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Spreading Hope To The Children Of Chile

Spreading Hope To The Children Of ChileTufts graduate Karina Weinstein is dedicated to improving educational opportunities for children in Chile.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.07.05] When Karina Weinstein decided to study abroad during her junior year at Tufts, she didn't know how drastic an impact spending six months in Chile would have on her life. Now, the 2002 graduate is back in the shantytown where she first set foot four years ago, working tirelessly to ensure that gifted children in Chile have access to quality education.

"Tufts just changed my life altogether," said Weinstein, reflecting on the significance of her initial trip to Latin America. The international relations major said she discovered her desire to make a difference while completing a Tufts-sponsored internship in Penalolen, Santiago, a small Chilean community, where she taught English to schoolchildren twice a week.


Weinstein discusses her conclusions about the shantytown
Weinstein talks about collaborating with a nonprofit agency

"The leaders of the community gave me a room and just said ‘here teach,'" Weinstein recalled. "That experience - just spending time there, talking to my kids, to their parents and just kind-of getting to know the community - really sparked my interest."

Weinstein was so energized by her experience that, when she returned to Tufts, she applied for the Anne E. Borghesani Memorial Prize, a scholarship offered through the International Relations Department designed to promote personal growth, independence and commitment to the international community.

"I knew I wanted to go back and really study this one community in depth," Weinstein said, noting that Penalolen had been established through an illegal takeover of land by people in search of a more "dignified" way of life.

"I was just fascinated [by] how these people who maybe didn't have very much formal education could just build this community and just struggle everyday. I was just really amazed or inspired, but I knew going there twice a week was just [scratching] the surface," she said.

When Weinstein received the scholarship, she headed back to Chile for two months, intent on learning more about community dynamics and studying the shantytown as a political and social institution.

"I...basically lived in the community with a family who were parents of one of my students when I was there for the semester and I just interviewed anyone from the biggest leaders of this community to just regular shantytown dwellers who don't even participate politically," Weinstein explained.

She asked community members about their views of the shantytown, why they chose to take over this land, how they viewed their lives, and what they see for their future. From her research, Weinstein was able to draw some interesting conclusions.

"These were people who, outside of this shantytown, didn't have a their country - politically, socially," Weinstein said. "They were really trying to empower themselves and to find a voice and this is where they found it."

When two months were up and Weinstein departed Chile for the second time, she knew she wanted to return again to help in some way, but she wasn't sure exactly how. Then, sitting on the plane, writing in her journal, it hit her.

"I wanted to go back and I wanted to build a library," Weinstein said. "I saw the kids and the kind of potential that they had. They were very intelligent, very curious. I could just tell the educational system wasn't challenging them. I think, ultimately, reading and education is what will help them get out of poverty and that's where me, as one little individual, could actually make some sort of difference."

Weinstein applied for and received the National Grid's Sam Huntington Public Service award, which enabled her to return to Chile yet again, from October 2002 until November 2003, to establish the Esperanza Cultural Center. The center serves hundreds of kids and is run in cooperation with a local non-profit agency, Corporacion Nino Levantate. Aside from providing homework help to children, the center also sponsors organized events, like trips to museums and theaters, and other educational activities, including poetry contests and arts and crafts.

"The kids really needed that kind of safe place where they could just read and learn," Weinstein said, describing the impact of the library. "It was amazing to watch them open up and to watch just how curious they were."

When Weinstein returned to the United States, she left the center in the capable hands of volunteers, like Kristen Thompson, who stayed for another six months before handing the operation over to someone else. Weinstein and Thompson, together, hatched the idea for their latest endeavor, the Esperanza Scholarship Fund, which is an outgrowth of the Cultural Center and paves the way for "exceptional" kids in Penalolen to attend private school.

"There are a few very exceptional kids that I could just tell they weren't challenged by their schoolwork," Weinstein said. "They needed a greater academic challenge. So what we are doing now is the scholarship."

Before she left Chile, Weinstein said she was able to enroll one child in private school.

"It worked magic," Weinstein said. "He's learning English in second grade. He's learning computers. He's so challenged and he loves it."

Weinstein's goal is to provide other children with the same opportunity. After holding a handful of fundraisers in the United States, she is currently in Chile enrolling some more children in private school for next year. Corporacion Nino Levantate is an integral partner in this mission, she explained.

"We can't always be in Chile and we want this to be sustainable," Weinstein said. "It's going to be a joint process [with Corporacion Nino Levantate]. They are going to help us identify students because they work with them year round and we'll do the fundraising and then they'll also help monitor."

With help from Corporacion Nino Levantate and support from families in the U.S. who can become involved by financially sponsoring a child, Weinstein hopes that the Esperanza Scholarship Fund will continue to grow.

"The idea of sending a child to a private school is that it's going to be for all his or her educational career from whenever they start to the end and, hopefully, university," Weinstein said.

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