Julian Wile recently completed an exciting school project in Toronto that benefitted 1st - 5th grade students and their families a continent away, in Tarso, a small rural town in Colombia’s northwestern Department of Antioquia.
At the beginning of the school year he was assigned a project called “Me to We” in which students were asked to find a way to give back to the community. Jules saw his classmates undertake projects focused on contributing to the local Toronto community. But having previously visited Tarso and getting to know a local "campesino" (farming) family, he decided he wanted to help the truly needy students of this farming community far away. He decided to ask the other boys at Upper Canada College to donate books that he would then personally deliver to the students at Tarso’s Patio Bonito primary school.
The reason he chose to collect English books for them was simple. Julian’s family had sponsored a 17-year-old girl from a campesino family in Tarso who was excited to learn English in the hopes it would allow her more opportunities, and a brighter future. During her stay with the family, Jules came to understand how truly life-changing it was for her to learn English, opening a world of otherwise unavailable opportunities and wanted to help other Tarso children receive that same opportunity.
Once his decision was made, Jules faced his first obstacle. He would have to convince his teachers why he thought it was important to give to a different needy society rather than his local community. In the end, they all agreed to his proposal and were especially fascinated that he was going to deliver the books personally. Most of the other students in his grade were contributing locally by dropping off books, toys etc. at a local agency without having any interaction with the children benefiting from their projects. With approval, he prepared an email to his class explaining his project and asking for donations.
The books came piling in and after sorting and packing them, 200 books were prepared for delivery. In mid-May the family traveled to Colombia and at Patio Bonito – duffle bags stuffed with the books in tow – Jules gave his hello and introduction to the class in Spanish, then continued in English to explain the purpose of his visit.
The looks on the children's faces, as he described them, were of absolute shock and joy. As they approached the duffle bags, they started taking one book at a time until they were told that all the books were there for them to share. The teacher suggested that after the children took the books home to show their families they should return them so they could become property of the school library, available for both current and future students.
The family is hopeful they’ll be able to visit Patio Bonito again next year during Julian’s summer break to work with the students on their English skills. In addition, Julian’s brother Jesse has been assigned a community project at his school, and is now preparing an email to his teachers in hopes they’ll approve this same project there. If so, he’ll make a presentation to schoolmates soon so donations can begin coming in. The family plans to deliver more books, as well as new bookshelves, to Patio Bonito’s now growing library when they visit in December.
In addition to receiving books, these students were delighted to find there were more surprises still to come. Toronto students and parents had also donated soccer balls, jerseys, shin pads and cleats, other sporting equipment, toys and gently used clothing for both the students and their family members, which were all gratefully received. While soccer is a favorite pastime in Colombia, many of these kids have never had their very own soccer ball, let alone a pair of soccer cleats! In addition, PharmaCielo Foundation had a brand new, safe climbing structure built on the grassy area beside the school for the students to enjoy during recreation time.
These basic items mean more than just convenience or fun. They are things many of these campesino families will never be able to afford, and through these gifts students’ self-esteem is enhanced and self-respect grows. They enable the kids to experience a taste of “the finer things in life” ... and dreams are inspired when we realize how much more life has to offer, once our horizons are broadened.