My biggest (and my only real) project in Zaña has been a series of classes to promote entrepreneurship, concluding with a business plan competition. I briefly wrote about it here. It started in June/July when a socio* approached me and another teacher in the high school with a project idea. The objectives behind the project were to have the students learn something about business and entrepreneurship and to better their lives by giving them an idea of self-employment, with the incentives of scholarship and prize money. In our district of Zaña there are not many students who have the opportunity to continue their studies after high school, for a mixture of lack of financial resources and lack of motivation. Because of this, we thought that our incentives would be motivating.
I learned a lot throughout the 12 weeks of the course and we managed to overcome several hiccups along the way. Honestly, I was frustrated most of the time with the project and had really, really, really, very low expectations for the project fair. In the beginning, there wasn’t much interest amongst the students. When we started, it was an after school program and we had about 20 regular students attending. Then, because my socio felt we needed more participants for the competition, we rearranged the schedule and held classes during the last hour of school on Mondays. Like that is probably the worst possible hour of the week, other than maybe Friday afternoon. It seemed like we were doomed from the beginning. Anyways, so, throughout the course a lot of the students were forced to attend the class because it was now substituting for their normal Monday afternoon period.
It was an awful feeling for weeks to know I was the reason these kids were sitting there in the auditorium, bored out of their minds. I would look at their faces while teaching and know that that seat, in that auditorium, half-listening to me drone on about something in broken Spanish, was the last place they wanted to be ever. And their attitude didn’t change much when my socios gave the classes, except they maybe could understand their Spanish better.
I’ll admit, there were several boring classes that were given. And there were several poorly given classes. We struggled to capture their attention. We were working with between 60 and 80 students, and making a class dynamic for that many people is incredibly hard. But nonetheless, one class, I decided we weren’t going to lecture. I bought large pieces of paper for each group, brought makers and colored pencils, drew my own example, and briefly explained logos and slogans. Then, we gave the students free time for the rest of the class to draw and develop their own logos and slogans. And all of a sudden their attitudes changed.
From that point on, we could see that some groups were actually motivated and excited to participate, but our work had really yet to be begin. We finished the classes and spent a lot of time tutoring the students and getting their business plans ready for competition day, which proved to be the real challenge. It took a lot of encouragement and a lot of pushing and a lot of constantly checking on what each group was doing, mainly from my socia Profesora Luz María, to complete the projects.
There were days that Luz and I spent basically the entire day working with groups. At one point, Luz and I actually told several teams to bring in materials so that we could physically help them with, as in do, their project. The next day, they didn’t bring in their materials. And that’s pretty much how it always went. Even up until 11 pm the night before the competition we were all answering phone calls and texts from students about what to do and how to complete certain parts of the business plan. OR just…what do we need for tomorrow??? It was like the past 12 weeks of explaining what would be evaluated during the competition hadn’t even happened! I had really low expectations walking into the high school on November 25, 2016.
But when competition day came, we had 20 teams (89 students) with business plans!!! Before I even saw the final projects, I thought that that alone was a great accomplishment!
I was so pleasantly surprised to see how well the groups had prepared for the event! So surprised, in fact, I felt stupid for doubting them. Teams had made products as demonstrations and to sell to the invited guests, other teams had constructed replicas of their businesses out of wood or Styrofoam. A hair salon had chairs and mirrors and were completely equipped to give haircuts! I’m not kidding you; I was in shock at how hard these students had worked and at how far they had come from the very beginning of the course. It was also pretty cool that most teams who sold products actually recovered all of their costs!
I am so proud of all the students who participated. Every group tried their best. It may have taken months and so much time trying to motivate the students, but in the end, it was worth it. While talking to my socios after the event, Luz told us that one of the boys on a winning team came up to her in tears because it was the first time he had ever won anything. He is the type of student who gets left out regularly because he’s a little bit unreliable. Some of his team members were kicked out of another group and so they formed their group with only one week until the competition. They were at my house the whole afternoon before, making sure they had everything in order and he was the most enthusiastic about their business. That alone made all the struggles and all the frustrations beyond worth it.
I’m so thankful for my socios. I would never have been able to put on an event like this without Roberto and Luz María. Realistically, they were the masterminds behind the project and did most of the organization and budgeting. We worked as a team, but this project really proved to me that I can’t do everything alone, that I have to network and look for good counterparts, and that I have be a team player. I am so thankful to Luz, who became a good friend throughout the process. She really worked hard to motivate the students, to push them to be better and to do better, and she fought to make sure the competition was successful. At the end of the day, the Director of the high school said he was impressed with the event and that he wants to coordinate for next year. SOO we’ll see what happens! Luz and I always joked that we would never do this again but… never say never, right?
I EXPOFERIA WINNERS:
We split the projects up by juniors and seniors and gave prizes accordingly. Out of the 20 projects total, there were 4 junior year projects and 16 senior year projects. Prize money was given out to each winning group, and the seniors all received half-tuition scholarships to the University of Lambayeque.
*socio is the spanish term for male counterpart, socia female counterpart, socios meaning either all male counterparts or male and female counterparts, and socias all female counterparts