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 to visit our current digital library project and implement new centers into two other towns. The first of these new locations was San Jose de Minas, a medium sized town about 2 hours outside of Quito. Our center in Minas is unique for our project due to it being the first time that we have implemented the Koombook program in a school. The school, which includes grades 1-12, serves 500 students from Minas and surrounding areas. During the implementation we were also joined by representatives from FONAP (National Farming Forum), a local organization that was responsible for determining the locations of the two new centers.

From our pilot program in Coaque, perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned is that active community engagement is absolutely necessary for creating a sustainable and impactful project. While we can provide technology and training, the program can only be successful if the community is equally dedicated to our mission of providing an enriching education to those with limited resources. This is why we were so contented to see the zeal that community members, FONAP, and especially school administrators had for receiving the center and utilizing it as effectively as possible.

We quickly learned of all the plans that the administration has for the center. These include: 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 using the Koombook to conduct research, and much more. In addition, while we trained teachers on how to use the digital library for their classes, each session featured lively brainstorms about how the center can have practical applications for the benefit of their students.

At the school, we worked closely with the principal, Jaime, and a teacher who was assigned as leader of the center, Esthela. Jaime, the youngest principal the school has ever had, overflowed with a passion for improving the education of 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 showed us that the needs of the community aligned precisely to what the digital library offers. For so many students, access to educational technology is both nonexistent and yet greatly desired.

The need for the center is largely rooted in broken politics. Minas is apart of the district of Quito, yet due to being 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.

I found the school especially exciting for the unique opportunity it provides us to develop our monitoring and evaluation research. Unlike working in communities where M&E can only be based on more subjective results from our surveys, the school was eager to collaborate with us by using their 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 our impact. More than just a program that looks good, we both recognize that people’s lives must be objectively changed 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 of an experience it would be to be engaged so deeply in our project, to construct thoughtful strategy and witness its fruits. Now I am only eager to continue working and witness the amazing things we achieve in Minas, and in Ecuador.