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Bolivia: Child-friendly schools give hope to a young girl
El Alto, Bolivia - Mariela Mamani lives in Villa Tunari, one of the most populous areas in El Alto, Bolivia. In the vast neighborhoods that seem pressed into the soil of the high plain, it is easy to get lost.
Mariela is in the fifth grade at El Alto School District No. 4, which serves over 2,000 children. Despite the dense student population, up until a year ago her school did not have any sports facilities. Recently, the arrival of the Child-Friendly School Programme in El Alto has changed all that. Mariela has discovered that she is not only an excellent student, but also a great athlete.
Improved school facilities
"I really didn't know how to play, but our school built a football pitch and began to push us to do sport," she says. "I've always liked football, so my friends and I formed a girls' team. We trained a lot and now we are the champions out of all of the schools here."
The Child-Friendly School Programme provides higher quality educational materials and improves upon school facilities, such as the addition of El Alto's new football pitch. It is being supported by UNICEF in alliance with the El Alto City Government and the Coca-Cola Foundation.
"It is quite difficult to have a child-friendly school when you barely have a roof or desks for the pupils," says teacher Irene Acarapi. "Thanks to this initiative, we have greater commitment from the local authorities. And the parents are now more involved and helping us to achieve better results."
Overcoming loss, gaining hope
Mariela won a gold medal for indoor football, which she wears proudly as her team's striker and champion. But life has not been easy. Two years ago, she was orphaned when she lost her mother to a long illness complicated by economic difficulties. She now lives with her aunt and uncle.
In addition to the pain of being an orphan, Mariela was also separated from her brother, who went to live with another set of relatives.
"My mum was a very good person," she says. "We lived alone but she made us feel happy. Now my little brother lives somewhere else and I can't see him anymore. But I know that he's okay, like me."
Her loss has been painful, but Mariela has been able to overcome it. She is happy at school, where she received an award for being one of the best athletes. And her grades make her aunt and uncle proud.
"I dream of being a famous athlete someday," says Mariela. "We'd like to have an academy where we could practice more.... I have so much fun playing sports, and our school is one of the best."
Through child-friendly schools that enhance the ability of students to learn and play, Bolivia's children can be given the opportunities that they dream about and so richly deserve.
"I love school," Mariela says, smiling broadly.
Article has been adapted from a news release issued by Unicef.