Jorge’s Story: “Education should be a right, not a privilege”
Jorge Gomez knows that education is a privilege, one that should not be taken for granted. Both Jorge’s mother and father were forced to leave school at an early age to earn income for their families in Mexico. Jorge’s father came from a family of 12, and as one of the oldest children, it was his job to make sure his siblings were clothed and fed. Every morning he would wake at 5AM to help with the family farm, only to rush off to school by 7AM. He rarely, if ever, made it on time. One day he just stopped going.
Wanting more for his children, Jorge’s father later moved to Oakland, California, where he hoped they might find a better education. But academic success does not come easy in Oakland either, with a high school completion rate at only 59%. Graduating this year, Jorge found a path through buildOn – an afterschool program that kept him off the streets, empowered him to engage his community through service, and reinforced the importance of education.
With buildOn, Jorge prepared food for the homeless, taught art classes at local children’s museums, and led environmental projects to beautify Oakland. His greatest inspiration, though, came from a trip to Haiti, where Jorge helped other buildOn students and community members to build a school for children with no access to education. There he met an elder in the village who worked on the school nearly every day, who told Jorge that, regrettably, he had not been able to attend school himself. He believed that having a school would be the best thing that could happen for his village.
It sounded exactly like something Jorge’s father had said to him nearly every day.
“He always told me to go to school and not be late to my classes because in just 10 minutes I could miss so many important things,” said Jorge. “My father said that if he had the opportunities I have, he would take full advantage of them.” In that moment with the village elder, Jorge understood what his father had sacrificed to ensure that he, and all his siblings, had the educational foundation they would need for success – and he knew he could not let his father down.
This May, Jorge will be the first in his family to finish high school, and, soon after, the first to attend college. In his service with buildOn, Jorge discovered a passion for working with children and the environment, and he plans to pursue a career that will allow him to teach students the importance of conservation.
“I understand the value of the unique opportunities buildOn provided for me, and I want to help students have similar experiences,” said Jorge. “I believe anyone can have these experiences. Anyone can contribute. Anyone can break the cycle. Everyone can buildOn.”