The transformation of lives in Mexico City – Leonardo’s story

18/08/2017 – Utopia, an organisation working in disadvantaged communities in Mexico City, became part of the Fight for Peace family when it completed the Global Alumni Programme (GAP) in 2015. One of the ways in which participation on GAP aided Utopia was in helping formalise the organisation’s methodology, which now focuses on two areas or Pillars – Education and Sport. Since becoming part of Fight for Peace’s Global Network, Utopia have also solidified a range of partnerships including with the University of La Salle, a relationship which has seen scholarships offered to Utopia members. In this blog post, Utopia Director, Jesus Villalobos, outlines the impact the organisation is having on the lives of young people and the transformations he witnesses at the project:

Utopia works with highly vulnerable people living around Mexico City’s rubbish dump, our aim being to use educational, cultural and sporting tools to integrate these people into the community, allowing them to create a more dignified life for themselves.

Working with people living in extreme poverty, including young people making a living through recycling the city’s rubbish, we work to facilitate new possibilities for all of those participating in our programmes, and for their families. We want them change their realities and take more prosperous and dignified paths. Through our work and through being a part of the Fight for Peace Global Network, we see incredible transformations, none more so than in the life of our member Leonardo Polanco.

Leonardo began working when he was five years old selling products on the street, helping on building sites and collecting and recycling rubbish to support his family. He felt that the future was already laid out before him and he wasn’t able to see a way to change this reality. Leonardo attended school during the week while also going around the city in the collector’s car, recycling rubbish and collecting products that might be consumable. This routine was damaging Leonardo’s health and, at this time, he began to drink as is the norm for many recyclers his age.

Around four years ago, Leonardo was intrigued when he came across a group of young people doing taekwondo and this led him to join Utopia’s sports programme. Showing leadership and dedication from the outset, Leonardo excelled in martial arts and also began receiving educational support with us, which was crucial for him to be able to meet the demands of high school.

In time, Leonardo became our first member to compete in kickboxing and he won a medal in only his second taekwondo tournament. Beyond this, he has challenged us to be more youth friendly and, showing true leadership, has taught us how to work better with young people his age, which has led to us designing more robust strategies. He is a founding member of our Youth Council and has become a role model for others on our programmes.

Leonardo is now gearing up to start a bachelor’s degree in Sports Science, having gained a scholarship to the University of La Salle. While preparing for this next chapter in his life, Leonardo continues to be a participant on Utopia’s education programme and he is supporting our organisation as an assistant in both our Education and Sport Pillars.  At Utopia, this gives us great inspiration and we feel proud that our programmes have supported Leonardo to transform his life and begin realising his dreams.