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The Kid From Atencingo

On his 4,558-mile journey across Latin America, NC State student Saul Flores is raising funds and bringing hope to children in an impoverished community. Learn how he's changing the world, one step at a time.

Saul Flores and children hold a banner thanking the Caldwell Fellows for their support.
Saul Flores is welcomed back by the young students of Atencingo, Mexico.

The heading on Saul Flores’ photo blog declares, “The sweetest sugar cane comes from Atencingo.” So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that his first visit to the impoverished Mexican community in four months had a sweet flavor all its own.

“I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about this place that I will never be able to let go,” he wrote in an update on his Web site last week.

The NC State undergraduate is something of a sensation in the rural town, where he and a dozen other Caldwell Fellows worked over spring break to clean up an aging elementary school and help out in the classroom. Touched by the enthusiasm of the school kids – and appalled by the poverty that forces them to study in unlit classrooms – Flores embarked on a 4,558-mile journey across Latin America this summer to raise money for the school.

Students at the General Emiliano Zapata primary school in Atencingo.
Students at the General Emiliano Zapata primary school in Atencingo.

In a classroom visit last week, Flores posed with a group of students in front of a handmade sign that read: “Extrañamos a los Caldwell Fellows.” We miss you, Caldwell Fellows.

Flores was delighted to find that the students hadn’t forgotten an important lesson they learned from the Caldwell Fellows in March. Posing for the photo, the kids joined him in making the sign of the Wolfpack.

American Idol

Word of Flores’ trek on behalf of the students has spread throughout the region, thanks to Facebook and other social media sites. As he entered the Mexican state of Puebla on foot July 27, Flores found that his reputation had preceded him.

“Hey, you’re that kid from Atencingo, right?” a stranger asked.

Saul Flores climbing stairs at the school in Atencingo, Mexico.
Saul Flores climbs the stairs at the Mexican school he’s supporting through the sale of his photographs.

While he continues on his journey toward his family home in Charlotte (Flores crossed the border into New Mexico on Aug. 3), his efforts to help the children of Atencingo are already paying off. Inspired by Flores, a local government official approved the hiring of a fourth grade teacher for the upcoming school year.

“People from the entire town have decided to take an interest in this project. Little by little, things are being done to restore the school,” Flores said.

Flores, a junior majoring in design and marketing, began his journey in Ecuador on May 17, determined to walk and hitchhike the entire way while using his photo blog to chronicle the people and cultures of the region. He also wants to call attention to “the walk of the immigrants,” the long and perilous journey that many Latin Americans make to reach the U.S. border and the chance for a better life.

Editor’s note: We received word that Flores arrived in Charlotte on the afternoon of Aug. 11. Welcome home, Saul.