A couple years ago, Jorge Jimenez Martinez thought he might never finish high school.
The 20-year-old Malaspina High School graduate, from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was struggling to survive, let alone attend school when he met Nanaimo residents Joe and Sharon Tallieu four years ago while they were on holiday.
The couple struck up a friendship with the boy, who was working as a waiter’s assistant at the time.
Martinez moved to Puerto Vallarta on his own at age 14 when the woman who had been caring for him died.
His father died when he was seven and his mother was gone frequently, unable to support him.
Working long hours left him with little energy for school and he started falling asleep in class. He finally dropped out and resolved to save up his money and try again later.
When the Tallieus saw how desperately Martinez wanted to learn – he practised his English by writing out song lyrics and talking to tourists as much as possible – they offered to sponsor him to come to Canada.
After he came in April s2010, Martinez was determined to make the most of the opportunity he had been given.
He worked hard to earn good grades and got involved in the school community.
Martinez founded a basketball team to get his peers involved in an activity together.
“I think for a lot of the kids, basketball was the door that opened them up to others,” he said.
Martinez also helped organize other activities for the students, such as movie nights and hotdog fundraisers for the school’s graduation party. For the school’s Christmas party, he made Mexican piñatas.
He plans to attend university in Mexico – the Tallieus have agreed to help him out – because anywhere else, he would have to pay international student fees.
“I’m going there with all I have,” said Martinez. “I want to be as successful as I can to show them how much I appreciate them.”
He plans to study hospitality and hotel management and hopes to return to Nanaimo one day.
When Sharon Tallieu got to know Martinez in Puerto Vallarta, she felt that someone who still had such a positive outlook on life despite the hardships he had experienced deserved more.
“I’ve never seen a kid work that hard,” she said. “He was working two jobs just so he could go to school. It’s kind of hard to turn your back on that.
“It’s not like we were looking to do this, he’s just an amazing individual.”