María Ignacia Lewin cofounded Conectado Aprendo (Connected, I Learn) in April 2020 to help connect vulnerable students with virtual tutors to help them during the online learning that is happening during the pandemic.
Conectado Aprendo started with a group passionate about education so that vulnerable schoolchildren could, through an online platform, receive academic reinforcement from university students or professionals who wanted to teach and donate part of their time. Today it has more than 1,400 people linked to the project, from north to south of Chile. María, the director, who was awarded as one of the 100 Women Leaders of 2020 by the newspaper El Mercurio, tells us about the genesis of this solidarity initiative, its main challenges and its projections for the next year.
When did you decide to start this online initiative? Why? And what is the main objective of it?
Jacinta de Andraca and Agustina Cox, former students of Regnum Christi schools, contacted me because they had the idea of giving online classes to vulnerable children who were not receiving classes. In April, we began to have meetings every day, at night, to generate the work model, register future tutors, and generate the initial base network. We even rehearsed with my youngest daughter what an online tutoring should look like! Then, we contacted the Mano Amiga schools and, in a week, we already had more than 30 students. After a month, we had more than 100 and today, after six months of volunteering, we have more than 700 children, from north to south of Chile with their respective tutors. That is, more than 1,400 people linked to the Conectado Aprendo project. It has been a great teamwork experience with very unexpected results!
How does the platform work? How many children are currently receiving tutoring? And in what subjects?
As of today, there are almost 700 children, from the north to the south of Chile, receiving academic support. They are students from subsidized or municipal schools, from 1st grade to 4th grade, who need help in some subject. Also, we are working with boys and girls from seven SENAME (juvenile detention) centers. The process works as follows: the child who needs academic reinforcement registers in the area “for students” found on our website (www.conectadoaprendo.cl). In parallel, university students or professionals who want to teach register on the same page, but in the area “for tutors”. We cross-reference both applications and we are make “matches” between children and tutors. We look for the tutor that each child needs since, for us, “one-on-one” work is central in order to respond to the particular academic needs of each child. The tutorials are carried out at the time, and on the online platform that best suits the child and the tutor.
What motivates you and your team of collaborators and tutors to provide this service to students with educational difficulties and vulnerable young people?
The entire Conectado Aprendo team is made up of volunteers who are passionate about education; we are aware that education is the only answer worthy of the human being; as they say we seek to “teach people how to fish and not just give the fish away.” Also, the bond that is generated is incredible. Hearing the testimonies of the children and guardians move us more than a thousand words (you can find them on our Instagram). It’s impossible not to fall in love with educating and sharing what we have received!
What have been the main challenges you have faced during these months?
The main challenges for me, personally, have been to reconcile the problem, family needs, and Conectado Aprendo; I need to multiply the hours of the day and make them turn into 48 hours, instead of 24! Although God has taken care of even that! But the biggest challenge is to respond to children who have a bad internet connection, or who have their classes on the cell phone. Although we have obtained donations of used computers and companies have given us internet connection cards, it is never enough, and some are left behind. That hurts! There are 700 children, therefore, 700 stories and challenges.
What message would you give to people like you who want to help their compatriots in some way when seeing so many needs that have arisen from this health crisis?
I would invite you to join us! Sometimes we take a long time thinking about the “cons” and have little confidence that things are fixed “from above.” And most importantly, we can always do something for those who are close, or not so close. I once heard that the heart moves the mind… and it is so. If someone wants to help and does not know how, happy to write to me and we look for something. You can always invent new things tailored to each reality!
How can people who are interested in contributing their time join this initiative?
Everyone is welcome! Through the website (www.conectadoaprendo.cl), those who want to take classes can register in the “forum for tutors.” It is urgent because, in addition to historical educational gaps, there are now the gaps generated by the pandemic. There is a lot of work ahead and we need those gifted hours. The lessons are 60 minutes a week, without leaving your desk, and they can change the life of a boy or a girl. We cannot do anything without the help of others… although we also know that “God does not allow himself to be outdone in generosity.”
You can read the original on the Regnum Christi Chile site.