ENCINITAS — More than 20 years ago a young teacher from New York brought a school to one of the poorest communities of Tijuana. Made not of bricks and mortar, but of a simple blue tarp spread out above the city dump, Señor David taught the children of local trashpickers to read and write. But most of all he instilled in them that they were worthwhile human beings.
Longtime Encinitas residents and authors Judith Fine and Judith Josephson brought to life the story of a thoughtful man who inspired the community around him to hope for better lives beyond the heap of trash that threatened to kill their dreams. The children’s book, “Armando and the Blue Tarp School” has received numerous accolades and is a contender for the 2010 California Young Reader Medal.
The story has recently been made into a children’s play. Pat Lydersen, founder of the Park Dale Players, an organization that produces plays throughout the United States and Canada, chose to write a musical based on the book. “They have created an amazing children’s musical,” Fine said. Some of the songs will be previewed at the organization’s fundraiser at the UCSD Faculty Club on Nov. 14. The full play will be held March 18 to March 21 at Ocean Knoll Elementary.
Fine and Josephson first encountered the school in 1985 after hearing about a young teacher, David Lynch, who worked with children in a colonia at the Tijuana dumpsite. The two wrote an article on the experience for the L.A. Times that pulled at the heartstrings and pocketbook of a local La Jolla resident who was inspired to donate enough money for Lynch to construct a building for the school.
Seven years ago the authors returned to the school to find Lynch still teaching in a school that had grown to include three buildings and computers. “Their families still work in the trash dump, but the children have access to education, which is a wonderful thing,” Josephson said.
Lynch took his simple philosophy that learning can occur anywhere, in any circumstances, and built an organization dedicated to permanently changing the lives of the poorest residents in Tijuana. “He’s changed the lives of so many children,” Fine said. Through the organization Responsibility, Inc. Lynch’s mission has expanded to building not only schools but a medical clinic and individual housing and temporary shelters for families who work at the vast municipal dump.
But Lynch isn’t content to rest on his laurels. In fact, the organization is concentrating efforts to build a school in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, where children scavenge the local garbage dump on a daily basis to survive.
“The injustice of the lives these people endure annoys me a great deal,” Lynch said. His conviction that teaching personal responsibility lasts a lifetime has won the organization many fans across the political spectrum in the United States. Actress Susan Sarandon has visited the colonia on occasion and wrote a comment for the book along with conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly.
Fine and Josephson told the fictional story of one boy’s experience at the blue tarp school. Several of the original students have returned as teachers and mentors to the students who still live in seemingly abject poverty. But the story is one of hope that Fine says is the ultimate message of the book. “Young readers will, we hope, learn to think what it would be like to walk in another child’s shoes, a boy whose life is so different from theirs, but whose hopes and dreams are universal.”
Josephson said the book is used as a tool to teach children the finer points of empathy and context. “Teachers seem to love the book because it has a message of hope and the power of learning,” she said. “Children are getting a grasp about the wider world through this book.” The power of one person to make a difference is a central theme that is helping children discover their own ability to make a difference.
With more than 25 years experience as published writers, Fine and Josephson have collaborated on several projects together. “The one you’re working on is always your favorite,” Fine said. However, this book has special meaning because of the intense personal connection with Lynch and his students. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from the book sales will go to the organization. Josephson said readers will comprehend the underlying message in the book. “I hope that children and parents will learn that no matter how dire the circumstances, hopes and dreams can become a reality with hard work and the help of others.”
The book is available in stores now. For more information go to bluetarpschool.com or responsibilityonline.org to learn more about Responsibility, Inc. and to purchase tickets to the upcoming fundraiser.