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Mother's day special - Interview with Andrea del Pilar A. Camacho

By Opportunity International Education Finance

Many of us will be taking time this Sunday to celebrate and remember the important women in our lives on Mother's Day. As Colombia is also honoring the role of mothers and women on this holiday, we wanted to take time to hear from one of our Opportunity Education Specialists in Colombia, Andrea del Pilar A. Camacho, who has excelled in her personal educational journey, which she attributes in large part to the women that have tirelessly invested in her over the years.

Andrea presents the EduQuality program to school leaders at Introduction Workshop

Where did your educational journey begin?

I was born in a small, rural town in Colombia. At that time opportunities to study and get an education was really difficult. However, my family always worked and struggled very hard. They taught me to look for what I wanted to do in my life and helped me move ahead and achieve my dreams.

I studied in a public school in my town. At that time I connected to a local pastor who woke me up to dreaming of helping people in the community. After this, as a child, I was always thinking of how to help people, which led me to begin thinking of becoming a teacher. My mother started to work hard to help me achieve my dream of teaching.

How did you get from a simple dream of teaching to earning a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Physics and a Master's degree in Education?

I ended up attending the university in the capital of my state. I also started thinking about studying engineering or astronomy, because I was always thinking about stars and galaxies. In the end, I decided to combine my two passions and study to be a teacher of mathematics and physics. 

It was very difficult and I had to study a lot. At the end of my studies, I had to research and present a final project. Because I was thinking of how difficult it was for me to understand mathematics and physics, I began wondering how people with disabilities such as visual impairment can understand these subjects. So I focused my project on answering that question and began dreaming of teaching mathematics and physics to students with these challenges.

That is why I decided to continue my studies and pursue post-graduate education focused on special education needs for children. Once I earned my Master's degree in Education, I began teaching students with disabilities in both urban and rural schools. I also developed a Teacher's Guide to using with visually impaired students trying to learn geometry, as I realized there weren't any materials on this for teachers to use. I ended up working with the National Institute for Blind People in Colombia and was able to expand and share this resource. 

When you reflect on all of your educational success, were there any specific women in your life that played a key role in supporting you?

The women in my life were really important for my education. I thank God for having them in my family. My family was really small but I was always surrounded by women - my mom, grandmother, two sisters, and two aunts. Ten years ago it wasn't easy for women to get an education. My mom didn't have the chance to go to school but made a big effort for me to go to school. She made my dream of studying come true.

She focused on teaching me important values like being honest and always struggling for what you want. The women in my family constantly talked to me about being a strong woman and struggling for what I want to accomplish in life. Despite the difficulties that my family faced, they accomplished a lot and are good now, which makes me happy.

Andrea meets with a cluster of school leaders in Bogotá

Can you describe what has changed for women in Colombia over the last twenty years in terms of access to education?

The system in Colombia has advanced a lot in terms of involving girls in education. Improvements in equal access to education have been significant. The evolution between the '80s until now has been impressive in both rural and urban areas. 

However, we have a lot of work to do and still have big challenges. I believe the biggest challenge is to change the perception about gender and to work on gender equality focusing on special skills in schools to fight stereotypes. For example, specifically in mathematics, advancement is very different between girls and boys. It is because of the gender stereotype that Colombian people commonly think about topics related to math like engineering or architecture as more focused on men than women. 

You can hear people say that if a man is good in mathematics people think it is something he is born with, but if a woman is good with mathematics, people say that woman had to work a lot to be as good as she is.  For that reason, many girls prefer to study other things because they think it will be hard for them. I had to struggle with comments like "Oh really, are you studying this? But it is so hard for girls." But you can still find groups of girls that overcome these troubles and are very good in these areas and like to study. 

What would you say directly to a young girl right now in Colombia about how to achieve her ambitions?

Believe in yourself.

Believe in your heart and all your skills and continue dreaming.

Everything is in your mind. If you are optimistic you can achieve everything you want.

Believe it, because it is my testimony. I know what it means to believe.


Special thanks to Laura Enriquez and Eduardo Delgado for their translation support.  

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