Sunday, November 13, 2022

Mayhem in Macedonia: The fight to save a school. A story in pictures.

In 2019, eight months before the pandemic, work began on a new "megacolegio" mega-school, in the village of Macedonia.

Then we started to hear of problems.

Above are five of 20 students from La Libertad who attend school in Macedonia.

The seventh through twelfth-grade students from our village attended there.  In total, eight river communities sent their upper-level children to this school.

Many times the students said that they were not picked up by the school boat.  Other times they said they arrived at school to find that their teachers were not there.  Claims of fights and bullying were common.  Some of the students were said to be using inhalants during unsupervised times.

All of these issues were concerning, but the one thing that kept being brought up most frequently was that they no longer had sufficient classrooms for all of the students.  At last, our students were told to go to school only two days per week.  While we thought that some of these problems were a result of the pandemic, we knew it was time to look into what was happening.

We spoke with Jhon Carlos Palomares, the Secretario de Educación for the state of the Amazon, Colombia.  He confirmed that the school was years behind schedule.  The company that started the work demolished half of the classrooms, did a small amount of work pouring concrete posts, and then filed for bankruptcy.  The money that they had been paid to start the construction had been lost.  He said that a new company had not yet been found to continue the work.  He also stated that the other problems of the school were being investigated.  He did not give us any more information, he just held up his hands and said he didn't know what he could do.

It was time to go to Macedonia.

The field with the start of the concrete posts.  This is where the classrooms
were demolished.

One of the classrooms used during the construction.


The port in front of the school.  On the day we visited the teachers 
had no students and were on their cell phones.

The director of the school, Mariano León, spoke to us upon our arrival.  He gave us much more information about the problems of the school.  He said there was only one bathroom for 450 students and staff.  He also discussed the lack of classrooms for half of the students, problems with water and electricity, and not enough gasoline to pick up the students with the boat.  He admitted to discipline problems in the school but did not discuss how he was addressing these problems.

Mr. Leon did give me much more information about the construction, including the name of the agency which was responsible for the construction contracts. The Fondo de Financiamiento de la Infraestructura Educativa (Fund for Financing  Educational Structures).

Ministry of National Education,
 Fondo de Financiamiento de la Infraestructura Educativa (FFIE)

We went to the FFIE in Bogota to ask them what was happening with the school in Macedonia.  We did not get very far.  Instead, we were asked to fill out a form on the internet.  We did, and after one month we received a reply from their legal department that told us of the problems of construction.  Basically, this was what we already knew.  But it did give us enough information for us to know that we needed a lawyer to solve the problems.

We returned to our village of La Libertad.  When there we heard a protest was being held over the stalled construction and abandonment of the students.  It was time for us to return to Macedonia.

One of the first days of the student, parent, teacher, and community-led protests

A speech being given overlooking the abandoned site of the new mega school

The mayor of Macedonia is describing the problems with the new school

Ben, Amazon Pueblo's director, with Jose Javier

At last, the people were speaking up!  I met one of the organizers of the project, Jose Javier, the mayor of Macedonia.  He was willing to fill us in on the details which other people were not giving us.  They had a volunteer lawyer, Luz Marina Castrillón Bustamante from Bogota, who helped them to bring a lawsuit against the education department.

Amazon Pueblo then helped to publicize this on social media sites in the Colombia Amazon and in the interior of the country.  We uploaded pictures, videos, and written comments.  We had over 10,000 views!

Three months later, a new company had been hired and work was resumed.  Please enjoy the photos below as much as we did.

The steel for the structures arrives at the port

Preparing the ground for work

The structures rise!

While we are extremely pleased that work is progressing, now is not the time to sit back and expect that everything will work out.  We are keeping up the posting on social media, asking questions, and looking out for mismanagement and corruption.  Our goal is to post pictures of our students entering the new mega school in early 2023.

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