In Belén de Umbría, a tiny two-room school serves a marginalized community. Andrés Escobar Primary School has two teachers and 30 students from preschool to 5th grade. Many of the students have discipline issues or learning disabilities. Some come from broken families, have just one parent, or are raised by their grandparents. A few students have been displaced by violent conflict in Colombia while others have drug addicts or prostitutes in their families. All of the students come from very low-income families that struggle to afford school supplies, uniforms, and lunches.
My girlfriend, Marisol, is one of the teachers at Andrés Escobar. As she was starting her second year at the school, she was discussing the lack of support for the school by its parent organization, Nuestra Señora del Rosario. They have a secondary school and another much bigger primary school in town. Those schools get much more support as far as repairs, books, and activities for students while Andrés Escobar is often forgotten and left to fend for itself. Marisol also said that the students often come to school without the proper supplies and lack motivation.
Initiating the Project
After hearing of the problems faced by the students and school, we came up with an idea to try and fix some of them. By doing this, we believed we could change the attitudes of the students and make the school a happier place to learn. I decided to put a plea out on Facebook to see if we can raise enough money to pay for school supplies for the students for the year. It got an overwhelming response. Many friends and family members asked how they could donate.
I calculated that for just US$40 per student we could buy all of the school supplies for the entire year, a new backpack, and lunches for the entire year. I immediately set up a Go Fund Me campaign asking for US$1200. Not only did we reach the goal after three days, we surpassed it. Through the generosity of friends and strangers, we raised US$1635. An anonymous donor from Spain offered about US$350 to cover all of the lunches for the entire year. Student lunches cost just COP$2,000 for an entire week – about 60 cents – and many students can’t afford this. With the extra money, we would be able to do a whole lot more than what we had hoped.
Buying Backpacks and Supplies
The first thing we did was purchase a new backpack for each student. Some students were sharing old backpacks with their siblings or using backpacks with gaping holes in them. Other students didn’t have a backpack at all and were bringing their supplies and books to school in a plastic shopping bag. The owner of the shop was able to give us a 5% discount on the backpacks.
Marisol and Lina (the other teacher) then found a stationary store to buy all of the supplies for each student, including notebooks, pencils, pens, colored pencils, rulers, erasers, and more. It took them a little longer to gather everything because they didn’t have enough. We had to wait an extra day for more supplies to come from Pereira.
We also went to another stationary store to put down money to start an account for copies and printing. The teachers have to pay for the copies out of pocket and are not supported by the school in any way. The cost is passed along to the students who have to pay for each copy that’s given to them during the school year. This often results in the teachers not able to recoup the money by the end of the year.
Once the supplies were in, we went to the store with the backpacks to put the packages together for each student and put them into the backpacks.
The next morning, we transported all of the backpacks to the school. This five minute video is the result:
The students then had a chance to show off their new surprises and go through all of their supplies.
The students were very grateful for the backpacks and supplies but our work wasn’t done. The next week, Marisol and Lina made a list of what uniform parts were missing for each student. Some students had no uniform at all while others were missing pants, shirts, or sweats. We offered to give them one piece of the uniform and their parents were responsible for the rest. The students who had complete uniforms were given socks.