«I just want to generate a bit more happiness and prosperity to my students»

 explains Lorena her motivation for volunteering in a rural school in Colombia

Surely, volunteering is neither a new nor a rare concept in Colombia: In rural areas, “mingas” (days during which everyone participates in some kind of community work) are very common; All students of grade 11 need to conduct 84 hours of social work in their free time; And in general, it is not difficult to find people volunteering, for example with the voluntary fire brigade or in an environmental project. But the best example of a volunteer is my friend Lorena. Since 2012 she has been working as an English teacher in a school in the rural area of Popayán. Besides being a teacher, she spends almost all her free time to “generate just a bit more happiness and prosperity” to the students and their families which “have to face many economic, educational and social difficulties every day”. But read yourself what she says about her volunteering experiences:


What does your voluntary work look like?

For me, education and humanity are the secrets to a fruitful life. Therefore all projects that I am trying to implement, aim at increasing opportunities and access to basic needs for the children and teenagers of the community in which I work. The main objective is to improve the difficult living conditions that they face to allow them a dignified life and to generate just a bit more happiness and prosperity to the families. I am just trying to increase social integration and that through education my students can overcome those problems and limitations that do not allow them to realize their dreams or to make use of their opportunities.

This year, with the help of two other teachers, we have managed to receive food donations for some of our most vulnerable students and their families. We have started to improve the infrastructure of the school and implemented a school garden,, where we are growing vegetables for the consumption of the children (see feature image). Besides, we are frequently organizing excursions so that the students can get to know different places in and around Popayan.

At the moment, my biggest aim is to provide those students that will graduate this year, with scholarships so that they can continue their higher education. One of the aims is that with the talent and humanity they have, they will support constructing a fairer and more inclusive society, which will open the doors for those who will follow. Besides of the scholarships, I am trying to find ways to show them the importance of education, which definitely is the way to overcome existing problems and the key to a better future for them as well as for their families


Which are your principal motives for doing volunteering work?

For me, volunteering is one of the noblest works that exist in the world. It means donating my time, energy and work to realize activities that have an influence in the wellbeing and the development of the communities with which I have the pleasure to work.

Colombia is an environmentally, culturally and economically prosperous country. But without doubt its main wealth is the people, their warmth and greatness, such as of those that live in the communities where I work. Despite of not having studied or of being in an educational process with many deficits, they are the most profound people I have had the opportunity to get to know as a teacher. Knowing only a little bit about the background and the stories of these people, I noticed their and their family’s inestimable sense of humanity and the contributions they bring to the community despite of their limitations. Speaking to them and interrelating me a bit more, allowed me to understand their dreams, ideas and potentials.

I realized that the support I can provide to the kids and their families during a regular school day is very little. But knowing the great values of these young people and knowing about everything they do and sacrifice for their families making me want to do more and to support them finding a way towards a dignified life and social inclusion.


Do you face any problems in your volunteering work? Which?

Many of the projects I wanted to conduct and letters I wrote to raise the necessary funds, ended up being rejected and not supported by the institutions and companies that I had asked for funding. Unfortunately in Popayan, and especially in the rural ares, these types of initiatives are not very well received by the organizations if there is not any gain for them, gains that translate into propaganda for the companies. When seeking for help from a politician, the majority expects to receive votes for their aspiration to some public charge. In general, I have understood that it is difficult to receive support without knowing someone who has contact to the entity you are seeking support from.

In addition, being a school in a rural area means that the costs of transport increase considerably while the availability of people who want to support decreases. On top of this, the economic and educational level of the families of this area is – as in most rural areas of Popayan – very low. Therefore many people do not know about their rights and do not have access to basic goods and quality services, such as health, education and often not even to sufficient food. Therefore their priority lies in fulfilling their basic needs and higher education of the young people is usually not the first option. In general, they do not have the financial opportunities to support and motivate the children in the search and development of their academic, artistic and sportive talents.  In addition to all this, there is also a lack of educational opportunities in the area, meaning that if the young people want to continue their studies, they need to travel or even move, increasing the costs considerably.


What are the results of your volunteering work?

As described above, we have implemented some projects regarding social inclusion and the fulfillment of basic needs. Examples are the handing out of gifts to the smallest children of the poorest families on Christmas and the organization of excursions. We can also provide the most vulnerable families with donated food and educational materials. We have successfully promoted an increase in team work between the families of the community. And at the moment we are working on a project to improve the state of the infrastructure of the school. But for me, the most important result is that the attitude of the young people and their families towards the importance of education and continuation of the studies has started to change.

I am aware that there is still a lot that needs to be done, practically everything, and that the time, the resources and the support which we can be obtain are very little. Every time that a project is postponed and the work cannot be developed, my personal, social and human loss translates into a decrease of opportunities for the young people and a loss of life quality. On the contrary, every time a project, as small as it might be, develops, the results that it obtains bring the young people and their families a little bit closer to a future with the opportunities they deserve for the simple fact of being humans.

To date, I am proud that thanks to the effort, some of the former students are now studying at the university and that this example helps motivating others to continue their educational process in a different space than the armed conflict or informal work. In the medium to long term, this will have sustainable affects in the life of the families they come from.

 Katharina Diekmann

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