Expanding the Koombook Project into Minas, Ecuador by Jacob Rubel (A’21)

by tuftsigl
Sep 07

This August, I traveled to Ecuador with members of Tufts International Development (TID), formerly BUILD, to visit our current digital library project and implement new centers in two other locations. We had received this year’s Davis Prize for Peace to install Koombook in these new locations.

The first of these new locations was San Jose de Minas, a medium-sized town about two hours outside of the capital of Quito. Our center in Minas is unique because it is the first time that we have established a center inside a school. The school serves 500 students in grades 1-12 from Minas and the surrounding areas. We worked with FONAP (the Federation of Organizations for Childhood and Adolescence of Pichincha), a local educational NGO, that helped us determine the locations of the two new centers.

From our pilot program in Coaque, which we started in the summer of 2017, perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned is that active community engagement is absolutely mandatory for creating a sustainable and impactful project. While we provide technology and training, , the program can only be successful if the community is equally dedicated to the mission of providing access to technological resources for an enriching education.

This is why we were so overjoyed to see the zeal that community members, FONAP, and especially school administrators had for receiving the center and wanting to utilize it as effectively as possible. We quickly learned of all the plans that the school has for the center, such as using it to help increase college attendance by leading test prep for the college entrance exams, hosting workshops for the community, developing critical thinking through research, and much more.

While training all the teachers on how to use the digital library for their classes, we had them brainstorm ideas on how the center can be used for their lessons, or what workshops would benefit the students.
At the school, we worked closely with the principal, Jaime and a teacher who was assigned to be the leader of the center, Esthela Paredes.

Jaime, who is 30 years old is the youngest principal that the school has ever had.  He was passionate about improving educational access for his community. In an interview with him, he excitedly told us, “It is as though with each computer we are laying a seed and preparing Ecuador to be inherited and improved by our youth.”

Rather than creating a project that requires the community to adapt to it, Jaime and Esthela said that the needs of the community aligned precisely to what the digital library offers. For so many students, access to educational technology is nonexistent and yet greatly desired.

The need for the center is largely rooted in broken politics. Minas is a part of the district of Quito, yet because it’s so far outside of the city, it is often neglected by Quito’s government. As we were told so many times by different community members, Minas is a forgotten town.

The school will be an exciting opportunity for TID to develop our monitoring and evaluation research. In other communities the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is more subjective since it is based in community centers, whereas in this case, the school is eager to collaborate with us by using their quantitative data (test grades, university attendance, etc.) to track changes after the implementation of the center.

I felt that we shared a commitment with the school to honestly understand the impact of the digital library. More than just a program that looks good, we both recognize that people’s lives must be affected in order for our work to be valuable.

Being on the ground in Ecuador has allowed me to appreciate the complexity of a successful implementation. I did not anticipate how fulfilling the experience would be to be engaged so deeply in our project, to construct thoughtful strategy, and to witness it come to life.