Rolando is one of the first students in our college scholarship program. Only 1% of kids like Rolando will make it to college. There are no statistics on children like him who complete their degree (because so few kids actually do). More background to his story below.
Text from Rolando’s speech at our event
“Good evening, my name is Rolando. I live in Ecuador and since I was a baby I lived with my Grandmother. She had a little store and worked in the countryside to pay for me to go to school. She always told me I had to stay in school and continue studying. She said she wanted me to be a good person and find a good job. I had everything I needed when I was with my grandmother.
When I finished elementary school, my grandmother died. After she died I met my father for the first time, but he died two days after I met him. This was a hard time for me. I was only eleven years old.
For the next three years I worked so I could pay for school. But books were so expensive that I had to stop school and work so I could pay for food and a room.
When I was 18, I met my oldest brother for the first time. He lived his entire life at the mission and brought me there. I lived in the boys program and finished high school.
Since my grandmother died, my dream was to go to university, because this was her dream and she sacrificed everything so I could study. She always believed in me. She paid for me to go to school even though she had never been to school herself.
I also want to keep studying, because I have no other option. If I do not study, I will never be able to find stable work. I will be a slave for the rest of my life. The people who do not have university degrees can not always find work. The work they do find is very hard, some times for a few days, some times a few months. The pay is very bad. Sometimes they do not pay you at all. Almost everyone I know lives this type of life and it is not good.
Now my grandmother’s dream is becoming a reality, not because of me, but because all of you, from your generosity. For this I want to say thank you to all of you. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, the best opportunity of my life. Thank you.”
Most of you may not fully appreciate what this education means for Rolando and others in his situation. When Rolando said if he did not study, he “would be a slave for the rest of his life,” I told him this would be strong language, especially coming from a young black man to a mostly white audience. He replied right back to me that it was true – he lived that life as a child for six years after his grandmother died, trying to eke out a living as a day laborer (child labor is now illegal in Ecuador). As one who has spent time in Ecuador, I admit that his language is appropriate.
Having Rolando present at our first event was a great honor. Although I have known him for some time, I never knew his personal story, and I was shocked when I heard the full details of his painful childhood. I met Rolando when he first came to the mission when he was 17. We bonded over basketball, which he loved and was the only sport I could play since I was terrible at soccer. Over the last eight years I have come to know Rolando quite well and his determination and perseverance was the inspiration for our college scholarship program.
Graduating from high school near the top of his class, elected president of the student body, Rolando had no real future after high school.
When I visited a few years ago he was working three jobs. It took me several conversations over two years to realize that these jobs were not permanent, which meant when they ended sporadically and his chance at a stable income was virtually zero.
I don’t think I realized Rolando’s potential to work hard or his intelligence. The missionaries asked me to help him study after years of seeing him in limbo after high school. It seemed very unjust that someone so intelligent and determined was refused an education that could lift him out of poverty forever, an education which is “free” for those who can pass the entrance exams.
Rolando applied to the top school and the country, which meant he and 3000 others would take a test to qualify for 280 spots for a six-month university pre-course program. The top 75 students would then enter the university business program, which had no tuition. For those with families living in the city, only the wealthier could afford to not work for so long (and had private school educations). For Rolando, no family and no money meant we had to give him a place to live and money for food, bus fare, and any course costs. Rolando made it as one of the 75 top students, which due to the difficulty is down to 30 students. He is now in his third year of a 5-year program.
We currently have five young people in our college scholarship program and would like to see this number increase to 40-50 students as we get the funding. The way we see it, this is the best way to break the cycle of poverty and we think other NGOs and governments in developing countries will dedicate more resources to university and vocational education programs in the future. We hope to increase this program as our charity grows in the next few years to break more children out of poverty. We are honored to have Rolando part of our inaugural class and thank you for making this possible.