February 2001, Claudette and Dick White traveled to San Ignacio Lagoon on the Baja Peninsula to interact with the gray whales
that overwinter there. Whale watchers for over 30 years, this was a long sought after trip wherein they would be able to have
close encounters with these magnificent creatures that had traveled all the way from Alaska to the lagoon.
The lagoon area is a bio-preserve, and therefore it and all of its creatures are
strongly protected. To assist the economy of the area, the government requires that any tour company bringing people to experience
the whales must employ the local fishermen as guides. Through these guides the Whites met the children of the village and
fell in love with them. A trip to the village school revealed that the schools had no electricity, no running water, and minimal
school/playground supplies. During this visit, a ten year old boy offered one of his three marbles as a gift to the Whites.
He bought their heart and souls with a marble. Realizing that they could combine their love of whales, love of kids, and love
of education in a single effort, they began sending school supplies and playground equipment to the village. Their thinking
was that the fishermen were the shepherds of the whales, and some of these kids would likewise grow up to be those same shepherds.
You help the kids, you help the whales and you help the community.
However, it was a cooperative effort from the beginning because the remote setting
of the village did not lend itself to delivery of school supplies. The generosity of Baja Expeditions, Inc., San Diego, California,
soon solved this problem by pledging to get the supplies to the village if the Whites would get them to San Diego. Through
this team effort, our program saw its beginning.
Now, some twelve years later, the project has grown to become “Baja School
Friends” (BSF), consisting of more than 100 members. These members, young and old, from all over the country have pitched
in to make it work. It is through their generosity that the program has been successful. Small donations from school children
to more significant contributions from others support the effort. Several organizations and individuals contribute by providing
pro bono legal services, financial services, or other assistance.
The school and the kids have grown as well. In 2001, the schools went only to the
sixth grade. Further education required them to move to another town, so their opportunities were limited. Today, through
the efforts of BSF and other entities, the school goes through the ninth grade. Hopefully, in the near future, there will
be high school graduates from a Laguna high school.
Meeting with the
students at the lagoon last April, it was obvious to the BSF members that they are now inspired to continue their education
beyond the high school level. Some of the students who were in elementary school when supplies were first sent are now enrolled
in universities. One of them is studying ecotourism which will ultimately benefit the village and others like it.