As the world is facing a time of unprecedented challenges, forcing each of us to isolate and adapt to a new way of life, the pandemic has, more than ever, given us the opportunity to cherish the importance of unity and care for each other.
While the world awaits a return to normality, one area that has been strongly affected by this historical pandemic is Education: schools have been closed for months, and children have seen their daily routine completely changed from the school classroom, to learning remotely from home.
Back in June, it became clear that the road back to ‘normality’ would be longer than expected, and numerous families were trapped in precarious situations that forced them to sacrifice many aspects of their daily lives.
At this point, the Management Team at &Beyond Vira Vira decided to act and help the same Mapuche Community which the lodge had been working with and supporting over the years through guest community activities and conservation projects. This time the priority focus would be on families whose children normally attend the local school of Quelhue.
Located 10 km (6,2 mi) north-east of Pucón, Quelhue’s Elementary School lies in the heart of the indigenous Mapuche Community of Quelhue, in a sector limited geographically by a chain of hills to the north-east, Lake Villarrica to the west, and the Trancura River to the south.
A community kindergarten has been created on the same school grounds, which has been integrated into the community as a mutual support network, generating an educational process for the pre-schoolers, as several of them will later enrol at the school.
Some of the school’s most important projects have been the implementation of an organic greenhouse, a Mapuche ruka (traditional house) to encourage cultural identity and diversity, and cultural activities and workshops, to name just a few.
One of the main pillars of the school’s values has always been to promote environmental education to the Mapuche children of the community. For this reason, the school teacher has dedicated his time to the application of practical curricular content, such as greenhouse cultivation in the school garden, educational outings, research through the Internet, reading in the open air, and in the creation of texts and mini-books that have been published and are now available at Pucón’s library.
In 2014, the school received the Certification in Environmental Education, with a level of Excellence by the SNCAE (National System of Certification in Environmental Education), and achieved the same level again in 2018 for 4 more years.
Born in Villarrica, Eligio Salamanca has been a teacher at the school for more than 29 years. He has been inspired to become an educator since his early student years, during which time he met a teacher, whose dedication and unique teaching technique inspired his own passion to become a teacher.
In 2016, Eligio received with surprise and gratitude the news that he had been the winner of the Global Teacher Prize Chile, a recognition based mostly on his ability to innovate and his dedication to improve teaching methodologies, didactics, evaluation, curricular planning, management and educational administration.
Among its innovative educational tools, the practical learning in the organic garden is one of many remarkable practices taught at the school. It is indeed a very relevant topic, as it integrates many concepts that are part of the children’s daily life – land, crops, and gardening. Since most of them live in the countryside, so the teaching goes hand-in-hand with the daily reality in which they live. Eligio explains,
We take examples from the greenhouse to explain some mathematics to make sure they have learned it well. For example, recognizing straight, parallel and perpendicular lines on the ground.
The Management Team at &Beyond Vira Vira has been in constant contact with the school teacher Eligio, and it became clear that as the pandemic was here to stay for a while, families were starting to struggle economically, with 85% of the 37 families registered at the school facing unemployment.
At this point, a donation project, lead by the lodge’s Operations Manager, Paula Galindo, and coordinated directly with Eligio, was created to support the 37 families in need. A major donation was presented by the shareholders of &Beyond, aligned to the support they had offered in other regions via the Africa Foundation. This amounted to CLP 6 144 098; the perfect way to get the project moving forwards.
The first step was to define a list of goods that would be donated; within this process, it was also important to evaluate how we could benefit local providers who had seen their local businesses affected in these difficult times. As arduous as this task might be, it turned out to be a truly rewarding one, and the team was able to coordinate the purchases between four different local suppliers, avoiding purchases at general supermarkets.
The final donation would then consist of one box of basic merchandise such as milk, pastas, detergent, a 25 kg sack of flour, a 25 kg sack of wheat, and 9 bags of firewood, based on the daily families’ needs. The boxes used for the merchandise were all recycled boxes from several department stores.
Getting all the goods together was probably the most challenging part as it required coordination and help from the team as well. Once the goods arrived at the lodge, many staff members got involved putting the boxes of items together ready for dispatch.
Finally came the day to drive all the goods to the Quelhue community and have the opportunity to meet with the families directly. As the team visited each of them, and took the time to explain the values of the company and how the shareholders of &Beyond had supported this donation, they were greeted with smile of surprise and happiness from both the children and their parents, some of them so grateful for such help, that they decided to give back fresh eggs from their chickens as a sign of gratitude.
It took just over a week to complete the distribution, coordinating on a daily basis with suppliers and the school’s teacher, visiting all the families, and making sure no one was forgotten. As the week went on, and families received their goods, the long logistical process behind the organisation of this initiative was rewarded by the smiles of the children and their parents.
It also turned out to be a great opportunity take the time to understand the families’ daily challenges and listen to their stories. Some showed the team their organic gardens and explained how they try to maintain a sustainable life based on their cultural values – the same ones that the children have been taught at the school as part of their education.
Several members of the hotel staff also took this opportunity to deliver some of their own clothes still in good condition, as well as toys and school supplies for the children’s homework, a true sign of solidarity during these difficult times of the pandemic.
As the lodge team has been in constant contact with the community and the school teacher, this project has been is an important step forward in the creation of opportunities to support the education and core values taught at the school. During the many conversations with Eligio, Paula and the team at Vira Vira have come to realise that a lot can be done to support a community that has been protecting its values and their continuity for the new generations.
Now, more than ever, many new projects and ideas can slowly take shape and become a reality for the children and the school, with the help of the whole &Beyond Vira Vira team and the contribution of future guests who can support new conservation projects for the Mapuche Community, keeping the &Beyond values alive to leave our world a better place.