Recent developments: The fourth Conectados lab was installed in April 2012, bringing the total number of beneficiary students to 1,000. Computer use has tripled and the cost of access has been reduced from $1.50 to $0.33/hour.
We're involved because high school students make lifelong decisions based on their education experience. What job can I get with my skills? Should I consider postsecondary studies? Many feel overwhelmed and settle for low-paying, labor-intensive work. Teachers and students pointed to reduced information access as a key barrier. We saw an opportunity to help students gain the skills they need to get better jobs, and to develop the personal confidence needed to go after them in the first place.
microbusiness Most families in the Andes are subsistence farmers who sell small portions of their crops to buy the things they can't produce themselves. This means that communities can't provide cash for the internet connection without affecting their food source. Instead, microbusinesses such as raising guinea pigs (an important food item in Peru) can provide all or a portion of the internet cost, so that Blue Sparrow can help connect even the remotest communities.
Most families already raise guinea pigs or sheep, but haven’t adopted controlled breeding techniques in order to protect and improve their lineages. By teaching students at school through these workshops, the knowledge also filters back home and improves life at the family level. The benefit comes in many aspects. Families and students learn together about advanced breeding and livestock management. Students become business owners, managing income and expenses. The computer lab and the animal business work together, where Excel tracks the workshop’s bottom line while the internet provides information about food, breeding, and curing illness. Students in Conectados schools develop a creative, solution-based mindset that leads them to begin their own businesses, to further study at university, or to dedicate themselves to teach these new skills to other communities.
Blue Sparrow helps to initiate the microbusinesses in each location, but the school manages day-to-day functions from the beginning. Students are most involved, but teachers and parents provide support to assure success. The business must sell about 15 guinea pigs or one sheep per month, which is attainable at our partner schools. At each location, it takes three to six months to reach full productivity, but after that point the project is self-sufficient. The income of the microbusiness funds the internet project, creating an independent system where communities work for their own benefit rather than depending on yearly donations to assure sustainability.
Each school's context and needs vary. Not every school raises guinea pigs, or animals at all. But regardless of the product, the community's commitment and responsibility remain hugely important.
computer lab We say that Blue Sparrow 'partners' with a school for a reason. The community plays a crucial role in the project’s success both initially and throughout the following years. When a project begins, the school is responsible for providing an acceptable classroom and renovating as necessary. A computer teacher must be found, usually with the help of local government and the Ministry of Education. Blue Sparrow installs the computers and equipment free of charge, but the school must pay monthly for its own internet connection. The community is also in charge of security and cleaning.
training After installation, computer classes begin for students and teachers. Teachers learn how to incorporate computers into their teaching, extending the project to all subject areas. Classes and workshops are offered for parents, too.
Students in Conectados schools attend regular computer classes as part of their curriculum. Volunteer-led workshops are additional to these classes, offering opportunities to explore new programs or ideas. In this way, the school can more easily transition between periods where volunteers are present.
Conectados builds empowerment by removing barriers to access—installing computer labs—and promoting self-confidence through skills training in order to take advantage of the new resource. Because of the social circumstances in these areas, simply removing the barrier isn’t enough to generate personal advancement. Our volunteer team’s dynamic teaching encourages students to reach beyond their current situation, and we see weekly improvement during the classes. Students who initially are unable to work without an example to copy exactly grow to a point where they begin to personalize colors and fonts before being asked. The greatest short-term benefit is internal, as students gain a new desire to explore and think critically to find creative solutions to problems. That skill was generated while learning Word and Powerpoint, but immediately transfers to all aspects of the student’s school and home life. As these students continue their education and approach graduation, they’ll do so with the self-esteem to believe that they can and should reach for new opportunities. Their skills lead to better-paid, less physically demanding jobs or open doors to compete on equal footing for the limited places available in post-secondary education.