In Canada and much of the Northern Hemisphere, school is a place not just for learning basic skills, but also where students are encouraged to embrace individuality, think critically, ask questions, imagine new concepts and ideas, and offer their own insights and opinions. In many places in the developing world, however, public education systems do not include this kind of learning, which can leave students unprepared for life after school and stifle dreams for the future. In Paraguay, for example, students who graduate from the public school system, which focuses on memorization and conformity, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for jobs or entering university.

The Salvation Army has worked to support children’s education in Paraguay for more than a decade, and now is seeking to challenge the norms of public education. In partnership with The Netherlands, Czech Republic and Slovakia Territory, the Norway, Iceland and the Færoes Territory, and the Canada and Bermuda Territory, the South America East Territory is offering a new after-school program, Curious and Brave. The program offers well-rounded, holistic educational support that provides basic needs for students and families and, as the name suggests, encourages them to be curious, to think critically and to bravely communicate and defend their feelings, emotions and ideas within a safe space.

The Curious and Brave program supports 128 children between the ages of six and 14 in four communities in Paraguay: San Lorenzo, Viñas Cue, Capiata and Rayito de Luz. In these low-income neighbourhoods, there are many households with multiple siblings sharing a bedroom, making it difficult to study and complete schoolwork without distraction. Often, teenagers will work at local supermarkets, where the tips they receive for carrying shopping bags to cars will be the only income they have to buy school materials. At The Salvation Army’s after-school programs in these four communities, students receive assistance with schoolwork from well-trained teachers and additional, specialized tutoring when needed. The program also assists in providing necessary school supplies and much-needed nutritional snacks.

Families in these communities tend to be isolated in their immediate areas, not even venturing to explore other areas of their own city. This can make it difficult to think about the future. In addition to the material assistance provided by the program, teachers encourage curiosity and the development of new ideas, empowering children to explore and dream about the future. The goal is that students will be well prepared for the real world when they finish school, a world where children have the ability to think autonomously, express themselves freely, and assertively communicate their experiences, feelings and opinions.

“We chose these two adjectives—curious and brave—because it is the change that our children need to be ready to enter the world that is waiting for them, as soon as they finish elementary school,” says Claudia Franchetti, territorial projects officer for the South America East Territory. “Curiosity is essential for independent and autonomous thinking, and bravery is what they will need to stand up for what they think is fair and just.”

This is particularly important for young girls in the community, where gender roles are traditionally defined, and domestic and gender-based violence is a problem. The curriculum teaches a broad, complete and current vision of healthy relationships, as well as new concepts of family, which are framed in biblical and Christian values. The program aims to show children that they are individuals created by God, each given valuable skills and ideas.

Curious and Brave is an exciting opportunity for the Canada and Bermuda Territory to support an all-encompassing new program, as well as to strengthen our ongoing partnerships with The Salvation Army in South America East and in Europe. Your generous support of the Brighter Futures Children’s Sponsorship Program allows us to reach beyond our borders and share in the amazing work that God is doing around the world to provide hope, dignity and the promise of a brighter future for children in need.

Robyn Goodyear is the international project support co-ordinator in the international development department.

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