How could a teacher support COTA? Inspiring young people to consider the big questions

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Carlos Muñoz, who works as a PE teacher at Haringey Sixth School and 
volunteers as a COTA promoter, recently introduced his students to our work. Last month Carlos’ students organised a Sports Week to support COTA. In this interview, he explains how it all came about and what it meant for his students.

What motivated you to get involved with Children of the Andes?

It was a consequence of spending two years in Latin America. Whilst in Uruguay I was lucky enough to develop a friendship with someone in the outskirts of Montevideo. I lived with them in a town called Lezika, it was a tiny area outside Montevideo; so, it was easy to get to know people there. My friend was very involved in helping homeless young people whose lives have been hugely affected by drugs. My friend’s role in these people’s lives really challenged me to become more aware of these issues.

I was also very lucky to stay in Medellin, Colombia for about 4 months. While I was there, I decided to make a journey to one of the barrios where a football-based project by a charity called ‘Colombianitos’ was working with young people. A combination of these experiences resulted in me deciding to research worthwhile organisations that I could support back in London, and that’s how I came across COTA.

What motivated you to organize an activity in your school?

The school where I work is based in Tottenham, London. When you consider the recent events of the ‘Tottenham riots’, it is clear that many young people within our school/community are aggrieved and frustrated with the challenges that come from living in a deprived area of London. I think, however, that if they have an awareness of how much opportunity they have in London, especially when compared to other countries, then hopefully this could play a small role in developing them as adults and motivate them to grab the opportunities that come their way.

I imagine inspiring your students to take part may be a challenge. How did you get started?

IMG_1834I wanted to organise something that fitted in within my workplace, hence the focus on sports. So after doing a couple of talks to the students about Colombia, its history with the cartels and the challenges that children face as a result, my students were really engaged by ‘Colombia’ as a country. They were keen to help, particularly when COTA visited the school to tell them about their work.

How did your students feel organising this event?

The experience of the event built up emotions of excitement, enjoyment as well as apprehension. Some aspects were much easier than others. For instance, they enjoyed designing the leaflets, posters and events. They all had a chance to take part in sports competitions and compete against one another as well as their teachers. However, the most difficult part was when they had to put their COTA T-shirts on, walk around the school with their bucket trying to get people to sign up to the event and explain what COTA is and why they are doing it.

IMG_1455One of my students, Fahad, who is 16 years old and whose family came to London from Somalia in 1998 said to me: “I enjoyed learning about the charity. I felt proud wearing the Children of the Andes top because I am helping little kids to fulfil their dreams and it was pleasure to raise money for your charity. I would be happy if I could help raise money for Children of the Andes again. I feel like I helped million of children and I will be happy to help again.”

How did you feel about the process?

I was really pleased to see students who have had personal difficulties themselves –including some who previously served time as in youth prisons- walk into a classroom of strangers and explain, in their own words, what COTA is and how they are fundraising for youngsters in a completely different continent, who they will never meet.

I was hugely surprised with how sincere they came across to their audience. I personally thought that it took huge courage and character, particularly when you consider how conscious young adolescent are about their image.

IMG_1097Solidarity across borders and the willingness to act on those good intentions is what makes Children of the Andes’ work possible. Initiatives like the one at Haringey Sixth School not only enable our work to continue but can also help to raise awareness amongst young people in the UK about the circumstances people are faced with in less developed countries.

In a globalised world, awareness and solidarity will be essential for the young people of today to build a better world for the future.

Carlos focused on sports; other teachers have organised, for example, language fairs and Latin American festivals to support COTA. If you know anyone who would like to inspire young people and support our projects, like Carlos did, please share this blog, come to our next Promoters’ induction or suggest they contact Heidy to discuss their ideas.

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