The school that the Foundation directly supports in Quibdó is part of a consortium of schools all headed by the same principal. One of the schools is a small 2-room school house that sits 45 minutes away from Quibdó by way of a hollowed out tree type canoe. The ride was amazing. We passed a few houses, people working in the river and some banana farms, but that was pretty much it. There was just nothing but nature, and this was the only way to get to the town. The people we passed on the way were standing waste deep in the river with shovels, hauling up the sludge from the bottom.
I figured that there was a bit more to it than I was deducing, but I was wrong. It was explained to me that they were literally digging up the bottom of the river to sell at port as building material. To call-it back breaking work would be an understatement. We passed one other type of worker in the river: a woman that was panning for gold. This small contraption had replaced the big boats that are now parked on the other side of the river from the port. The bigger boats were using mercury to help in the process and in doing so poisoned a lot of the surrounding community. Since then the boats have been outlawed and have been replaced by these small wooden contraptions.
We were greeted by the teacher as we rolled up to the muddy slope to get to the school. There were about 10 kids at the school, out of a total of 30 that the teacher informed us there should be. The majority of kids in the surrounding area were not enrolled at all. Getting kids to sign up for school is a struggle and includes the teacher traveling around the designated area, making stops at each house and imploring the parents to enroll their children in school. The area is poor and many parents are unable to make the sacrifice of sending a child to school when they could be working. The principal was telling the teacher that if need be, he should be visiting each house and informing the parents that it was illegal to not send their children to school. Another troubling aspect of this, and the reason that the teacher traverses the zone to find children for his classroom, is that if there are not enough kids that enroll (not just that should be enrolled) he is fired and the school is closed, leaving the other children to fend for themselves educationally.
Walking into the classroom there was a silence that I had never encountered while being around 10 young kids. They would answer questions quietly, but besides that they seemed just too overwhelmed by the presence of strangers who looked way different than they did. It was only after the others had left and I had hung around, peering through the windows and smiling that I got some smiles and giggles in return.