“Sonrisas de la Costa”, a project of (CAS) is a student-led initiative of the Creativity-Service-Activity component of the IB Diploma Programme. The function of CAS is to allow IB students the opportunity to learn experientially how to take action in the service of others. With the participation of students from grades 11 and 12, it was possible to visit the municipalities of Timbiquí, Guapi and López del Micay on the Pacific Coast in December, with the aim of bringing 1270 gifts to families and sharing with them the joy of Christmas.
This project began on 25 October 2021, when a CCB mother, Martha Montoya, offered an air ambulance as a means of transport to reach these remote areas with the presents. Ximena Hurtado, coordinator of the CAS, called for CCB students to accompany and lead this initiative. The students from the last grades decided to manage the whole process, from obtaining donations to packing the gifts, and the students Alena Múnera, Sara Durán and Manuela Escalante from grade 11 ventured on this unforgettable trip together with Ximena Hurtado, Luisa Ballesteros and Paola Gutiérrez, CCB teachers.
“My mother has an aviation company and also has land ambulances and she always does this every year, going to the Pacific.This year she wanted to involve the school and us, especially the seniors, so that we could have a nice and challenging experience,” said Sara Durán, a CAS volunteer from grade 12.
With the input and leadership of the CCB students, the action plan to start the project was initiated. Thanks to the excellent management, the money and the donation of gifts was raised with the support of the community, but also by receiving contributions from students from schools such as Jefferson, Bolivar and Gimnasio la Colina.
The students’ commitment to this cause allowed them to collect more than 1270 gifts and with the cooperation of the student support team, each one was packaged and a letter with a touching message was added.
“We created the chat and gathered people who wanted to support this initiative. We put together lists of children with their names and ages for the gifts. When you have it and you can give it, you should do it, it’s something you should be born with,” mentioned Belixa Velásquez, a CAS volunteer from grade 12.
In Timbiquí three public schools were chosen, one rural and two urban. For Guapi, the neighbourhoods with the greatest need were selected: Santa Monica, Las Flores, San Martin, El Pueblito, La Paz, Bellavista and Porvenir, Hogar Infantil Tio Guachupecito, and the village of Chanzará.
For López del Micay, it was decided to choose El Naya, a fairly remote community, a border region between the departments of Cauca and Valle del Cauca. It takes 3 to 4 days to get there. Due to the bad weather the gifts were delivered in Buenaventura to a teacher in charge of the delivery in El Naya.
Two trips were made in Piper Seneca II planes in which students Alena Múnera and Sara Durán travelled to Timbiquí while Manuela Escalante went to Guapi together with Ximena Hurtado, CAS coordinator, Luisa Ballesteros and Paola Gutiérrez, CCB teachers.
“These regions are very remote. This work is very nice because we help people who are in the middle of the jungle, when you look from the top you can see see a few houses in the middle of nowhere, which makes you understand more the situation in the Pacific, and this inspires you to continue helping to improve this reality,” said Alena.
Heavy rains prevented the plane on its way to Guapi from taking off. Eventually the weather improved and they were able to fly over the beautiful landscapes of each of the destinations, thanks to the astuteness of the pilots who donated their time and service to this initiative.
“Guapi is surrounded by rivers, it must be complex to help because they are in the middle of the jungle surrounded by giant rivers and geological boundaries. It was sad to leave because we couldn’t stay long because of the weather, but you always want to give more, to come back,” said Manuela Escalante from grade 12.
These regions do not have airports but only rudimentary landing strips and their means of transport are by boats or ships that take up to 16 hours to get there. When it is possible to travel by air, the journey takes between 40 and 50 minutes, if the weather allows it.
“Unfortunately the day was not in our favour. We were thinking that it was impossible to go because of the rain. But as soon as we were told that it might be possible to take off, we decided to go for it and get on the plane. There was a lot of turbulence and we were fearful,” added Manuela.
Once the plane touched the runway after an hour’s journey to Timbiquí, the children, who were outside the runway, on the other side of the gates, were thrilled to see the Sonrisas de la Costa team bringing their best wishes, lovingly packed from Cali, more than 147 kilometres away.
“The look of happiness on the children’s faces when they wait for you at the fence, they applaud you, it’s incredible. When we got off the plane, all the children were happy, shouting, happy with joy. The plane was full of presents,” said Sara Durán (12).
The CAS volunteers were greeted with dances and fresh ceviche, and were surprised to see the warm welcome the children and the families had prepared for them.
“They are very grateful children, when we arrived they welcomed us with a typical dance, they seated us in a big room, they served us ceviche with biscuits and water, a girl gave us a speech where she told us how grateful they were, and how they had been taught to be grateful for everything. That’s when you realise how much impact a gift must have for a child, who many Christmases have nothing to open and nothing to celebrate” commented Alena Múnera (11).
Thanks to each person who contributed to this cause, from the gifts to the volunteers who bravely faced the challenge and decided to have a different Christmas and made a difference in the community. Without a doubt a great show of our Corazón Colombo.
Below we acknowledge the students who participated by giving their all for “Sonrisas de la Costa”.
11th Grade/ Paulina Barona – Gabriela Estrada – Emilia López – Alena Múnera – Mariana Nader – Sara Villegas.
12th Grade/ Sara Durán – Manuela Escalante – María Alejandra Hurtado – Sebastián Polo – Belixa Velásquez.