Uruguay is a small country between Argentina and Brazil where 27% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 7% of children under 14 years old are working, mostly as garbage scavengers.
Things you take for granted in the modern world, such as not suffering from cold inside your house or being able to have a hot shower, are not common for a large portion of the population here.
Uruguay prides itself of its high rate of literacy (compared to the rest of the continent) but on average pupils leave school at 16. Public education standards are low and there are very few opportunities for extra-curricular activities. Uruguay used to be called the “Swiss of South America”, a stable and literate country proud of its standard of living and education. This is long gone, and there is no sign of improvement any time soon.
Whilst there is a lot of scope to help here, KIRIKOU will not attempt to solve the country's poverty and education problems. Its modest goal is to make a real and sustainable difference to a community.
KIRIKOU will focus on offering free educative activities for primary and secondary school kids in the West of Montevideo. It will function as a volunteer project as much as possible to keep the operational budget to a minimum. The donations will be used for covering expenses such as one-off equipment, material for the classes, travel for the teachers, and if possible a big annual event for all the local children.
The epicentre of the project will be in Pajas Blancas, a rural area of Montevideo, located on the west (poor) side of the capital. It has two beaches, a settlement of fishermen who all live below the poverty line, some small farms producing fruits and vegetables for Montevideo, some kids who go to school on horseback, and one of the highest crime rate in the country. Why? Because vulnerable neighbourhoods are just that, vulnerable, no security, little interest from the authority, families struggling to make ends meet and youngsters with no hope of a better future - easy preys to the omnipresent drug network and its consequences.
There are about 1000 children in the area, two public primary schools and one secondary school. There is little else there for them beyond the schools and a baby football club. Primary school runs a 4-hour shift and secondary school a 5-hour one, leaving plenty of free time to all those kids. Typically, a large proportion of these children will not finish secondary school, very few will go to university and less than a handful will achieve a degree.
KIRIKOU will propose weekly classes, weekend workshops and holidays activities. We will start small and only propose activities that we can sustain, then we will grow (hopefully), summing up volunteers as well as kids.
The baby football club offered us to use its facilities for free, it is ideally located right in the centre of the village, making it safe for the children to come and go, so we are thrilled and eager to get started.
Between October and December 2016 we will start our first set of classes: English and curricular support for primary school pupils. In 2017, we will expand to include more classes and a wider audience (secondary school pupils).
January and February are summer holidays season here, school finishes in December and restarts in March. We will use those two months to offer a program of syllabus revision for primary and secondary school. We are also thinking of adding some more relaxed educational activities such as circus art workshops: fun, easy to organise and suitable for all ages!
The baby football club provides milk and a snack at every practice. We want to do the same, have something healthy to eat and drink at every class.
During 2017, we’d love for our best English students to have the opportunity to take the official Cambridge Young Learner exams in the prestigious Anglo school in Montevideo centre, and make of the occasion a day to remember. The exam entrance fee is USD100, they cannot afford it, hopefully KIRIKOU will.
For 2017 event - and finances permitting - we would love to bring a circus to the area and arrange for every single kid to attend, it would be a first for most of them.
How did this project come about?
I am French, and before I moved to Uruguay 3 years ago I was living in London where I had a 20-year successful career in big corporations. Beside work, I had a taste for expensive hobbies and a comfy life style in a privileged neighboroud. My contribution to good causes was generous enough but financial only. Then nearly four years ago I met a wonderful man who made me see the world differently. I followed him to Uruguay and together we started maturing the idea of a community project. The idea became more defined when we decided to move to Pajas Blancas, it felt the right place to embark into such an adventure. Then 4 months ago I went to speak to the director of the primary school and offered to give English classes there. I was expecting the usual “can’t do, processes, bureaucracy, rules, etc.” response that I would certainly get in Europe, but no, she was delighted and I started a few days later with two classes amounting to 42 children. I felt in love straight away with those kids, they are so eager, so grateful, so generous with their affection, they melt my heart. Then I got to know each of them and each of their circumstances, some tragic, many just sad, stories of poverty, of violence, of coping with alcoholism or drug in the family…. And despite it all, they always have a big smile when we meet, I can see their eyes light up and that is the most precious reward on the planet.
I want to give more to those kids, and to those I don’t know yet, I want to give them some happiness and the hope that there is a future for them, but above all I want to show them that people care for them and that they are worth it. That is why we set up KIRIKOU.
We do not want our activities to generate any cost for the children or the volunteers, so KIRIKOU will have to bear them all: books, paper, pens, copies, bus tickets, food and drink, equipment, etc. The more funding we get, the more we will be able to do and more kids we will be able to include. We will manage the money we get in order to be able to sustain the activities we start throughout the current and coming school year so we do not get caught short or over commit.
One last thing, why the name KIRIKOU? For the character of Michel Ocelot's movies, a wonderful kid full of curiosity and resources. Michel Ocelot gave us the authorisation to use the name and pictures of his work.
Here is our Facebook page, it will fill up with updates, pics and announces of our classes and events: https://www.facebook.com/kirikou.escuelita/.
On behalf of our future students and on ours, THANK YOU!