A U.S embassy-run scholarship program in Medellin is giving young, academically-gifted Colombians, displaced by violence in their hometowns, a chance to expand their opportunities.
The two-year Access “micro-scholarship,” program, for high school students aged from fourteen to eighteen, offers two hours of high-level English instruction from Monday to Thursday at the Centro Colombo-Americano in central Medellin.
The program, officially launched last Friday by U.S ambassador William Brownfield, chooses students based on academic achievement as well as their current living conditions.
The young Colombians that make it onto the program have all come to Medellin with their families to get away from the threat of violence in their hometowns and continue to live in a degree of poverty.
15 year-old Lesley tells Colombia Reports that while life in the Medellin’s “Pablo Escobar” neighborhood can be violent, it is a marked improvement on her guerrilla-occupied hometown in Northern Antioquia.
Speaking to the successful applicants, it is clear that the program at Centro Colombo-Americano presents a significant opportunity.
“I was very happy to be accepted, ” says 15 year-old Melissa. “My whole family, especially my parents are so proud of me and are really supportive.”
Whilst schools in Colombia offer English courses, the quality of teaching is inconsistent and resources are limited. Paying for extra tuition is usually the only way to progress to levels looked for by employers and, for these students, that is simply out of the question.
Of the program’s students – the majority of whom are female – that spoke to Colombia Reports, all are adamant that speaking English is a passport to better things. “Without English there are fewer opportunities,” said 16 year-old Ana Maria.
At the Centro Colombo-Americano native speakers are among the staff and students have constant access to an impressive range of books and materials, as well as a fully-equipt multimedia library.
The Access program is already in place in 55 countries worldwide, offering high-level tuition to around 44,000 students since 2004. In Colombia, it operates in Medellin and Bogota.
So where do the students see the program taking them? The girls dismiss the idea of higher education in Colombia out of hand. “They all have high aspirations for themselves,” their teacher Manuel says. “They all want to go abroad.”
Manuel laughs at the query as to if there’s any competition in the classroom. “Of course,” he says “they are all striving for excellence.”