“Bridges can be built to help people have a better quality of life,”
Carolina Hernández, Bello’s Robotic Club.
Between 1820 and 2002, technological growth and change has caused global inequity to increase from 28% to 85%, UNCTAD Technology and Innovation Report 2021.
Our differences as human beings make us unique and give the world a vastness of color and shimmer. But sadly, more often than not those differences alienate us from one another by creating gaps so wide and long that it seems impossible to reach out to our kind. Just like Isaac Newton once said: “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
It was that abysmal gap in opportunities that inspired Carolina Hernández to reach out to help the Bello’s Robotic Club, a group of teenagers that have an authentic passion for learning and developing their skills in technology although living in an underprivileged environment in her native Colombia.
“Bello is a community which was highly affected by organized crime. In fact, nowadays there are about 5 main delinquency branches that are fighting over the territory due to drug dealing disputes. But the robotic club allows children to dream about a different future, to dream about developing the skills required in today’s world”, says Carolina Hernández.
Talent vs. Environment
Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are the countries that cultivate virtually all the coca bush worldwide for the manufacturing of cocaine, according to the UNODC, World Drug Report 2022 (United Nations publication, 2022). This report also indicates that in 2020 the manufacturing of cocaine – a drug that is consumed by 21 million people around the world – had an 11% increase from the previous year. This has created a persistent shadow of violence and crime that permeates daily life in Colombia. The environment in which we live plays a key role in helping us nurture our talents but it can also disable our possibilities to thrive.
“The project of Bello’s Robotic Club aims to support the talents of young people who live in an adverse context but who have an extreme amount of talent and require the opportunities to develop it”, explains Carolina.
Reducing the Technological Gap
Carolina started participating in social service programs when she was 12, serving the elderly, teaching children from vulnerable neighborhoods and supporting many school activities as a volunteer. Ten years ago, she decided to leave her career in marketing to work for the well-being of children and young people disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and lack of opportunities in Colombia; collaborating on projects with World Vision, UNDP, and other non-profit organizations.
She also remembers being drawn to technology and scientific investigation when she was a child but being a girl there were not many opportunities nor was there encouragement for her to learn to develop her STEM abilities; although Carolina studied at a private school and both of her parents have bachelor’s degrees. This inspired her to work to open more doors for the new generation of young girls.
“I didn’t have the access to develop those talents,” recalls Carolina. “So we recently made an open campaign to include more girls in the robotics club and we had a great response. I think it is amazing that young boys and girls want to develop these skills and even make a living out of it. People deserve to be supported, no one should be left behind.”
Bello’s Robotic Club
Situated in the city of Bello, Antioquia, Colombia, Bello’s Robotic Club was formed due to the motivation of a teacher and the determination of his students at Mano Amiga School. In 2017, 6 teenagers from 10th and 11th grade started the club filled with excitement to learn as much as they could in order to develop robots. In 2017 and 2019, they won 1st place in the Innovation and Robotics Week of Pygmalion in alliance with “RoboRAVE,” and represented Colombia in the US World Cup and Mexico Championship, as well as being selected to participate in the RoboRAVE International China.
“The club was born as a dream 6 years ago, a teacher fueled their passion and curiosity for robotics. Although their teacher left by the end of 2020 and there is no budget to hire a new one, the club’s members have continued to train themselves and teach younger new generations to keep the project alive,” explains Carolina. “Walfran Olarte, the school’s principal, has been a true inspiration in this project. He is convinced that supporting students in having a critical mind, working for their community and breaking the poverty cycle should be a priority for everyone. Our biggest challenge has been obtaining funds to provide the materials they need, and the language barrier because most grants are in English.”
Bello’s Robotic Club is now working to participate in the First Lego League Challenge, where children from 6 to 9 years old will compete by creating technologies for clean energies. The senior members of the club will teach a new generation of 40 children to participate assuring the survival of the project for many years to come. The main challenge was in finding the funds to buy the technological components for their projects.
“I found out about TPP online a long time ago and I thought it was very interesting and great that people from all over the world could present a project that was residing in our hearts and obtain that impulse to make a difference”, says Carolina. “When I saw the approval email I shouted from happiness because I knew the kids would be able to complete their project. There is a lot of work to do but there is no reason to repeat the violence or delinquency cycle. Bridges can be built.”
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