8:30: We walk through the settlement to our temporary learning space. Some people come out of their houses to welcome us and tell us how happy they are to see our classroom open for children again. During the lockdowns, we never stopped giving support to these children and their families. We safely maintained contact with families in these communities and we distributed food rations to prevent children finding other ways to meet their basic needs, such as prostitution or joining armed gangs.
Save the Children staff with one of the boys who attends the temporary learning centre.
As we approach the temporary learning space, we hear some encouraging sounds – children’s voices and wonderful, heart-warming giggles and laughter. And then we see them and my heart lifts. Dozens of children smiling and chatting happily in socially distanced lines beside the mobile handwashing unit.
Viviana, our Education Coordinator, smiles as she tells us that all 80 children enrolled for this classroom have turned up. I’m delighted.
This shows the trust the communities have in us and in the spaces we manage. And weare so happy to welcome children like Jaibelin, 14,and Louis Alejandro, 8, back to the temporary learning space after so many months. The day’s activities kick off with reminders on prevention protocols, and then the learning begins in this bright, cheerful space.
12:00: The first shift finishes and the children have big smiles and are full of energy. Outside, I meet some parents. They tell me how difficult the past year has been with lockdowns that have costthem their jobs and livelihoods. One mother tells me how hard it is to afford food and that it’s impossible for them to cover the cost of school – her children need notebooks, uniforms. Consequently, many adolescents have dropped out of education. It is heart-breaking.
13:00: Lunch with the learning space team in the office. I listen with amazement as they describe the challenges faced with remote education, as families in the settlements have no access to smartphones. The team was innovative and developed self-learning materials focusing on literacy, numeracy and social emotional learning for different aged children.
A teacher wears a face mask and points to letters of the alphabet to a group of children inside a classroom.
13.30: Next we call in at the Bendicion de Dios settlement. They too have welcomed a full group of children to both shifts. And the same is true of all three other settlements that we visit over the next two hours. Great news!
16:00: On our way back to the office, Maria and I reflect on the day. When we first arrived in Colombia, all settlement children were out of school, but 2.5 years after we started our response, there is so much to be proud of. All 1,500 children that we originally supported through our temporary learning spaces are now enrolled in the formal education system. Our education team has expanded from four staff to 12. We agree we need to increase our remedial classes as children have lost more than a year. We are also greatly concerned about adolescents dropping out of schools because of the costs involved. We urgently need to help get them back into education. But we also feel uplifted by the day and the turnout of students, the standards of activities, observation of COVID-19 protocol and the team’s morale and commitment. We talk about what Save the Children has achieved despite the challenges and although there is a lot more work to do, we feel very proud and motivated.