Teaching English To Girls In A Mexico City Foster Home

How an executive assistant rallied volunteers across the company to help give abused girls new skills and confidence 

When Executive Assistant Cecilia Tornel raised her hand to help lead Oliver Wyman’s volunteer efforts for the Mexico City office, she couldn’t have imagined how much the work would connect her tenacity and organizational skills she uses for the firm each day with her passion for teaching. 

In 2016 the office’s volunteer committee set its sights on La Casa de las Mercedes, a nearby foster home for girls who have suffered abuse and sex trafficking. Once all credentials were confirmed, volunteer efforts began in the form of twice-annual activities for the girls, including donations, as well as a monthly financial sponsorship with the support of the entire Oliver Wyman Mexico City office, joined later by peers from across Marsh McLennan.

Three years later, Cecilia identified an opportunity to do more. Children who grow up in difficult circumstances in Mexico don’t usually get the opportunity to learn English, even though language skills could change their lives. Cecilia, a former teacher, realized she could help. In September 2019, with the help of her eldest son, she started providing in-person English lessons every other Saturday until lessons had to stop because of COVID-19.

She worked with Oliver Wyman colleagues to plan a curriculum and teach English courses for girls from 12 years old up living at La Casa. And, to the surprise of the girls and nonprofit leaders, the Oliver Wyman teaching team has shown up consistently ever since.

The real impact is showing the girls you care about them, not the English lesson itself
Daniel de la Pena, Senior Consultant
When we mentioned that learning English would broaden their opportunities to get a job and work for international companies, they immediately equated that with being better able to help their families
Cecelia Tornel, Executive Assistant, Lippincott

Oliver Wyman’s work with La Casa de las Mercedes isn’t just about English lessons. It’s also about developing relationships to show the girls they are worth the investment, and to put them on a course to change their lives. La Casa operates two homes for girls who experienced domestic violence or sex trafficking. The nonprofit houses about 50 girls up to age 20, who go to school and can participate in activities organized by volunteers, such as dance and karate classes. 

It has been a very rewarding experience. I love when we are laughing or singing together, or when the students help each other with lessons or connect early to the calls because they are so eager to learn.
Antonio Aguirre, Consultant

When Cecilia pitched the idea of English classes in 2020, she quickly recruited Oliver Wyman colleagues eager to serve as teachers. Executive Assistant Jorge Segura and Consultants Antonio Aguirre and Javier Rodriguez jumped in, assessing the girls’ progress and creating lesson plans. Senior Consultant Daniel de la Pena, Executive Assistant Amairani Corona and Senior Consultant Narendra Moryani later joined the team.

At the beginning, the girls hardly knew any English, so for her first lesson, Cecilia and her son taught the girls silly campfire songs. Then, they made guacamole together, using English words for avocado, tomato, onion, and lime, and going through the directions in both English and Spanish. 

The girls at Casa de las Mercedes have taught me so much in this short period of time because, after all they have gone through, they are happy, strong, and always willing to learn
Amairani Corona, Executive Assistant

The classes continued online through the pandemic, with Oliver Wyman donating Wi-Fi equipment, books, dictionaries, and stationary supplies. Now the program is a hybrid course on weekday evenings, which is easier for Cecilia and the current volunteers and doesn’t conflict with the girls’ regular lessons. Remote teaching also allowed Cecilia’s New York colleagues at Lippincott, part of the Oliver Wyman Group where Cecilia now works, to join the project, including consultants Caroline Owens and Romina Lizier.

Now, the teenagers, who Cecilia calls “my girls,” can speak in full English sentences, and they can understand and respond to questions. La Casa’s directors are very pleased with the girls’ improvements and continue to offer their support. Cecilia says her dream is to add a class for the younger girls at La Casa.

By volunteering for an Oliver Wyman committee to identify nonprofit opportunities for the Mexico City office, Cecilia found an avenue to draw on the skills she uses at work for the betterment of her community, helping to change the lives of some of Mexico City’s most vulnerable girls.