It was a rainy day here in Katy on October 5th and my first time on an airplane since COVID hit. I was flying into Colombia, headed to the beautiful coastal city of Cartagena de Indias. Cartagena is undoubtedly one of Colombia’s most magical cities, full of art, culture, and history. However, on the flip side of its Caribbean allure and large tourism industry lies a dark reality that Conviventia has been working hard to remedy over the last two decades. In the 1600s, Cartagena was the center of Spanish slave trading. Today, it is infamous for its underage sex trade & sex tourism business. Outside of the Cartagena tourists have come to love there are thousands of residents living in extreme poverty, violence, and hopelessness. Upon my arrival in Cartagena, I went to visit my dear friend Guillermo Ramirez, who is also the dedicated principal of Conviventia’s God is Love school in this city. The God is Love schools are located in Colombia’s most vulnerable communities, serving children and families through holistic, Christian education and empowering them out of poverty.
Conviventia’s Friends of Hope sponsors help cover tuition and operational costs at our schools, ensuring we can continue serving these precious students. Guillermo has a heart of gold and loves the precious children of Colombia. He took me to the school, where I had the privilege of visiting every classroom and talking to the students. A fifth grader saw me walk into his class and immediately asked me, “Are you a sponsor?” to which I replied, “As a matter of fact, I am!” This child continued to tell me all about how awesome his sponsors are, and soon after, the rest of the students in the room chimed in to say the same. Sponsors are a beautiful example of God’s love for these children, because it shows them that someone across the globe who doesn’t owe them anything believes in, supports, and loves them.
Before I left the classroom, the kids told me many students at the school still have not been sponsored and asked me to help. This reminded me how important the outreach we do on their behalf here in the United States really is. As we continued our walk through the school grounds, Guillermo explained how during this pandemic they’ve had to offer a mix of virtual and in-person classes, and it has been very challenging because the school and its staff don’t have the necessary technology to work in this hybrid education model.
Guillermo highlighted that this wasn’t the only challenge the pandemic brought; he is also worried about not being able to make payroll for the teachers this December. This is due to the fact that many families in the region were forced to move away during the pandemic to search for economic opportunities after the tourism industry collapsed, meaning there are only around 350 students enrolled this year (compared to the standard 500), but operational costs are just as high.
As I made my way through the school I noticed a lot of maintenance work and general repairs that needed to be done. I promised Guillermo that Conviventia US would bring a team down on a construction mission trip to help him get the school back in shape for the start of the 2022 school year.
Despite the challenges, the Lord is good, and this school has continued to have wonderful results, such as a drop-out rate of only 5% of those who remained in the area. Guillermo also told me 90% of the graduating seniors this year have already secured either a job training program or gotten accepted into college level education. I was amazed; this is better than our best schools here in the states! Guillermo told me the secret to success was in their biblical pedagogical model: School with a Purpose. He highlighted how seeing each student as a whole human being, and nurturing every aspect of their development (i.e. spiritual, psychological, physical, social, and academic) is a key factor. Similarly, working not only with the student but the entire family unit is just as important. It is not only the child, but also the parents, that learn their worth in Christ, and the inherent responsibilities of being a child of God. They begin to heal their family dynamics, take care of themselves, each other, and the world around them, and take responsibility over their lives and the talents God has given them. I have never seen anything like it. I was so touched! The families I met were so grateful for everything the Lord was doing in their lives and the ways Conviventia has been teaching them to actively work towards transforming their mindset and their lives out of poverty.
I knew upon coming back to Texas I would work on four things:
- Raise funds to bring updated computers, tablets, and more, so the students can be successful in today’s tech-reliant world. We are only $22K short now of the $172K needed!! AND we have a donor that will match dollar for dollar the remaining needs! See the status here! God is so amazingly good.
- Bring a team to work alongside Guillermo to get the school ready for next year. This construction mission trip will take place January 22nd-February 5th. Please register here if interested in joining us.
- Hold a gala event this November 16th to raise $50K to help Cartagena’s teachers finish this school year strong and have a bit extra for Christmas. Please check out the event here.
- Grow our Friends of Hope program. To sponsor a child for $36 a month, please check it out here.
My visit to Cartagena was coming to an end and Guillermo was about to drive me to the airport to visit the next project in Northeast Colombia, where I was going to love, serve, and bless the precious Venezuelan refugees. As we were preparing to leave, it started pouring down rain. That’s when I noticed the whole playground at the school started to flood and water rose so high it almost went into the classrooms. I looked at Guillermo, and he shrugged and said, “Yes, we have a drainage problem, but that’s the least of our problems!” However, maybe one of you reading this will be inspired to bring an engineering team down to fix the “least” of their problems as well. May we all continue to be of blessing to those who need it most.