Stu­dent team hop­ing to build schools in C. Amer­i­can slums

The China Post - - LOCAL -

A team of for­eign and lo­cal stu­dents at Na­tional Chengchi Uni­ver­sity is rais­ing funds for its “IM­PACT” project aimed at es­tab­lish­ing schools in Cen­tral Amer­ica to im­prove early ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren living in ur­ban slums there.

Through an on­line crowd­fund­ing cam­paign, the team has raised more than US$25,000 to reach its ini­tial tar­get for set­ting up a first school in El Sal­vador, said Juan Diego Pru­dot, a 28-year-old IMBA stu­dent from Hon­duras who is the co-founder of IM­PACT.

The fundrais­ing cam­paign con­tin­ues, how­ever, as the team hopes to raise an­other US$15,000 to achieve their short­term goal of es­tab­lish­ing an­other school in Hon­duras, said IMBA stu­dent An­dres Es­co­bar of El Sal­vador, an­other of the group’s co­founders.

“We want to make it a world­wide project. We need at least two coun­tries,” Es­co­bar, 28, told CNA in an in­ter­view.

Given that they come from El Sal­vador and Hon­duras, they have con­tacts with non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and lo­cal peo­ple who can sup­port the project, the two said when ex­plain­ing why they started the project with their two home coun­tries.

Es­co­bar took a field trip to El Sal­vador in Jan­uary and vis­ited ur­ban slums there to learn more about the needs of the peo­ple living in the neigh­bor­hood.

There are cur­rently no early child­hood schools there and some­times par­ents have to take their kids to work be­cause there are no fa­cil­i­ties pro­vid­ing day care for chil­dren, he said.

Con­di­tions around Cen­tral Amer­ica are quite sim­i­lar so it will not be hard to repli­cate the idea in other coun­tries in the re­gion, Es­co­bar said.

The IM­PACT project was ini­ti­ated last Novem­ber by Es­co­bar, Pru­dot, and two other class­mates — Chen An-nung of Tai­wan and Tay­lor Scob­bie from Canada — when they teamed up in an an­nual stu­dent com­pe­ti­tion to cre­ate a so­cial busi­ness con­cept.

Be­fore they en­tered the IMBA pro­gram, each of them had dif­fer­ent plans for their lives, but now they all have the same goal af­ter grad­u­at­ing in June, which is to move for­ward with the IM­PACT project, Pru­dot said.

The core idea of the project is to build sus­tain­able early learn­ing schools for chil­dren in ur­ban slums in an ef­fort to im­prove early ed­u­ca­tion in un­der­served commu- ni­ties, they said.

In ad­di­tion to part­ner­ships with lo­cal NGOs, the team will bring in peo­ple from the lo­cal com­mu­nity to build the schools.

For ex­am­ple, Scob­bie said, lo­cal la­bor­ers will take part in build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture and lo­cal ma­te­ri­als will be used.

The team will choose a lo­cal per­son to run the school and be a teacher, and will also train two oth­ers to be teach­ers to pro­vide for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, he added.

“We think the school is more likely to be suc­cess­ful if it was the com­mu­nity that built it,” the 28-year-old Scob­bie said.

Train­ing women from the lo­cal com­mu­nity to be teach­ers will also help them make more money, com­pared with what they could earn as a food ven­dor, Scob­bie said.

Ac­cord­ing to the team’s con­cept, the schools will tar­get chil­dren aged 0-6. Those aged three and be­low will re­ceive day care in a safe en­vi­ron­ment while their par­ents are at work mak­ing a living, he said.

The schools will pro­vide for­mal ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren aged four to six, he added.

“This is the most im­por­tant part in a child’s devel­op­ment,” he said, adding that a pos­i­tive in­flu- ence dur­ing those years will fol­low them the rest of their lives.

They will be more likely to stay in schools, stay out of gangs and get bet­ter jobs, he ex­plained.

Echo­ing Scob­bie’s re­marks, Pru­dot said early ed­u­ca­tion can be fun­da­men­tal to chang­ing the lives of in­di­vid­u­als, their fam­i­lies, their com­mu­ni­ties, and even their na­tions.

“That’s what we wanna do with IM­PACT,” he said.

To pro­mote public aware­ness of their project, the team will set up a booth at Huashan 1914 Cre­ative Park on Sun­day to sell IM­PACT T-shirts and col­lect funds and set up an­other booth at their uni­ver­sity next Tues­day to Fri­day for the same pur­pose, Pru­dot said.

The team’s on­line crowd­fund­ing cam­paign that will end May 8 is part of an an­nual stu­dent com­pe­ti­tion or­ga­nized by the Hult Prize Foun­da­tion, which aims to iden­tify and launch the most com­pelling so­cial busi­ness ideas.

Win­ners will re­ceive US$1 mil­lion in seed cap­i­tal, as well as men­tor­ship and ad­vice from the in­ter­na­tional busi­ness com­mu­nity.

The team from Tai­wan’s Na­tional Chengchi Uni­ver­sity is among about 30 teams from around the world that are en­ter­ing the fi­nal round of the compe- tition.

Both Es­co­bar and Pru­dot are re­cip­i­ents of schol­ar­ships granted by the Taipei-based In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment Fund ( Tai­wanICDF), a gov­ern­ment­funded agency re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out for­eign aid pro­grams.

“We are very proud to rep­re­sent our uni­ver­sity and Tai­wan as well,” Pru­dot said, adding that if his team were to win the com­pe­ti­tion, it would demon­strate to the world Tai­wan’s qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and will­ing­ness to help coun­tries in need.

The fi­nal win­ning team will be an­nounced in Septem­ber, but the team is con­fi­dent it will cap­ture the big prize, which it would use to set up their on­line plat­form to con­tinue to raise funds from in­vestors around the globe.

The funds would con­tinue to be in­vested in build­ing schools in Cen­tral Amer­ica and ex­pand the pro­gram to Africa and Southeast Asia, they said.

To move for­ward with the IM­PACT project, the team is sched­uled to visit El Sal­vador in Au­gust to work out the specifics of build­ing the pi­lot school with lo­cal NGOs.

“We hope the school will be up and run­ning by early Septem­ber,” Scob­bie said.

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