Family gifts forge connections to an island school
The Paraná Delta is just 30 minutes outside of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. But to Dr. Rodger Kollmorgen and his partner Marit, the subtropical setting seemed worlds away from the metropolis. In September 2008, the couple was on their first trip with Overseas Adventure Travel and their first visit to South America. They were floating along the Tigre River, winding around lush, green islands and taking in the exotic scenery. Around them, traditional wooden houses rose above the water on stilts, and then La Concepción Primary School appeared in the distance.
"We were struck by the school," Rodger says. "It was isolated on an island in the river. The physical structure was very humble, very basic."
But when they docked, they found that the modest school was "greatly brightened by the kids."
Eager students individually guided Rodger, Marit, and their fellow travelers on a tour of the buildings. "I don't speak Spanish, but my docent (as I thought of him) seemed very enthusiastic about showing us around."
Throughout their visit, Rodger was impressed with the commitment of the students. "The kids seemed very intent on their studies. You didn't see anybody cutting up like you do in American schools," he says. "I got the sense that the kids saw the school not only as an opportunity to learn, but also as a chance to get a good meal during the day. So they seemed very attached to the school, especially to their teachers."
Rodger and Marit found it easy to see why the kids were so respectful of the dedicated faculty, led by a passionate principal named Monica Ceruti. When Monica first introduced her school to Grand Circle Foundation in 2005, she had more students than space, and she was holding several classes in a local chapel. Since then, the Foundation has been able to help support the building of three new classrooms, raised on stilts to protect them from the Tigre's seasonal flooding.
Rodger's visit to the school made him reflect on his own opportunities and how critical a role education played in his own life. "Every American has won the lottery. I think those of us who have had benefit of education have a responsibility to each other and the human family," says Rodger.
As he began to think about the students of La Concepción as part of his global family, he decided to get his immediate family involved in helping the school. He called his relatives and told them that for Christmas instead of buying them what he calls "regular, boring kitsch," he would be donating to Grand Circle Foundation in their names. And he has continued the practice for the past four years. Although the family likes to joke that Rodger's holiday greeting is his "annual stiff-the-family letter," they see his holiday giving as a "win-win-win scheme."
He adds, "We were all impressed that the Foundation has no administration fee, so 100% of the donation can go right to the school."
In the past four years, Rodger and his family have donated more than $8,500 to La Concepción through the Foundation, providing the school's 200 students with a range of vital supplies, from cups for clean water to life jackets for safe transfers on the morning water taxi—the community's version of a school bus.
"The water taxi is so important," explains Rodger. "If the kids don't catch the taxi they miss the whole day of school."
The support from Rodger and his family became particularly crucial in 2010, when a flood caused major damage the school. The Tigre's rising water levels submerged several classrooms under three feet of water. Some Rodger's family's donations were used to give the ground-level kindergarten rooms new ceramic floors, which are durable and can easily be cleaned if the island floods again. With support from the Foundation and generous donors like Rodger, students could get back to school much more quickly.
"I've been given so many opportunities for education," Rodger says. "I like the idea of giving back."
Featured in our April 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.