Our discussion with Carlos and Miky, members of Costeño Social, Paddle-paddle’s partner in Colombia.
The origin of Costeño social is a group of friends, whose passion of surfing and their love of the region have brought them together. But its especially about Juan, a sports teacher and education associate. This association, located in North Colombia between the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta and the Caribbean Sea, gives lessons to kids and teenagers of local communities. The idea: to avoid following the wrong path and have access to free education. English, maths, biology, surf, yoga, and cooking, the education program based around the environment offers them a chance to grow and prepare for a real working future. We spoke with Carlos, a psychologist, and Miky, a cook. Both are members of the association and surf instructors.
What type of education do you offer to the kids?
The idea is to teach the usual courses, arts, sports, through working on actual projects related to the environment. At the moment, we are building a surf school on the beach. We asked the kids to help us in order to improve their maths and sustainable development skills by working on the framework of the school. They take part in the construction process and have seen the school being built out of the ground. By giving surf lessons alongside us, they get to practice their English, their communication skills and also their confidence. We also explain to tourists the local and social characteristics of the region. Daniel, our biologist, teaches about local animal and plant wildlife. He talks about the environment, the climate, the respect needed, related to the environment close to the kids. These different activities also allow to prepare them for their working lives, by showing them the various work opportunities their region offers them.
You are expanding your capacity, can you tell us a bit more about this project?
In the beginning activities took place at Costeño Beach, the hostel where it all began. However, the non-stop flow of tourists didn’t allow for a good flow of activities. We wanted a stable and peaceful place for the kids, a space specially prepared for them, so that we could have regular follow for each of them. It is at that point that the project really took off. We invested all our savings and went for it. Our new area is in the middle of nature, on a hill between the jungle and the ocean. We now have a space for languages, culture and arts, another for yoga, for cooking classes, which we have been growing bit by bit. We are very careful at each step. Even with our experience, we were not born here, and want to make sure that we act responsibly in relation to the kids, the local population and the ecosystem that surrounds us. Our ultimate goal is to be a full-time alternative school. We are growing “organically” as they say here. Little by little with what the environment gives us. This relates to the way that we teach.
A memory from the Paddle-paddle mission that you cherish?
At the start of the project, we had lots of meetings to prepare the actions we were going to do. I was slightly against spending so much time planning. In the end, it allowed us to have a very solid team which means the kids felt comfortable and confident with us. I was surprised by their behavior during the interviews for the documentary on the mission. Usually they are excited and jokers. But they were serious and expressed themselves with ease. It seemed to really be heartfelt messages they were conveying. It meant a lot to me. Their words are powerful.
How do you finance your actions?
Before the pandemic, we received regular donations from local hotels, we taught surfing to tourists and offered them Airbnb experiences. But all of that has stopped. We also have a system of direct partnership for the kids, where anyone in the world can contribute to the financing of their education. But this is not enough and the association is currently running off our savings. The pandemic has made us question everything and clarify our aims, and also to rethink our financing strategies. We are thinking of different alternatives. We are particularly thinking of using crowdfunding to help.
What are the other educational challenges you face?
Usually, we have around 40 kids who come to our lessons. Only 20% come all year, whereas the rest only stay for 6 months. The main reason is the movement of families due to economic reasons. This makes it hard to get the kids involved for long projects and long time periods. The situation has worsened with the pandemic. We are not allowed to receive them in our school. However you have to realize they do not have internet or laptops at home. We give them exercises and activities to do at home, but its nearly impossible to track the progress of them. We are hoping to receive them in small groups soon.