“Oliva has worked tirelessly over the two decades to expand this mission there are still thousands of children who are unable to attend school”
Nestled within Cartagena, a seaside city off of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, lies the neighborhood of San José de Los Campanos. On the side of one of San José’s only paved roads, lined with old tires halved and painted in primary colors, is La Fundación de Queridos Amigos.
At 6:30 AM, a sea of color floods into the courtyard as 500 students—all of them clad in baby blue uniforms arrive for class.
There are classrooms without air conditioning, a single bathroom, and a computer lab with 16 run-down computers (4 of them broken), but the kids are happy to be there.
Of the 1 million inhabitants of Cartagena, more than half are under the age of 30 and one quarter are 14 and under. The unemployment rate is 9.3 percent and steadily rising, and 28 percent of Colombians live under the poverty line.
For Oliva Coronado Daza, founder and principal of La Fundación, this is the dark reality that inspires her work.
With a history in social work, literacy, and psychology, Oliva first began with a house for displaced people in 1998. The home provided families with safety during years of violence and unrest across Colombia. Here, residents could receive medical services, vocational training, and food for free.
After years of this work, Oliva realized that out of all the services she could provide, education empowered her students to find stability and happiness. Education provided them a long-term stepping stone to a greater life.
San José de los Campanos was too far removed from any schools in the city and a lack of government funding meant too few local public schools for the number of children.
In 2003, with the help of an Italian missionary named Monsignor Livio Fischion, Oliva secured an expanded plot with an abandoned building. There she set up La Fundación de Queridos Amigos: The School of Dear Friends.
At the time, the school was a shell of itself. It lacked a sewage system, boasting only unplastered walls and a dirt floor. But Oliva’s vision wasn’t deterred. She and Monsignor Fischioni knocked on doors for donations, contacted local companies, and charged some families a small monthly fee to subsidize those who couldn’t afford attendance, and got to work.
Now, 21 years later, La Fundación boasts 500 students spanning 12 grades from preschool to 11th grade.
Seventy percent of the students graduate from Oliva’s school with 30-40 percent of those going on to attend college or vocational school. Some become teachers at the school they once attended; others return as electricians, office clerks, nurses, architects.
Her work has transformed and empowered the community’s youth, and though Oliva has worked tirelessly over the two decades to expand this mission there are still thousands of children who are unable to attend school. Oliva lacks the resources to make education a reality for these children.
Oliva credits the success of La Fundación to a series of miracles.
“From a business standpoint…this school shouldn’t even be open with so little funding and support. But whatever it is she’s doing, it’s working.”
Here is our story told from the first hand perspective of one of our founders, Jared Lowry…
I fell in love with Colombia years ago when I spent two years there during a religious mission in 1992. Years later I started taking small groups of friends on humanitarian trips to Colombia and Guatemala, visiting orphanages and often bringing needed items (extra clothes, school supplies, etc.) to them.
One night, while working on my computer and planning for my next trip, I was looking at locations all over Central and South America and stumbled upon Oliva’s website for La Fundación in Cartagena.
To this day, I’m not quite sure what kept me on that page.
Something told me I found it for a reason, and after a few months of pestering my friend Brad to join me on a trip to this school, he agreed and we headed down there in April of 2018.
That first trip to La Fundación was perhaps our most emotional. Brad, a businessman from Idaho, was shocked at the impact and success of Oliva’s system. “From a business standpoint,” Brad said, “this school shouldn’t even be open with so little funding and support. But whatever it is she’s doing, it’s working.”
As he said it, he cried.
When we came home, we immediately asked ourselves how we could help further Oliva’s mission and empower the children of La Fundación. We knew this was bigger than us, so we started the process of forming the Just One Foundation.
During the process Nathan Berrett, a friend who also had a great love for Colombia, kept coming to my mind. I knew I needed to invite him to Cartagena to meet Oliva and see the great work she was doing. So in October of 2018, he joined us on our next trip. After meeting Oliva and hearing her story, he too knew he wanted to be a part of helping La Fundación.
Oliva was making such an impact as a figure of the community that we knew our mission was to support the miraculous work she was already doing.
We wanted to help educate the youth of San José de Los Campanos so that they could improve and enhance their neighborhood from the inside, out.
When those kids graduate from La Fundación, they’re enriching their community. They’re earning more money, enjoying stability, and providing opportunities and inspiration to the next generation. That’s too valuable to miss out on.
This thought became the crux of our mission.
We had no doubt that Oliva will continue educating and empowering the children of Colombia, with or without our help. If we really wanted to help make a difference, we needed to “help people where they’re at”. Not by recreating the wheel but by bolstering what Oliva already has in place, which is a school with a very successful curriculum.
If we gave each child $1,000, it would be gone in a month and they’d be no better for it. But if we helped educate them, that child could become a teacher, a policeman, a pediatrician, a president.
They could provide for their family and dream bigger than their circumstances. They could establish a world of new opportunities for their own children, and the generation after that.
That became our goal: to help Oliva where she’s at, to empower her to continue her work, her way.
With Just One, you can actually see where your money is going.
When you donate supplies or become a patron, you’ll read about the educational projects you’re helping support. When you volunteer your time, you’ll see the fruits of your labor as you interact with the very children you’re helping. We learned this lesson ourselves during one of our earliest trips to visit Oliva and La Fundación.
After a few days of learning about how the school was first created and supported by generous donations from the community, we were overcome with emotion and gave Oliva what little money we had in our pockets before flying home.
Together, we gave her around $1,300 US dollars and flew home on a Friday. That very Monday, we received a message from Oliva along with some photos. In the span of just three days, she’d…
- purchased building materials for a new classroom,
- hired (and paid) the parents of her students to help provide labor, and
- built an extension to the school that she’d been working towards for over a year.
That’s the power of Oliva’s passion and determination to educate Cartagena’s kids.
She takes advantage of every opportunity to make La Fundación a brighter home for her students, and we’ve seen the fruits of her labor firsthand.
It’s empowering and humbling to see the extending effects of your impact, and we hope to share that feeling with other Just One patrons in our own way.