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Granny pins hopes on boys' education

Granny pins hopes on boys' education

14 September 2007

Sterlin's grandmother helps him with his homework.

BOGOTA, Colombia - Eva lives with four of her grandchildren - 15-year-old Sterlin, his 10-year-old cousin John and two toddlers - in a tiny house she built herself with the help of a few neighbours when she arrived in Bogota.

The house is on top of a hill and overlooks the barrio of plastic and wooden shacks. It has one small room, no more than three metres by four, on the ground floor and a basement underneath where Eva and the children sleep. At 62, Eva's daily struggle is to keep the children fed.

"We have oil and rice, but not much of anything else," she says. In the countryside, she used to work the land and there was always food on the table. "But nothing grows here and now we have to buy everything we eat. Thank God, I don't have to pay for the school."

When Sterlin and John first arrived, she tried to enrol them in a local school but was told there was no space for them. She did not know then that the boys, both from displaced families, were entitled by law to free education.

"At first when I was told about the Learning Circle, I worried that we could not afford it," she says. She was also afraid Sterlin would not be accepted because he had fallen so far behind in his schooling. "It's not his fault," she explains, "he's always wanted to study, but there was always something, the school was closed or I had to take him out because I had no money. I feel very bad about that."

The boys have changed a lot since they started at the Learning Circle. As well as reading, writing and mathematics, they are taught to play, interact with each other and express themselves through arts. "They used to fight all the time but now they get on much better," she says of the two cousins.

"I keep telling them that education is their only chance," she adds. "It is not that educated people are better than us, but there is so much more they can do with their lives." Eva herself hardly got to 3rd Grade; she can read but not write. "It was normal back then to take the children out of school to help in the fields or in the house. But all my life, I've wished I could have gone on studying."

She worries that Sterlin does not have enough time for his homework. Since the house has no running water, he has to walk three hours every other day carrying water up the hill. He does his homework in a corner of the basement and there is not enough light to study very late.

But Sterlin knows how important it is to study and his grandmother is confident he will succeed. "He has seen so many bad things in his life," she says, "too many for a 15-year-old. But if he can get an education here, then maybe it will all have been for the best."