it. How incredible isn´t that?