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Taking English to Siloé

6 November, 2018 - Autor: Recon Colombia

Lilibeydy Manrique and her brother, Adarley, created a school for children that seeks to provide quality education at low cost.

Who is Lilibeydy Manrique?

I’m Lili, an English teacher, a graduate in foreign languages ​​and a social entrepreneur.

What is the La Fontaine School?

It is a social entrepreneurship initiative that began in the 20 commune of Cali (better known as Siloé), with 70,000 inhabitants, where 85% of them live in stratum 1 and do not have access to quality education and bilingualism; something that people of higher strata do have access to. Then the school was born as an initiative to bring quality education and training with an emphasis on English at low cost for people from strata 1 and 2.

How does the school work, who finances it, do the teachers donate the time?

The school is self-sustainable because the same families in the community pay a monthly fee, and what we do is establish alliances with the private sector or with academia and NGOs, in order to cut costs and thus offer quality education at low cost. Our teachers are international volunteers who teach English, but we also offer employment to six teachers who belong to the same community.

Recon made you public, what happened then?

Recon helped us to make our initiative visible, and it is curious because as social actors we can be two, three, four years in the same place, and the same people in the community do not know other social organizations in the same community. Then began the visibility. When we started to appear in newspapers, on the radio or on the news, the families of the community started coming to school to want to link their children to this educational project. We managed to establish alliances with universities in the city, with them we implemented new programs. And with the seed capital that we earned with the first place in the education category, we will open our laboratory this year called Makerspace, a common place of creation for both children and the community.

What happens when a low-income child has access to bilingual education?

English gives you access to information, and the inequality gap we have in our country is largely due to the lack of information. A child of stratum 1 or 2 has fewer years of education than a child who lives in a high stratum: while one may have up to 18 years of education, the other may not reach ten; then if a child from an early age is exposed to a foreign language, it has multiple benefits not only for his brain, to be able to think in a different way, to be an empathic person, to become a global citizen, but also in the future, because if there is no further access to higher education, having English will give you a tool to have a better income or to access better opportunities in your life.

How was the school born and why did you decide to do it?

The school is a family initiative. My brother and I grew up in Siloé, and when he was a teenager he wanted to learn English, but there were no resources to do it because it is very expensive; that’s why only one in ten Colombians speak English, because it is very expensive to learn. Then he bought a dictionary (which cost him $ 3,000), every day he studied words or phrases, and he taught himself. He managed to go to university, studied English and French, and when he fulfilled his dream he returned to the community to share that dream with the children, with the new generations.

And how does Lili enter the project?

He told me his dream, we are both graduates in languages, we had taught English in colleges and universities; then we both said we had to go back to our roots, go where we started and return this work to the same community.

How many children have been impacted?

We started with 45 children in 2015 and today we have 137 at preschool and elementary ages from kindergarten through fifth grade.

How do you see the future?

Colegio La Fontaine can be a replicable idea in the hillside of Cali, which is composed of three communes, but before replicating we want to expand the coverage and offer, that way we would take the children from kindergarten to grade 11, to make sure that they go to the university, to access job opportunities, and to see in the long term how English is a factor of change in our country.

It touches on two important issues: self-sustainability, on the one hand; and high costs of education for another, as well as being in an area with low resources.

How do you get those families to pay?

Sometimes we think that for a company to work it needs a lot of money, but we have discovered that in the social sector the allies play a very important role, then it is self-sustainable insofar as we do not depend on donations to function, because the same families with their contributions (paying $ 100,000 per month) make the school sustain itself. When we talk about climbing, it is to expand coverage and innovate, because innovation is expensive. So how do we innovate: with bilingualism, but we do it at a low cost because we have international volunteers. The technology comes at a low cost because received twenty computers to open the systems room, and what is happening is that many actors appear which we are lowering costs.

And for children whose parents cannot get $100,000, we have a sponsorship program with citizens who are now sponsors of school children. We have twelve sponsored children and it was a pilot program that we started this year. We know that next year we will be able to reach 50 sponsored children who can study at school.

What is the investment for a child to study at this school?

In a year a child goes to school for ten months, there is a tuition and monthly payment; in total it is around $1,200,000 for the year. We have parents with informal businesses, or who work in a company all day, but who bet on their son having a better education. In these types of communities there are schools, even private ones, that do not cost much but have low educational quality, and public schools still have many things to improve in terms of the number of students per classroom and the type of services offered.

Do you exclusively educate children or have you thought about adults?

The focus is children, but we created an organization on the way called Able Foundation, we reached the kind of audience not in school, who are young adolescents, women and adults. It works in the school on Saturdays, for $ 10,000 or $ 15,000 per month, there are boys of 9th, 10th and 11th studying English with us. We have conversational English programs for adults and we are also venturing into a women’s program through the foundation. It’s called Able because we believe that our mission is to empower the community, that’s why it’s called Able.

Via: El Espectador

By: Edwin Bohórquez

See note HERE