Ecuador: Denisse’s School Under a Tree

In a popular quarter of Guayaquil, a girl of sixteen has started an open-air school for the many children who cannot follow their lessons online due to the pandemic which is still claiming many victims in Ecuador.

With more than 69,000 confirmed cases and 5,000 deaths, Ecuador is one of the epicentres of the pandemic in Latin America. Despite having come into contact with the coronavirus as early as March of this year, the country is finding it hard to emerge from the health and economic crisis which comes on top of chronic social inequality.

At barely sixteen, Denisse Toala has tried to do something to lend a hand to her fellow citizens in this emergency. She is in her final year of secondary school and lives in a popular quarter of the city of Guayaquil, considered the economic capital of the country. A few weeks ago she started an open-air school for children who – having been unable to attend school for months – are not able to follow their lessons online for lack of technical means.

In the quarter is known as “La Realidad de Dios”, in the north of Guayaquil, very few people have an internet connection at home or equipment able to handle the data required by the distance education platform.

Recently UNICEF declared that only 37% of Ecuadorian families have access to the internet and that six out of every ten children do not follow the virtual lessons. The situation is worse in rural areas where only 16% of the families use this service.

So, under the shade of a big tree, Denisse has set up a blackboard, posters and benches and each day she uses her cell phone to check the homework of her little pupils, report to their parents and help the children to study.

“My inspiration,” Denisse explained, “came from my two nephews; I realised that the anti-COVID measures have greatly affected the education sector. I am convinced that school provides opportunities; however, the people in our quarter are very vulnerable, with no fixed income and no internet. I thought I should do something for them.”

Denisse started with 19 children and now, with the help of an assistant, she teaches 40 pupils. The day is organised like any proper school with an exact programme and separate classes according to age and the subject taught.

Seeing the commitment of this young lady, people from the quarter and beyond are helping by donating some copybooks and textbooks. “Here,” one of the mothers says “we have no internet or signal. My children would have skipped the whole school year had it not been for Denisse’s school under the tree.”

(C.Z.)