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In Colombia, UNICEF Helps Put Kids Back in School

A student (right) tells Rosa Jimenez, project coordinator for "La Escuela Busca al Niño, La Niña" (left), about her experience returning to school. Photo: Kristen Mangelinkx.

A student (right) tells Rosa Jimenez, project coordinator for "La Escuela Busca al Niño, La Niña" (left), about her experience returning to school. Photo: Kristen Mangelinkx.

Kristen Mangelinkx is Vice President, Regional Fundraising, at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She writes from her field visit to Colombia.

We left the old city of Cartagena and drove south for an hour to reach Arjona where UNICEF and the University of Cartagena have teamed up to address the issue of children who are out of school or at risk of dropping out.

A poor area, Arjona has been particularly affected by the violence that has disrupted the country. Many of the families here have come from other areas of the country to escape the conflict, and yet the risk of children being recruited into criminal gangs is still a daily threat.

With funding from UNICEF, researchers from the University of Cartagena sought out children who were out of school to determine the barriers to accessing education. The dedicated team sometimes took canoes to look for children out of school along the river banks.

Newly integrated students paint a mural in the courtyard of Nueva Holanda School in Arjona. Photo: Kristen Mangelinkx.

Newly integrated students paint a mural in the courtyard of Nueva Holanda School in Arjona. Photo: Kristen Mangelinkx.

UNICEF then worked with the municipal government, schools, families and communities to create flexible education models to bring hundreds of children back to school.

We met with teachers, parents and students at two schools who had enrolled large groups of these students last year. Teachers described the challenge of integrating the out of school children into their classrooms — a process that was at first disruptive, but with UNICEF training, became a positive experience.

As we walked through the school, it was clear that these children have become a part of the community — one that they and their parents are grateful for.

Two students at the Paula Santander School in Arjona. Photo: Kristen Mangelinkx.

Two students at the Paula Santander School in Arjona. Photo: Kristen Mangelinkx.

 

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