By one estimate, nearly 91 percent of the students at Carmen Rodriquez High School in Tongoy, Chile, are considered to be at high social risk.
A coastal city and popular tourist destination, Tongoy has an active seafood and fishing industry, yet young people often feel their opportunities are limited.
“The combination of drugs, addiction and lack of employment leads to increased insecurity, with cases of robberies, murders, and suicides,” says Claudia Mondaca Galleguillos, an IBM portfolio marketing manager, who has volunteered with the high school for four years.
“Often, social risk does not begin by direct aggression, such as sexual abuse or physical abuse, but by negligence. For those children who have access to formal education at school, teachers can play an important role in detecting troubling signs in their development,” she says.
In 2013, Claudia, who was born and raised in the Coquimbo region where Tongoy is located, learned about the school from one of its teachers and about their challenges.
She decided to volunteer, saying “I wanted to try to assist the teachers in their engagement with students. When the students realize how important they are in the community, to their teacher and to their families, it gives them empowerment, responsibility and pride.”
In 2017 Claudia received an IBM Volunteer Excellence Award for her work at Carmen Rodriquez High School.
Another tool for teachers
Claudia and one of the teachers from Carmen Rodriguez High School went through the library of kits and selected several that they would integrate into existing classes.
“The school does an excellent job educating the students, and also has an evening program for older people who want to finish their studies,” she says. “Each teacher has different tools to deliver the knowledge that is required from the Ministry of Education. But the teachers also want to go beyond formal education, and help the students grow as citizens, which I think is very important considering the characteristics of the high school.”
Since Claudia works nearly six hours away from the school, she coordinated virtual sessions with the teacher to integrate the kits into classes. She also remotely helped make the lessons more practical by initially linking the activities to small initiatives such as cleaning the beaches and celebrating the day of the environment.
But something happened in the second year of Claudia’s volunteer work with the school that would take student engagement to the next level: a new teacher asked the students what they wanted.
Inexhaustible sources of love
“Let’s make a greenhouse!” was the excited response from the class of 14 year olds in reply to the question about what would make them feel better about being in high school. The teacher agreed, but then after an initial period of enthusiasm, and perhaps in keeping with rarely having their expectations met, the students got dejected believing they would never be allowed to pursue the project.
According to Claudia, “Instead of discouraging the new teacher, the reaction of the students gave her motivation to see the project through.”
In 2017, using recycled materials, and those easily and cheaply available to them, the students completed the greenhouse, giving them a sense of accomplishment and contribution.
The walls of the greenhouse “are not only full of reused bottles, but also of beautiful stories and great hopes,” say Claudia.
Two years earlier, following a strong storm, earthquake and tsunami, a significant portion of Tongoy was covered in sand and many fishermen had lost their boats. The response of the students was simple: get shovels and help.
Claudia says the students coordinated an activity of beach cleaning, along with a breakfast for those who helped. The teachers did not expect a big turnout, given all the issues the community was dealing with, but they underestimated the students.
“All the students arrived!,” says Claudia. “There was an army preparing breakfast, and others all with gloves, boots and shovels cleaning the beach, and others sharing breakfasts with the fishermen. It was overwhelming. Once again the children give us a lesson.”
She adds that, “When young people realize what they can do, they become inexhaustible sources of love. New expectations, projects and goals are born in them. Everything that a teacher has given them, returns in exponential scale.”
Claudia believes the effect on the school and community has been strong.
“I think the programs will impact new generations of students, impact each institution that will visit and impact community behavior. Teachers are impacted by the realization that they can do much more than educate within the classroom, yet still comply with a structured study program.”
For Claudia, she says that the benefits of volunteering are a worthy reason to get organized and devote a little time to developing an activity for others. “It is a path in two ways, because not only do you help the people or cause in which you are involved, the enriching experience is something returned to you a thousand fold.”
Claudia Mondaca from IBM Chile is among 14 other IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the twelfth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty, and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees.
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