The large brick building hangs heavy and desolate, lacking the welcoming pastel colors found at other Argentine kindergartens. But this is not a typical kindergarten; this is Crecer Imaginando en Libertad (Imagine Growing in
The school forms part of the Center for the Formation of Community Education and Culture (Cefocc), which is housed in the building of an abandoned private school. In 2002, members of the Movement of Unemployed Workers (MTD) of La Matanza, a piquetero organization, cut the chains that sealed off the abandoned school and took over the space to create Cefocc.
The deep entryway of the building opens into a large roofless square, which on any given day bustles with local merchants selling their goods and the toiling workers of Cefocc’s community bakery. On weekdays, the square doubles as the playground of the school’s two- through five-year-olds.
Since the MTD took over the old school, Cefocc has counted on the determined support of the community and the financial support of outside donors. “A donation made by the Canadian government allowed us to purchase the needed commercial supplies to start the ovens of the bakery,” says CIEL’s administrator Claudia Oses, giving one of the ovens an affectionate pat. The bakery now churns out bread and pastries regularly, and has fast become one of the most popular bakeries in the neighborhood, as students gobble up its tasty fares everyday during snack time.
With the growing success of Cefocc and its bakery, the community began talking about opening a kindergarten in 2003. A grant from the Japanese Embassy for materials such as paint, wood for ceilings and tiles for floors helped CIEL open its doors a year later.
CIEL tries to foster community education and development by instilling cooperative ideals in its students. “I first began teaching at regular schools, but found it very difficult to improve the education provided by the state,” says Silvia Flores, a teacher who began working at the school when it opened. “We want to change the fundamental problems that plague
Those fundamental problems—a lagging economy, a polarized population and a corrupt political system—have led the educators at CIEL to emphasize “concrete values that will break the cycle of exploitation so prevalent in our society,” explains
“The children learn ideals of direct democracy, sharing, companionship, solidarity, mutual help and self-management,” adds Oses, who despite her petite frame, seems gargantuan next to the tiny children pouncing and yelping at her side on a hopscotch board painted on the floor. In CIEL’s version, the bold number one at the starting square has been replaced with red blazing letters spelling “Lucha” (struggle), and instead of ending on the number ten, the end space is scrawled with the word “Dignidad” (dignity).
The school’s philosophy and its hopscotch board are not its only unique qualities. The students spend half the day learning mandatory subjects like reading, writing and math, but the second half of the day belongs to the youngsters. “They can decide to stay inside and do art projects and creative works, or they can go outside and play. The choice is up to them,” says
The school, a good size with three classrooms and 60 pupils, encourages the continued involvement of the community through an innovative tuition policy. “The kindergarten is not free, but we don’t charge money,” explains Oses, instead “we require that all parents with enrolled children attend regular meetings to talk about issues of concern to the community. We really desire that people get active and make a positive impact on the area.”
That impact and the ultimate success of the project may be greater than most could have imagined at first, as plans to open a primary school are now in the works. “We have been looking into different options and will hopefully be able to offer classes for students who are a little older,” says
This article was previously published in the North American Congress on Latin America. For original link, go HERE. Sammy Loren, a film maker and writer currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, writes regularly for UpsideDownWorld.org.