Volunteer helps plan bilingual literacy project for remote area of Argentina

Story of service • Argentina • June 2013


Bilingual literacy is important for the
indigenous people in Salta, Argentina.
Adrian Ciaffone, an IBM volunteer,
used his project management skills to
plan a project to deliver new teaching
materials to 20 schools in the region.
Adrian Ciaffone, an IBM manager in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is responsible for improving the business operation of IBM clients through business process optimization. When he volunteered to help Fundacion Escolares—a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides access to education in rural areas of Argentina—his years of project management experience and skills were transferrable to the challenge of creating and delivering a program of bilingual education for children in the Wichí communities of remote Salta province.

Clarity of purpose leads to expanded programs

The Wichí are an indigenous people in South America who, while still speaking their original language, are increasingly required to understand and speak Spanish, particularly when negotiating land rights. Fluency in both languages can make a difference.

“I have always been interested in improving the inclusion opportunities for the marginal sectors of our communities, mainly the children,” says Adrian. “Kids are born equal but then their development opportunities depend on the environment where they live and the education that they receive.”

For more than thirty years, Fundacion Escolares has supported education in rural areas—first, through shipments of donated books, supplies, clothing and food to schools, and now, through teacher training, infrastructure improvements, development of learning materials, and the creation of libraries.

Earlier Adrian had worked with Fundacion Escolares on its evolving business strategy, and the organization’s mission, scope and objectives to substantively impact the education of more children. The most important result was the successful expansion of Fundacion’s programs, but the clear and straightforward thinking is also evident on its web site where the organization directly tells you who they are, what they do, how they do it and where—a clarity of purpose and approach of which many for-profit businesses would be envious. “By working with them on the strategy, I had the chance to learn about their impact on children’s lives and their professional approach to help rural communities,” says Adrian.

In 2009 Fundacion Escolares started a teacher training program in Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) for northeastern Salta schools to meet the needs of Wichí children and their educators.

A phased approach to communicate with the world

The team determined they needed additional training materials for IBE and Adrian made use of his professional skills and an IBM Activity Kit, Project Management Primer, to help Fundacion Escolares create a path to achieve that objective.

The project was separated into four phases. The first involved a multi-month design effort of literacy workshops that included almost 100 school principals, teachers and bilingual assistants from 20 rural schools in Salta, and yielded teaching materials in both Spanish and Wichí. The implementation phase included partnership with another NGO, Cooperativa Eloisa Cartonera, which creatively makes books using cardboard purchased from “cartoneros” who have picked up the cardboard from the streets. Adrian says that not only did Cartonera bring great value to the literacy workshops, but their approach reduced development costs. The revision phase involved getting direct input from more educators and stakeholders in Salta; and finally, in the distribution phase, the materials were distributed to the schools.

Twenty schools have now incorporated the Intercultural Bilingual Education teaching model and the new bilingual teaching materials into their curriculum to support Wichí children in their native language and in Spanish. The executive director of Fundacion Escolares complimented Adrian for his participation, support and dedication saying that without Adrian’s efforts “this project would not have been possible and we would not have achieved the results we did.”

Adrian says that “The main personal satisfaction is to know that aboriginal children will improve their ability to communicate with their teachers and with the world.” He adds, “For all of us who are parents, helping create and shape the life opportunities for our children are some of the most important things we do can in our life.”

For his volunteer effort with Fundacion Escolares, Adrian Ciaffone is a winner of the 2012 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award which recognizes IBM employees and teams who best exemplify the IBM values of dedication, innovation and trust through their volunteer efforts.

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