At home, Alejandro, a 15-year-old boy in rural Colombia, has access to only one smart phone: his father’s. After Covid-19 began, Alejandro’s school closed and teachers began holding classes online and sending instruction through messaging applications, such as WhatsApp. Alejandro must wait for his dad to arrive home in the afternoons to check for his homework.
For children like Alejandro, who have little or no access to a computer or the internet, staying committed to school has become especially difficult. An estimated 83 percent of Colombian children in rural areas are in the same situation as Alejandro.
Schooling in rural Colombia was a challenge even before Covid-19. The promotion of boys and girls from primary to high school is like a sieve, with a significant number of rural children interrupting their educational cycle. When they get discouraged, they are at risk of dropping out to pursue work, which many find attractive because they are able to earn their own money. In many areas of rural Colombia, children end up taking part in mining activities, such as coal and gold mining, a common livelihood option.
Teachers strive to keep kids interested in their education, but sometimes even parents don’t understand why staying enrolled is important, especially those who dropped out to earn income when they were young.
Somos Tesoro offers solutions
Through the Somos Tesoro project, Pact offers educational opportunities to Colombian youth during their free time. Developing creative, communication and leadership skills can open up new life goals and delay interest in income-generating activities.
Amid Covid-19, Somos Tesoro has created a virtual strategy to continue its initiatives for youth education. Biweekly Facebook Live events bring young people together to share what they’re going through during the pandemic and learn from each other. This has served to motivate and inspire them to keep up with their studies and find ways that they might contribute to a better post-Covid world. Somos Tesoro is also continuing trainings for youth online.
Somos Tesoro started by carrying out a “communications diagnosis,” which identified top ways rural Colombian youth could stay connected with the project’s activities, and when and where they are most able to get online to participate. The project then tailored its response.
Girls and boys have reacted with enthusiasm. Some join from internet centers in their villages that they are able to walk to while others use smart phones.
“I am part of a group where we are learning about fanzines and how to develop them,” shared Danna Gómez, a girl from San Roque, Antioquia.
Another participant, Paula Medina wrote, “Quarantine has allowed us to take a break and to self-analyze and work on personal projects. In the case of the groups and initiatives I belong to, we have been challenged to look for strategies to help our young people and community in general.”
For Somos Tesoro, these virtual tools have been key to continuing to strengthen youth leadership, so that children like Alejandro can build the future they deserve.
Since 2013, Somos Tesoro—We are Treasure—has worked to strategically reduce child labor in mining areas and improve health and safety in artisanal and small-scale mines in Colombia. With its local partners, Alliance for Responsible Mining, Fondo Acción and Fundación Mi Sangre, Pact is using an integrated approach, addressing the many factors that lead to child labor, including economic instability, challenges in implementing public policies favoring child protection, and a lack of quality education in rural mining areas. The project focuses on two geographic areas where families rely on mining for their livelihoods: the coal mining communities of Boyacá and the gold mining communities of Antioquia. Somos Tesoro is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.