Three years ago, an American who owned a restaurant in the town, James Dean Byrd, decided to do something to help the local community and set up a bilingual school in which teaching is in both English and Spanish. His dream was not only to provide high quality education, but also to equip the children with the language skills they would need to find employment in the tourist industry.
And this was the start of Algorrobas. On our trip to Canoa we met one of the directors, Christine, and the headmaster Victor, who are both exceptionally motivated people who are determined to make a difference. Both of them made us feel really welcome and as though we were already "part of the family".
The school currently has 58 children who are obviously happy and thriving in this environment. The photos give the impression of a comfortable, middle class school... and that is part of this success story. Please don't be mislead about the conditions most of these children live in though. Most of them have several brothers and sisters and often live with up to ten people in the same room. Their houses completely lack modern facilities. What is even more sad is that some of them come to the school never having experienced affection from their parents.
In my background working in the area of child protection in the UK...accusations against teachers have meant that in many schools physical contact between teacher and pupil is forbidden altogether now. I have always found this to be a sad reflection of our times. In this school however, affection is encouraged. These children need to experience affection and for many of them the staff at the school are the only people ever to have shown them any.
Most of the parents who have children here have not had an education themselves, so the school also works hard with them to help with issues such as hygiene, finding a balanced diet, domestic violence and and how to avoid using physical punishments within the home. Just so you have an idea of the scale of the problem, one of the little boys at the school had been deliberately burned by his mother on his mouth, to the extent where he was unable to eat. This was for using a "bad word."
The school is doing a brilliant job. It currently has classes for 5-9 year olds but the plan is to provide an extra year starting from April 2011. The fees to attend the school are $300 per year, and for this the children receive two meals a day, their uniforms and all books and materials. Almost all of the children have some sort of sponsorship to allow them to attend, as the families could never afford to send them otherwise.
We met six children who currently don't have sponsorship but have been allowed to attend until one can be found. I have already had a couple of mails from people who would be interested in sponsoring one of these children. The great advantage with this scheme for someone who wants to help is that the money will go directly to benefiting the child. Not a penny is for administration and you can be sure it won't get "lost in the system". You can see their pictures here.
Those of you who know me will also know I believe in destiny. We had decided to sponsor one of these children ourselves but had no idea how to choose one. I decided that if one of them had a birthday close to someone in our family then this was the child we would sponsor.
I was disappointed when the first five had random birthdays so I didn't get the "sign" I was looking for. Then I heard that the last little girl had an extra difficulty in that she had been born with a hand missing and had been teased terribly in her last school. We decided to sponsor her just before she came out to have her photo taken....so you can imagine how amazed I was when she was asked for her birthday and we found out it was the same day as my own! I got the sign I was looking for! Maria is a lovely little girl who has only been at the school for three months and is still very shy...but we are looking forward to seeing how she gets on.
Please let me know if you are interested in one of the others. Your commitment would be just for one year of teaching ($300), after which time you are free to decide if you are able to continue for a further year.
The school would also be a great place to come if you have ever thought of doing volunteer work somewhere where you would really make a difference. There are all sorts of opportunities here, and unlike other schemes volunteers are not charged "fees" for coming. You won't find many facilities yet in Canoa, (although I am sure it is very pretty when the sun is shining) but at this school you will find lots of love and warmth and hugs all day long. The children here have been born with very few advantages in life indeed...and this school is giving them a chance that they would never have had otherwise.
I made a donation of $500 to the school's general running costs from the money you donated and asked that some of it would be used for books for the children...this year there was no budget to buy English books so they have worked with photocopies, a common feature of schools here.
What I would really like to do though is to collect enough so that we could finance the building of a new classroom, which would cost $6000. This would make a long term difference to these children and also allow the school to expand next April.
If you know anyone who might be interested in contributing to the school then please pass this message on to them! None of us can change the world on our own, but a few of us together can certainly change the world for these children.
(You can find the link to the school's website above)