Early in 2017, my friend Sabtain from Toronto contacted me to ask if we could help coordinate a charity project, Bags for Belén. He was organizing it with his new charity, Creating Change Together (CCT). They had raised over US$2,000 in order to buy schoolbags for children in our hometown of Belén de Umbría and wanted to come distribute them in early May.
We coordinated with Sab and his team, Ahmad and Max, over Facebook. Our company, Paisadventure, made all the travel and accommodation arrangements in Colombia, received the donation money wired from Sab to purchase the bags, and worked with the teachers in town to determine the schools with the most need.
Once the bags were purchased and delivered, we started getting the counts from teachers in all the rural schools. All students at 15 different schools would receive a new backpack, which ended up being nearly 500 students.
The CCT team arrived at the airport in Pereira late at night. I picked them up and drove them to their hotel in Belén. The next day, we started early in the morning distributing the backpacks to the first 5 schools. We had a police escort down a muddy jungle road and stopped at each school.
We were greeted with smiles and hugs as we passed out the bags. Some students prepared speeches while others made thank you cards to give us. Others treated us to snacks and juice and asked us questions about Canada and the USA.
The teachers were interviewed on video to talk about the needs of the school and students, and to elaborate on what the donation meant to the students. Many students were sharing backpacks with their siblings or carrying their things in plastic shopping bags. Some didn’t have a bag at all. Each teacher said that it empowered the students and positively motivated them to work harder in school.
The schedule was repeated the next day, but we had a special visit from the mayor of Belén who came to thank us for our work and speak to the students on the importance of the day.
Unfortunately, we almost didn’t make it to the last school of the day because we ended up puncturing two tires on one of the jungle roads. Sab and I waited with the car as Ahmad and Max hopped into the police car and went to the school. Help arrived a couple hours later and we safely made it back to Belén.
After the project was finished, the CCT team took a couple days to take in the sights by visiting Salento.
All in all, it was a wonderful project that was appreciated by students, teachers, and parents. CCT plans to come back in the near future to provide more assistance to the community. We look forward to working with them and will update you on the project once it has been completed.