Over the last five years, COTA partner ACJ (the YMCA in Colombia) has been working to develop an educational model for working children, funded by the Big Lottery Fund (BLF). This involved developing a successful way of working with these vulnerable children, helping them “learn to learn”, and ensuring that they entered – and remained in – formal education once they were ready. Importantly, the work also resulted in a resource guide for including working children in mainstream education, which will benefit many thousands more children in the future.
Child workers represent the largest group of children excluded from education in Colombia. Approximately 2 million children have to work and 75% of those children do not attend school at all. The full inclusion of these urban working children in school is a huge challenge. Much of the work done by urban children is dangerous and located on the streets (selling sweets, washing windscreens, commercial sexual exploitation). Children have to focus on surviving from day-to-day and protecting themselves. It is very difficult for them to develop the skills they need for education – to trust others, socialise, concentrate, listen, share and, crucially, to have the self-confidence to think about the future and dream of a better life. It is therefore no surprise that it is hard for these children to attend and stay in school.
ACJ’s key aim is to help these child workers make the challenging transition from street to classroom (in ACJ’s Children’s Centre), and eventually into the formal education system. Over the last five years, ACJ has created an educational model, which will enable working and at-risk children to access education on a much larger scale. For more information about how ACJ works, please see our website.
ACJ also works with families to help them understand the long-term benefits of their children gaining an education and to support parents in finding work and training.
The ACJ programme benefitted 1,007 children, 142 families, and 194 teachers and community workers over the five years of the Lottery grant. It will benefit thousands more in the future through the guide.
The project has achieved amazing things, which can be summed up by the voice of just one participant in the programme:
I think it’s important to study because you need education if you want to get ahead, be someone in life, and help your family have a better life. With an education you can get work more easily and more quickly, and you won’t have to work in construction or as a maid, for example, you can get a better job. That’s why it’s important to study. When I joined ACJ I was 10 years old and I’d never been to school – I used to spend my days out on the street and hanging about with other kids who didn’t go to school. I didn’t think it really mattered that I wasn’t at school, but now I know different. Thanks to ACJ when I finally got to school, I found it easy to study and answer the teacher’s questions because everything I saw at school I’d learnt at ACJ and it was easy because I knew how to read and write. I’m in 9th grade now and I really hope I can finish my studies and graduate! (Testimony of Mariana, now 15 years old).
COTA continues to support ACJ, so keep an eye on our website for more news from them. you can also read more in our recent Newsletter – A Working Life (Spring 2011).