Carmen’s Oasis

Santa Maria is the elementary school in which I work on Wednesdays. I stayed late on a Friday a bit ago to take a salsa class with a friend of mine, and learned the history of the school. My friend’s mother Carmen opened the school about twelve years ago. At the time of it’s opening, the community mocked her believing that no one could make a school survive in that neighborhood.

During the military dictatorship, the government bought the farmland that her family’s house had once sat on for a low price so they could build track houses by the hundreds. Their goal was to move the slums out of Santiago and into the countryside. The poor, the addicted, the unemployed, the homeless, all were shipped to developments like this one. With them came the crime and violence that arises from poverty making drugs and gangs common in the farming town.

Carmen saw what had become of her community and decided to make a change with education. She put a fence around her farmhouse and built a small set of classrooms in her double lot. Her idea was to provide private school quality education for free to the children of the community. She paid for it at first from government loans, but as the school grew, she began to get grants and donations from people who believed in her cause. She was able to expand the campus to include two floors of classrooms that circle her farmhouse in a U shape and a large dance/PE studio behind that. The school now educates upwards of 800 students from El Monte and the surrounding communities and is ranked as one of the primer schools in the Chilean countryside.

The amazing thing about the school (besides the above) is that the community supports it. The school, while in the midst of one of the most dangerous communities in Chile, has only been broken into three times over the last twelve years. Its walls are not tagged, the windows are never broken, and nothing of real value (like the 30+ computers in the computer room) has ever been taken from the school. The school benefits the children of the community, thus the community does not interfere with the school.

Carmen has transformed her small piece of land into a small oasis for education. The kids who before had no chance can now get into top universities in Santiago. I thought her story was amazing, so I felt the need to share it.

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Some parts of campus; the teacher’s lounge

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Two of the classes Melanie and I work with


One thought on “Carmen’s Oasis

  1. Wow Cait. This experience alone is a reason to do this study abroad program. I’m sure the kids and teachers appreciate you and Mel very much. So glad you’re making the most of your time in the S. Cone.

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