When I first arrived in Candelaria, I was required to do a community diagnostic. This involved visiting and speaking with the 312 families in Candelaria in order to obtain a better idea of what life is like in rural El Salvador, and to further understand their needs and frustrations that they are faced with on a daily basis. After completing the diagnostic I was struck by the persistence of one necessity that was constantly being brought up by my community members: the desire for a school to be built in the upper part of the community, so that their children can pursue an education. After seeing where some community members actually live and being able to understand the trip that some children were making each day to attend school, it was no surprise that the attendance rates of those from Upper Candelaria were so low in comparison to the rest of the community.
For months I searched for possible solutions to address this need, but was uncertain if it would be possible to do so, due to a lack of funding and resources. It wasn’t until I heard about fellow PCV Sarah Sterling, and was able to see the success of her bottle school that she constructed in her community, that I realized that I could make this dream into a reality. On return to my community I immediately began speaking to different community leaders, regarding the possibility of creating our own bottle school in Candelaria. There was a lot of enthusiasm from community members, and while the obstacles that lied ahead were intimidating, I was certain that we would be able to do this. Looking back on everything that has taken place in the past 4 months, I am amazed to see how far we have come and am so grateful for all of the support we have received.
Right now we are currently in the process of the bottle collection needed for the school. Considering that we are trying to construct a two classroom school, a total of 4,000 bottles of 1.5liters, or a total of 36,000 12 oz bottles are needed. Luckily many of the local stores and schools in Candelaria as well as in neighboring communities have agreed to collaborate, and even the US Embassy has begun a collection campaign as well.
Last week, with support from the Mayor´s office, we began giving classes to the children of Upper Candelaria in a vacant house that is being lent by a community member. The idea of the “Pilot School”, is to help get the students and parents excited about the idea and to get into the routine of attending and sending their children to the new school. It is also another way to gauge the interest and support of the parents before investing in the construction of the school. The construction of the school will not begin until February of next year, so during these next couple of months we will be able to monitor the success of the pilot school, while at the same time making the necessary preparations needed for the construction phase of the project. I am happy to say that on the first day of classes we had an attendance rate of 11 students and within one week the number has already increased to 17 students that are consistently attending. The students have been coming from the 4 different caserios of Upper Candelaria, and it has been really great to see the excitement of the new students and how responsive community members have been. It is really great to finally get to see the first phases of the project in action and as I have mentioned earlier we have been really blessed to make it to where we currently are. Although I am sure that there will be plenty of challenges ahead, I am ready to take them on and I know that with the support of the community there is nothing that we can not overcome.