School in Medellín barrio gives students a chance

jul 25, 2018 | Colombia, Travel to

From their classes, the pupils from Colegio Santa María de la Cruz have the city as Medellín as a view (photo: Julio Quintero).

This month I’m staying in the city of eternal spring to explore how this once violent city has transformed into an innovative city. So far, I’ve visited the city districts Trece de Noviembre and La Sierra, where local government has already been able to make severe changes. Today I’m going to visit a school in the La Cruz district. Something very different, yet in the streets and through the big classroom windows we can see hope on the horizon.

One of my new friends, who also works in education, is taking me to Colegio Santa María de la Cruz school. Before we leave I am told it’s best not to bring my valuables, just as a safety precaution.

After traveling for 1,5 hours (a long metro ride and a ride with a minivan), we arrive in the city district. Not all the streets are paved yet, a lot of houses are made of wood and don’t seem to be too stable, rooftops made of corrugates sheets with stones on top to keep them in place, and not stairways but dusty sandy paths leading up to the school. Obviously, life here is not easy, yet all the people we meet in the streets are friendly and we are often greeted quite enthusiastically as if we are not in a city district but in a Colombian village: “Hola señores, bienvenidos, cómo están ustedes?”

When we arrive at the school, it appears the students have already left, cause in the afternoons the classrooms are too hot. My friend shows me around, the classrooms are decorated nicely but filled with so many chairs it is hard to move around. A French company is building new classrooms somewhat up the mountain. These are more spacious and will get big windows.

“To see the view of the city,” states my amigo. I can easily imagine the teachers pointing to all the landmarks during geography lessons. Or as my amigo says: “Or to show them where you can become a pilot. “Do you want to become a pilot? There, there is Olaya Herrera airport.”

There are gardens outside the classroom buildings with tropical plants where students can practise their gardening skills. The tour continues leading us to the canchas or sports grounds. An enthusiastic class of teenagers is doing team building activities. The team spirit can be seen from a mile away. A group of twelve-year-olds comes towards us to show us their English language skills. However, they can’t get much further than hello and bye. What mostly strikes me is their direct approach in communication and their sincerity which I recognise from the Dutch and Belgium working-class city districts.

Later on, I am told that it is quite a challenge to keep these kids on the straight and narrow. A lot of children here are vulnerable to go down the wrong path because of the isolated location of the area and the socio-economical background of most families. That’s why the school’s aim is to take in as many children as possible to educate them and to give them a sense of responsibility and citizenship.

This colegio was founded by Miguel Perez, an educator and religious figure. As far as I can understand a man from authority: he is also seen as an important social leader in Colombia. Apparently, a part of the area also takes part in running the school. That’s also how we coincidentally meet a kind and friendly man who is responsible for all the wall paintings in and around the school.

The way this area looks and feels is unlike anything I have seen in Colombia. And yet I do understand that the city Medellín is trying to do what they can for this neighbourhood. For example, the area is connected to the central city via metro and has adapted the civica (public transport card). Moreover, the city is trying to provide the whole area with drinkable tap water, there are new blocks of flats with balconies and there is even a police station. Local government subsidizes the school and even the mayor has visited the area, to great joy of the community around the school.

What left the biggest impression was the sincerity of the students we met and the feeling of solidarity in the area. I felt that the people here are really there for each other and are always open for conversations with others. No matter how though life might be here, they radiate with positivity.

That kind of positivism is something I have seen more often in Colombia, yet it was exceptionally noticeable in Medellín. The optimistic mindset, strong entrepreneurship, and the initiatives of citizens adorn this metropolis. From the wealth in Poblado to the less fortunate in La Cruz something is growing and starting to flourish in this valley in the Andes.

Would you like to know more about this school? On YouTube you can find a documentary about an art project in Colegio de Santa María de la Cruz.

Translation from Dutch to English: S. De Leeuw van Weenen 

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