Program | Santander | Colombia |
Jennifer, first SEF scholarship recipient to come to the University of Oklahoma
One of the 400 students, who received school supplies and a scholarship to learn English on January 15, 2011, will come to Oklahoma next month. Smile Education Foundation (formerly Smile Colombia) was able to obtain a scholarship that will allow INEM High School Senior Student Jennifer Mantilla to attend one session of advanced English classes from October to December 2016 at our beloved University of Oklahoma. The student expects to return to Colombia to commence her college degree in Industrial Engineering at UIS, while working part time as an English tutor to support her single mom and two siblings. She will also start a non-profit English tutoring program to help social level-1 & -2 high school and college students who don’t have the resources to register in English classes at local private institutes. Jennifer expects learn about the CESL TOEFL preparation program to cascade it back in the future with students from low-income communities working on Fullbright or similar scholarships (this is a preliminary idea).
Jennifer’s commitment and our follow-up over the years
Thanks to your contributions since 2011, a few of the top students selected among 400 kids from the San Pablo Elementary school Project in 2011 received 500 hours of English classes from 2011 to 2014. IDEI institute waived 50% of the cost of the classes. Members of SMILE’s board have been visiting these students on a regular basis in Bucaramanga and, in the case of Jennifer, two or three times a year to address basic needs that may interfere with her school attendance and to review her academic performance (transcripts from IDEI institute and high school were submitted to members of SMILE’s board every year).
Jennifer has managed to achieve great accomplishments in school and has developed remarkable leadership skills. During the last 5 years that she has been part of SMILE, Jennifer scored in the top 5% of her class. At age 13, she was one of the leaders at the 2013 project that provided 300 backpacks and medical attention to 2100 people of displaced communities in the “Magdalena Medio” region. She has also volunteered with the recent programs at Rionegro in 2015 & 2016. Outside of SMILE, she did 120 hours of community service as an English teacher at a low-income elementary school in one of the suburbs of Bucaramanga (where English teachers are assigned by default and don’t have any background or preparation in English learning) - her previous elementary school’s principal and key partner of SMILE, Maria Lilia Tamayo, finds opportunities for Jennifer to volunteer. Jennifer is currently helping with English tutoring for other kids in her displaced community – right next to elementary school she attended 6 years ago.
SMILE has not been the only source of Jennifer English development. Last year, she surprised us with an additional English scholarship she obtained with CECAM group in which she received additional 200 hours of English classes during that year.
Jennifer’s family challenges in Bucaramanga
What strikes us most about Jennifer’s success is her family’s tenacity to overcome their financial challenges to make sure Jennifer does well in school. Jennifer is the daughter of Rubiela, a single mother working as a department store security guard who, along with her other two children, Ronald and Margiori, have struggled to afford their own place to live in the suburbs of Bucaramanga. They used to rent a tiny one-bedroom improvised dwelling at one of the slums of Bucaramanga, but with a household income of ~$240 dollars a month, they could no longer afford it. Since 2013, they have been moving in with different relatives who are willing to let them live with them temporarily. They now reside at an uncle’s farm in the countryside while Rubiela’s economic conditions improve. Ronald, Jennifer’s oldest brother who is 18 at the moment, is currently doing mandatory unpaid army service that will last 18 months. Margiori is in 9th grade. Needless to say, Jennifer does not have access to internet and relies on help from school professors for books and resources for special school programs/projects.
Goals and benefits of this first SMILE-OU CESL scholarship program
Some of this program’s goals at the University of Oklahoma include:
· Sharpen Jennifer’s English technical and conversational skills.
· Volunteer at one of the programs with the College of Continuing Education.
· Assist at Mosaicos, a Hispanic after-school-program.
· Develop academic relationships with key people at the University of Oklahoma to work on future projects in Bucaramanga.
· Get a firsthand experience on higher education to motivate her to become one of the top students at UIS
Before Jennifer’s return to Colombia, she will spend 3 weeks in Tulsa volunteering at one of United Way’s programs that help Burmese refugees and Hispanic low income communities. All of Jennifer’s extracurricular activities will benefit Jennifer and SMILE to effectively reach out to children in need of sustainable academic opportunities to improve their poverty level.
Would you like to be part of this first SMILE-OU CESL program?
As always, these programs need all the support possible in order to be successful. At this point about 80% of the anticipated expenses of this program (see table below) have already been covered by the foundation, OU and Jennifer’s family. If you or anyone you know would be interested in helping secure the funds for those last items please visit http://www.smilef.org/our-work/communities/detail/jennifer/and click the “donate” link or contact me for further info.
"“Since the moment I started my english classes I have been very happy because it's an honor for me to have the opportunity learn another language. I’m forever grateful for this amazing opportunity, what a dream!""