Let’s start with a dilemma: Mexico or Colombia?
Do you ever think about going back?
Not really, my life is here now. Of course I miss Colombia, but if I’d miss it too much, I would just go back. I don’t really get people who are unhappy with the way things are and don’t do anything about it. For me, it would be illogical to be suffering, since it’s a decision I made myself consciously. I have everything I need right here (points at herself). It’s what I had in Colombia, what I have here and what I will have if I go somewhere else. I don’t like to have a lot of possessions. The other day I noticed that there’s too much stuff in my closet right now and I urgently need to get rid of some of it. It’s just the way I am. It’s not for everyone, the life I lead, and that’s okay. Some people, for example, can’t live without eating ‘arepas’ (a type of pancake made of ground maize dough or cooked floor, a typical Colombian dish) . I can. It’s just who you are and what you want as a person.
When did you first see the mobile school?
In 2003, Arnoud, the founder of StreetwiZe • Mobile School, was in Cali to implement the mobile school project with the local team of the Sisters of Providence, where I was working. I was immediately very enthusiastic about the project and shortly afterwards, I was one of the mobile school street educators.
In 2005, I took over the coordination of the project. Together with my team and with the support of another local organisation, Samaritanos de la Calle, we pulled the mobile school to the streets four times a week to work with the children and youngsters living and working on the streets of Cali 24/7, children and youngsters off the street. Seeing their faces lit up when working with the mobile school was worth it every time.
After 8 years in Cali, I needed a new adventure, I wanted to broaden my horizon. I decided to go to Mexico. After a while, my dream was to start up a mobile school project there as well. I looked for an organisation that wanted to support the project and I found it: Alimentos para la Vida. Together with my talented team of street educators, I’ve been working with the mobile school in Querétaro for 4 years now, since 2013.
The year afterwards, I co-facilitated my first training. Together with Gonzalo Velazquez and Toña Pineda, two Mobile School Master Trainers, I went back to Colombia for the first time in four years to visit the three Mobile School partner organisations there. It was incredible to see that the children there still recognised me. It was a happy reunion!
In 2016, I implemented a new mobile school in Mexico City with the team of Yolia Niñas de la Calle A.C and in 2017 I helped train the three Nicaraguan mobile school teams during an exchange. It’s nice that I can share my experience with them and I always learn from them as well.
What do you do when someone says the work you do is 'just a drop in the ocean'?
In addition to the work with the mobile school, I work as a teacher in two secondary schools. I didn’t choose education, it chose me. It was my calling. When I found mobile school, I found the form of education I like most and that I can identify myself with. Street education transformed the way I teach at regular schools as well. Luckily, it wasn’t the other way around (laughs). True education is education that touches the heart. If you don’t touch their hearts, you’re not really teaching.
I have always believed in this project, because I am absolutely sure that it works and that it is meaningful. I believe in what I do. I don’t try to convince others, but I try to transmit what I believe. It’s just about believing yourself and being convinced of what you do.
What is the added value of the mobile school?
The magic it’s able to do on the streets. It turns the surroundings into an open space. Children feel free to come closer, thanks to the mobile school itself and thanks to the atmosphere it generates.
"You reach everything you want to reach. You find what you're searching for. So what you find, depends on what you're willing to search and how far you're willing to go to search it."
What’s your best experience with the mobile school?
There are many. Some of the children and youngsters we’re working with on the streets, have been working with us since we first started up the mobile school project here. We’ve seen them grow up over the past four years and we grow old with them.
Another very memorable experience took place when I was working with the mobile school in Cali. I met a deaf-mute boy of 11 years old. I played with him a lot. He always slept next to a recycling factory, with his dog. One day, he showed me a number that was tattooed on his arm. I noticed it was a telephone number, so I tried to figure out where the boy was from. Some time later, a news crew from Caracol came to film the mobile school. The boy’s mum saw the news and rang the television channel. Her son had been kidnapped two years earlier. The news channel arranged for the mom to visit her son and despite all odds, it was a really happy reunion. Happy endings do exist.
Another happy ending was when I was sitting in a restaurant here in Querétaro. My waiter was a boy who worked with us before. He met a girl, found a good job. He had distanced himself from the streets. He was really proud to share his success.
What’s your worst experience?
Two of the children we worked with have died over the past four years. One of them was stabbed by gang members and the other one mysteriously disappeared after being questioned by the police.
We work with a girl who’s had three abortions since we started working here, a boy whose body is full of cigarette burn marks, another girl that was burned by her boyfriend, kids that start using drugs and want to stop but can’t, ...
Why and how do you keep going?
Sometimes I’m so tired I think of just doing something else, but after a session on the streets with these kids, I can’t imagine myself ever stopping, ever giving up on them.
This is my calling. I identify myself with the project, with the kids. The only thing a street child has, the only real thing for him is the street. It’s what he has in this moment. I could have ended up exactly where they are, but I was lucky enough to have someone in my life that motivated me, my grandmother. Everyone, for that matter, could have ended up exactly where they are.
What are your dreams for the future?
Growing old with the mobile school. If it’s economically possible, I would like to stop teaching at school and dedicate even more time to the work with the mobile school. I want to keep growing as a person, keep developing and mostly, keep learning as well. Learn more about street education and alternative education and spread that knowledge. I’m really interested in expanding my horizons.
I’m not really worried about what I’ll be doing within a couple of years, though. Who knows where I’ll be living. Who knows where I’ll end up. My dream was to implement a mobile school. After I was able to do that, I wanted to start up a mobile school project in Mexico. Everyone said it wouldn’t be possible, but together with my team I made it happen. You reach everything you want to reach. You find what you’re searching for. So what you find, depends on what you’re willing to search and how far you’re willing to go to search it.