I have had the pleasure of spending most of my previous 5 years in Barranquilla Colombia volunteering with a school and community center. This includes all of last year, living there and getting to know the people and the problems with education.
Prosefam is the neighborhood school with arms that reached into the community to support all community members. At the helm is the mother of the neighborhood Luz Estela Narvaez. I call her the mother of the neighborhood because she serves not only many kids in the neighborhood but served their parents also as she has been involved in this Foundation for over 25 years. She is akin to Mother Theresa because her passion for the neighborhood goes without pay with the exception of a few lose coins the residents of this poor neighborhood can afford. Over 90% of the students pay nothing
While I was there I joined Mother Luz Estela in a meeting with seniors designed to inform them of health resources. Seniors also volunteered working with the students in the school. Within the umbrella of the foundation is the service to young mothers, not only with art and crafts classes in conjunction with Universidad de Atlantica but health and personal care classes with CENA University.
When I was there the youth had a solid program including dance classes, community events and planting a food garden in the back yard of the school. And other young adults who didn't graduate from high school, had the chance to graduate with evening classes at the school. This was done in cooperation with the local public school.
And then there are the students in the school, all from the neighborhood. This includes students with a wide range of skills. Many very bright who choose to go to the school because their parents did or the convenience of the neighborhood. Many students, however, simply couldn't read and could not be supported in the public sector due to extremely large class sizes. I literally cried when I met two kids aged 13 and 16 who tried but couldn't read even the simplest word. And they didn't go to school. They gave up. What makes it sad is that the school just didn't have room for them. Mother Luz and her daughter Amalia ran the school by themselves. Mother Luz spent 14 to 16 hours a day serving the community and simply couldn't expand the school anymore. So many kids and adults in the neighborhood.
When I was there I taught English to adults as well as students in the class as well as exercises to the preschool kids. As a member of the International Association of Special Education we were able to bring desks, chairs, a printer, computer as well as assessment programs for reading writing and math. But the organization is not allowed to pay salaries. There were two additional teachers from the neighborhood, paid minimally through monies that were procured in any way possible. But this dried up and the teachers left. They had to feed their families also,
Since that day the program has diminished. No longer is there a broad youth program as their is no money to support the instructor. Mother Luz does that now. The teachers are gone so Mother Luz spreads the classes throughout the day and teaches them herself. Including the night classes for the hopeful graduates. I couldn't afford to stay there longer. Amalia, Luz' daughter is raising a toddler with her husband but still finds time to teach the preschoolers giving them a leg up in the future. And yes they serve many students with special needs.
But my thoughts go back to the two teenage girls who couldn't read a word. And so many others who get turned away simply because Mother Luz can't do it alone. The needs of 7 de Agosto barrior are massive. I personally met so many that couldn't read. Young, old, any age that are left behind in this barrio in Barranquilla Colombia. For Senior Juan who is older, smart, started learning English but couldn't read. For those two teen age girls who are too embarrassed to go to school and found no room at Prosefam because Mother Luz couldn't do it all. And she is exhausted.