Since 2010, ICO has supported a small community centre in San Antonio, offering programs for everyone from preschool to seniors. In 2012, we were given the ‘Casita’ – a house and garden – to use for our programs. In 2017, learning that San Antonio’s students were failing and dropping out of school in droves, we worked with all sectors of the community to focus more clearly on education, establishing a multi-use learning centre and library.
Visit the Casita on any day, and the place will be buzzing. Here is what you might see:
- Small groups of children (well over 100 a week) arriving for extra help with basic skills, referred by their teachers. Our team of two enthusiastic young teachers and trained volunteers uses interactive methods (flashcards, games, puzzles) to get across basic concepts
- Junior high students engaged in classes in computer skills and basic math
- Kids getting help with their homework from the teachers or from some of the 20 secondary school and university scholarship students we support. Part of the philosophy of the scholarship program is to give back to the community in various ways. For the children, having a place to get help makes all the difference when your parents are illiterate.
- Reading. Kids all over the place – in the garden, in the reading corner, on the porch, reading. Our small library provides the first experience for many of them of what it’s like to enjoy a book.
- A group of children, along with community members, in the garden learning from the watchman and gardener, how to plant and grow vegetables
- Training young adults on practical skills like the use of an industrial sewing machine, how to grow mushrooms, and how to raise fish. All started with help from the Casita!
- A group of Ancianas (elderly widows of limited means) most living on their own, enjoying a twice-a-week lunch and activity time
Our mandate is always to respond to community needs. In 2020-21, when families were in lockdown due to the COVID crises, for example, some of the scholarship students teamed up with community members to turn la Casita into a food distribution centre each month.
Thankfully, business is starting to return to the community. A few tourists are beginning to arrive and they are buying weavings and pottery that are the specialty of San Antonio. Meanwhile, La Casita continues to help children, young adults and elderly women transform their lives.
In fact, the programs have been so successful that we’re now raising funds to build an addition to improve the learning environment and allow for expansion (see San Antonio La Casita Expansion).