A school for Life

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Escuela Para la Vida ( A School for Life) is a Colombian – German NGO that was created in 2003. Its main goal is to help one of the most needed people in Colombia. Truth be told, is that thanks to projects such as the “Colegio de las Aguas” in Montebello, children are receiving an opportunity.

The best thing to ever take place

Laura Viera A © Solkes

In fact, many could say that “El Colegio de las Aguas” has been the best thing to ever take place in Montebello. When this school was created, there were only 48 students, children that had never gone to school. This was their first real opportunity for change.

The Montebello Village is situated in the western part of Cali. It is the smallest and most populated village in the rural skirts of Cali. Most of the people who live here are poor and their houses do not have the basic necessities. Further more, the situation worsens due to the pollution of the Montebello River. A pollution that is generated because the residue water from the coal cleansing is thrown into the river. Pollution is there to be seen, dark brown water.

Andrés Bäppler, architect of Colombian and German descent, is the founder and heart of A School For Life (Escuela Para La Vida). With three other people he was able to develop a space where the community could experience a changing process and furthering their education.

It all began in 1998, moment in which Andrés was working in a project for the city of Frankfurt, some people asked if he could help with the development of a garage school of sorts and he wasn’t to keen on the idea “ I am not a school principal, I am an architect…. and at that point in time, it made no sense to me, I needed five years to understand that it is more important to work there, to share my knowledge in Colombia rather than here (Germany) where everything has already been done.”

El Colegio de las Aguas

“El Colegio de las Aguas” was the first project of the NGO Escuela para la Vida. And having in mind that Colombia is country where the social conflict is more than a simple political term. Where people in every corner of the country are in constant need of help, it was important to understand why the school began in Cali.. “ My mom lived in Cali, in that place, Montebello, and the people there chose me.. I didn’t choose them… that is how I understood that it was very important to support them in their process.”

With no shred of a doubt, the school is an impressive giant bamboo construction. It simply is amazing, to walk in cemented halls in the middle of the vegetation, breathing peace and tranquility.
It is evident: giant bamboo is the schools soul. Giant bamboo is is the foundation of all class rooms, of the school cafeteria “the butterfly”, the bicycle workshop, the music and art room and the computer room, amongst others. “As am architect I believe that Colombia is loosing its architectural identity, because 30 years ago Colombia was completely different.. it was a country with a unique appearance but no it has no proper character.. the architecture in this country is getting lost as time goes by”.

The Water Workshops

Since 2009 the organization introduces the Water Workshops (Talleres de las Aguas). This workshops have the main purpose of preparing them in a high technical level. Kids between 15 and 25 years old may participate. The Water Workshops started with the preparation of those who helped with the construction of the school.

Laura Viera A © Solkes

They became giant bamboo experts in no time. “During a period of two years they study but they don’t earn any money… they learn the technique, gain knowledge and two meals a day.. and we in return receive their undivided attention and dedication.. it is a resource exchange!”

Perhaps, the most important thing about this school is that they take education a step further. One of the main goals is to give young people tools that will help hem in the job market, to differentiate themselves from the rest. This is way the and the cabinetmaker’s workshops, amongst others, exist.

Having this said, the entire community has become involved in the construction of the school. In the construction both national and international (germans) volunteers have helped breathing this school to life. “ We have suffered as leaders because we had no idea how to achieve our goal and the kids where not used to our working style (the German way of doing things)..”. Bäppler tells me.

Besides being completely constructed in giant bamboo, the school has a clear environmental train of thought and one of its activities is to recollect raining water in order to re use it. This is of major importance given that there is no drinkable water.

Everything seems like fantasy

The academic side of the school and its mission have had a crucial part in the development of this project, each teacher receives training on a regular basis and class rooms have only 20 students.

Students not only have the opportunity of having a “normal” education in which they see subjects such as math or science but they also learn English or German. Hallways have sings in German and Spanish. Cultural exchange is extremely important, they receive a lot of help from Weltwarts.

Everything that has to do with this school seems like fantasy: it was built in 4 years, children get two meals a day, local business are supported by selling snacks, there are cabinetmaker’s workshops, music groups, cultural exchange, they can learn how to build a bike and how to grow giant bamboo (guadua). The school blends with plantains, mango and lemon trees.. with the constant laughter of children, the guitar, birds and cicadas.

The idea is to aid others

This amazing social project has the help of other institutions, some of them are: SENA, Carvajal or the German School in Cali. Because of this, this is a long-term project.
In order to make it happen, it is necessary to have the help of people in Colombia and the international community, the German one in this case. This is why the volunteer project takes place.

Laura Viera A © Solkes

Every year more than 30 volunteers come from all over Germany, young people who have recently graduated from school and want to see the world. “They (the volunteers) built a social community and help us become stronger”. They work in different jobs: in kindergarten, in the workshops, language lessons, office work, amongst others.

Projects such as Escuela Para la Vida (A School for Life) and Colegio de las Aguas have generated important changes in their families, like, the commitment of the parents. The idea is to aid others. It is fundamental to reflect about the way we can help others. To reflect about what we need to do in order to achieve a social change and an urban equity.

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