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Interview: Franklin Bustillos, from People’s Foundation

The educator Franklin Bustillos (on the right), director of Bolivia’s People’s Foundation, whose Student Family Lodging Program is supported by the Kellogg Foundation, assesses the impacts of the program and explains the importance for the future of the project of being one of the Experiences in Social Innovation award winners.

How did the Student Family Lodging Program come about?
One of the main reasons for creating the Student Family Lodging Program was to offer an alternative solution for the major problems preventing boys and girls from completing their primary school education, largely caused by the scattered geographic distribution of the region’s population and educational establishments. It was intended to obtain a broader provision of primary education and, more importantly, a more equal distribution between the urban and rural population. Accordingly, emphasis was placed on the more vulnerable population groups, particularly girls from small scattered communities who drop out of school in disproportionately high numbers.

What were the most important challenges faced by the program?
To get people to accept this kind of program. This was achieved and can be demonstrated by the confidence that parents have in sending their daughters to study away from home. To begin with, the percentage of girls in the program was just 32%. But within three years, the figure had risen to 45%. Other challenges included getting the beneficiary communities to handle the administration of the program themselves, assuring they received enough resources from municipal governments to keep it running and guaranteeing that everyone involved fulfilled their duties and commitments, so as to gradually improve the quality of the program.

What achievements and lessons would you emphasize?
Approximately 280 indigenous boys and girls from northern Potosi now go, every year, to a school that provides them with a complete primary education (until the 8th grade). In four of the six school centers, the percentage of girls increased from approximately 32% in 2004 to 45% in 2006. The program has vastly improved school attendance by participating students. The probability of them remaining in the schools where we run the program is nearly twice as high as it was previously. Furthermore, the academic knowledge and performance of the students has also improved dramatically, and so has the overall teaching quality at the schools where we operate. And new sources of income have been created for more than 80 indigenous women who work as hosts and cooks. Today, the program is widely recognized and enjoys the confidence and support of all members of the educational community. The program has won the confidence of parents from the region, which is reflected in the increase in the number of girls involved. The education authorities and teachers set great store by the program in virtue of the increased number of students and the improved quality of education in their schools. People are permanently contributing with concrete actions (like building offices and restaurants) and with the administration, having embraced the program as an indispensable part of their communities. Municipal governments have contributed with a growing share of the funding for the program, covering 60% of the direct costs in 2006 and a full 100% this year. Moreover, there is a strong demand for the program from other municipal districts and schools. Over the past two years, we have received more than 50 requests from different centers and municipal districts from northern Potosi, from the neighboring department of Oruro and also from the department of La Paz to implement the Student Family Lodging Program in their jurisdictions. All the petitioners have demonstrated a willingness to shoulder a significant proportion of the costs.

How do the communities respond to this initiative?

They were behind the program from the outset and their support grew as the model developed, for a number of reasons. They realized that the program benefited not only boys and girls from isolated communities, but also the community where the Central Unit is located – through the creation of jobs, which, added to the increase in the number of pupils, stimulated economic activity. To this we can add the improved quality of education, which has benefited the children who live in these communities. Local people, principally those from the communities housing the Central Units, gradually began step up their involvement with the program, participating (through their authorities and representatives) in selecting the host mothers and beneficiaries, in end-of-year meetings and assessments and, above all, keeping up the pressure to guarantee the public resources necessary to keep the program running.

What about the pupils? How have they made the most of the opportunity to study and what do they say about the future?

The Student Family Lodging Program has for many boys and girls been their only way of staying in school and most of them have seized upon the opportunity. The children now attend classes regularly and participate enthusiastically in the program’s other activities – such as the Games Room and Study Support.

What, in your view, is the possibility of the program becoming sustainable and continuing?

Sustainability will only be achieved if the State, through the municipal governments, takes on the responsibility to guarantee access to primary education. There is a good chance that the program will become self-sustainable, since it could be financed with the funds that municipal governments already have available. This year in the municipal districts of northern Potosi, where the program operates, the local governments are covering 100% of the current costs – after having agreed to pay, in the first three years, 20%, 40% and 60%. Nevertheless, we still need to keep convincing municipal governments, which continue to prioritize infrastructure projects. In some regions of Bolivia, the problem of school access and attendance is so severe that the resources that municipal governments have available are insufficient to tackle the issue. In these cases, it will be necessary to engage other levels of government, such as department prefects (governors) and the Ministry of Education. In 2007, the People’s Foundation embarked on an intense campaign to reach this goal.

Why was it important to compete in the Experiences in Social Innovation project and how will being an award winner help the program in Bolivia?
We deemed it important to compete for three reasons. We wanted to:
1. Promote a new model to facilitate school access and attendance (but not the traditional boarding school system) and demonstrate its success;
2. Share our successful experiences with other countries with similar problems of school access in regions where long distances need to be covered to get to school;
3. Earn recognition for the program across Latin America.

We hope that being one of the project’s award winners will help improve our relations with the Bolivian national authorities, namely the Ministry of Education, and also with department prefects, and inspire them to declare the Student Family Lodging Program a national policy in the country and earmark the funds necessary to guarantee its sustainability.

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