Yesterday I did not step out of the hotel until nearly 11am; thus, Bogotá = Hilton for my first 12 hours in country. Sitting in a small conference room, with Bogotá bustling around us, we had a session to learn about the history of Colombia and the education system of Colombia. Nick Perkins is a captivating, knowledgeable presenter. In those hours Colombia was a land of indigenous peoples, here from 14,400 BCE, and leaving a legacy that today includes 84 living languages, 3 of which are 'institutionalized' through literature and dominance in areas of Colombia while 13 are dying languages.
Colombia was a land of colonization - Spaniards hacking their way through the jungle from 1510 - 1538, in pursuit of El Dorado and with the conviction and weight of the Catholic Church.
Colombia was a significant part of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and home to Palenques, a walled city that was only one of several settlements established by escaped slaves.
Colombia was an independent nation in 1821, most associated with the mythic and beloved Simon Bolivar.
Colombia was a country steeped in terror. La Violencia resulted in 180,000 people killed within days in 1948 and, subsequently, 10 years of violence which led to the formation of local militias. The Guerrilla movements were born.
Colombia was in the grips of the FARC and the drug trade.
Colombia is a country that has rejected violence and an economy driven by the drug trade. Colombians are proud and hopeful, resilient and committed to prosperity while facing polarizing disparity.
Colombia is a country working to improve itself through education. Today, participated in a vigorous panel discussion with representatives from the Ministry of Education, the National University, SENA, and the US Embassy. The work ahead is both daunting and oh-so-promising. Education reform spans from primary grades to universities influenced by Colombia's introspective comparison of the educational experience of students in Colombia with international skills, particularly, through the PISA. Consideration and debate is alive over the disparity of educational opportunities for students whose families can afford private compulsory education compared to students who attend public schools and compared to students who live in rural areas.
Outside and beyond the edifice of the Hilton, Bogotá revealed itself as a bustling city with trendy restaurants and shops. We are staying in the 'Financial' district and are sharing elevator rides with business people. Tonight my Bogotá expanded to a high-end shopping and entertainment district where we saw the likes of Tiffany & Co and boutiques. People on the street are fashionable and confident. Music filled the air, delicious smells wafted in the air. We ate at the recommended Crepes and Waffles which was inside a multi-story, white and gleaming mall.
We are beginning to have micro-views of Bogotá after the sweeping vistas offered from Monserrate where we could see the blurred lines between human structure and nature.
This area and experience was so removed from the school we visited this morning. We departed the HIlton at 5:15am to make our way to the Instituto Educacional Distrital Fanny Mickey. By 5:45 - the sun is creeping towards the city and from the window of our Hilton van, we witnessed a large urban area alive with people going to work and children making their way to school. We could see how the TransMilenio provides a lifeline to residents to commute. The streets swell with cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles. Like in other parts of the world, lanes are merely suggestions and the rides I've taken have been anything but boring.
Moving away from the Hilton, the city revealed another side - less flashy; functionality seeming to be the priority. People were not sleeping on the sidewalks, they were sleeping in the grassy medians dividing 6 lanes of traffic. Apartment high-rises faded away to reveal concrete, brick and aluminum homes in increasing concentration. We moved towards the edge of a mountain and headed up - up - up. Our van coughed and sputtered with the effort while parents walked children down the hill (to school, I presume) and children exited homes. Most shops were still closed and the street dogs rolled in the patches of grass, romped in the dirt lots, and trotted down the sidewalks.
Along the slope of this mountain, a mega-colegio was built just four years ago. Housing 1000 students, looming over 7 levels, offering sweeping and awesome views of Bogotá, Fanny Mickey was built to provide a place of peace, learning and opportunity for the children from the communities of two warring gangs. The school focuses on providing skills and attitudes to promote co-existence. As the principal described, their school is intended to be a "place of peace."
This Bogotá was limited in scope - our host for the morning, Tatiana Calderón, described how most students consider Bogotá to be that mountain; many have not been outside of their neighborhood. In this Bogotá, children who face enormous challenges - poverty, violence, hisotrically limited access to education - come together in this school with a dedicated principal and teachers who know that their school "is a blessing in the area." Teachers are working with limited resources, large class sizes, and, in many cases, limited family support. All children receive a free, warm breakfast from 6:30 - 7:30 and a snack in the middle of the morning. This Bogotá has so much heart and love and determination.
In two days, I've seen just a few parts of this enormous city - all parts of the puzzle to understanding Bogotá. In this brief time I will neither understand nor know Bogotá, but, already, I have a great respect for Bogotá and her people.