Five hundred Paraguayans meet in groups of ten. They exchange opinions, discuss, intervene and conclude that the low quality of education and corruption are the issues that most affect their environment. And they do not stay there. They propose solutions, they talk with the community, they inform, they investigate, they look for alliances. This dynamic might sound similar to that of some political professionals or some activist group, but that is the best part: the protagonists are young people from 16 educational institutions in the city of Asunción getting together to be agents of social change in their communities.
These meetings of citizenship and leadership are financed by the IDB with the support of Korea and implemented by the Ministry of Education and Scholas Occurrentes and in Paraguay they are part of the government’s project of extending the school day from 4 to 8 hours. Something not easy at all in communities and schools where resources are very limited, there are no teachers to cover all the needs and there is a lack of training so that the classes are not limited to traditional subjects but also incorporate art, sports, innovation and technology and civic values. But even with these challenges, the new generations have proven to be ready for change.
Know the story of Osvaldo
Who are the protagonists of change?
“When we arrived here on the first day they asked us: ‘Do you believe that the youth is lost?’ The first thing that came to my head was no, because there are 500 young people gathered in one place to try to improve Paraguay,” says Joaquín Aguerre, student of a participating school in Asunción. On the other hand, Margarita Amarilla, Director of the National School of the Republic of Bolivia, comments that the most important thing that children take home after these experiences is to recognize themselves as able and useful citizens who discover the value that each one has within their communities.
In addition, teachers also benefit from this. Those teachers who do their work with passion and dedication are aware that they can always improve and are willing to adapt to the new challenges to place the student as the protagonist of the educational project. Juan Gabriel Saravia, a professor at Cerro Cora School, is one of them: “When we started to transform children’s lives, we started talking about educational quality. What I care about is what they are going to do after school. […] [The program] gave me that what I lacked in my teaching work. I try to implement what I learned there in all subjects: that the answers come out of them, that they analyze the problem, that they seek a solution. ”
And this has immediate results. Juan Manuel Velásquez, a student at the Juan Ramón Dahlquist School, participated in the first meeting in 2015, and is now a facilitator and aide to the younger kids who enter the program: “I used to feel that what I said was not useful; there were times when I did not want to participate, so I did not talk. Now I want to motivate the younger kids, so they realize what’s around them. ”
Juan Manuel and the guys from the video, Osvaldo and Karena, are examples of how the program channels the talent and potential of young people between generations. Playing soccer, serving as mentors and supporting the cohorts that come after them, they become referents and examples for girls and boys from 6 to 13 years.
Where is this change more urgent?
Juan Manuel’s school, for example, is part of the marginal riverside population of Bañado, in an environment with high levels of crime, delinquency, overcrowding and addictions. In schools and communities with conditions of vulnerability is where the program places a focus and where these actions can be an important tool to support the formal education system. They influence the reduction of risk factors for school dropout (such as violence or adolescent pregnancy) and promote the development of skills needed to facilitate the transition from school to the labor market.
But we know that this goes beyond the indicators. It is about opening the field to progress from school as a starting point in an innovative and creative way. Young people have already marked the rythm of this change. Now it’s the other player’s turn to make the pass in such a way that these boys and girls continue to score goals in life.