Fundacion FAN – Medellin, Colombia
Established in 1964 in Medellin, Colombia, the Fundacion FAN has been working hard to create educational programs that promote grade school education for children as well as workshops for their parents and other adults in the community. Working in a considerably underprivileged area of the city, they have made great strides in implementing creative initiatives. For example, in a project carried out in conjunction with MIT in Boston, Massachusetts, FAN is implementing tools such as $100-laptops to improve childrens’ communication skills in innovative ways. For more information about Fundacion FAN, please visit their website (in Spanish only for now).
July 22 to August 21, 2009
At first we were a bit nervous because the actual project we thought we were going to work on (directly with the Computadoras para la Paz program using $100 laptop computers to help children improve a host of skills) did not materialize and our first meeting with Abel gave us the impression that they didn’t really know what to do with us. Soon after, however, we met with them again and this time, a few great ideas for projects emerged, one of which became the pillar of our project here in Medellin and, in my personal and professional opinion, was to date the most interesting project of all because of its potential impact to the organization, technical complexity, and relevance to my prior work and academic experience that allowed me to better contribute – with Pablo’s support along the way – to FAN’s operations.
The staff at FAN was absolutely amazing and extremely capable. Everyone was very professional, treated us like one of their own (despite the fact that they were not used to having young volunteers working for free, which is why at first it seemed they didn’t know what to do with us), and trusted us with revamping an important aspect of their core operations: that of purchasing food for the children educational centers throughout the poorest neighborhoods of Medellin. The director, Luz Amalia Botero is a truly remarkable, fast-paced, and determined woman that exemplified us paisas (those from the Antioquia region of Colombia) who are perceived in Colombia to be very resourceful and hard working. The staff in general fit this description rather well and it was a true pleasure working for them.
Contributions and Projects Worked On
Although the main project was highly technical in nature, we also helped in other ways including at the children educational centers themselves. A quick description of just what was done during our brief stay with the FAN is below:
– Interactive database to manage food inventories, purchasing, and distribution logistics: FAN works with children through three major programs, one of which acts as the umbrella for 11 children educational centers (centros infantiles) that provide education, supplemental health care, and nutrition to 1500+ children of ages 1 to 6 (arguably the optimum period in a child’s life when one can make a difference in his or her future). Weekly, the FAN invests approximately $5,000(10 million pesos) among six or seven suppliers to purchase the food necessary to provide breakfast, lunch, and a snack (depending on the educational center) to these children. When I met with the nutritionist, Viviana, the process of figuring out which centers needed what and how much per week (menus changed every week on a three-week cycle complicating things just a bit more) was taking three days using a combination of excel sheets and inventory faxes sent in from the centers that were used “al ojo” (in a guesstimating way). Not only was this system unacceptably time-consuming, but it also involved a host of repetitive steps that made the entire process unnecessarily complex and prone to mistakes, potentially draining resources that could be allocated elsewhere.
What I decided to do was completely change the way purchasing decisions were made using the inventories as the central piece in the logistical puzzle and basing all else off of that. The database was designed to calculate quantities required per center with a click of a button after all inventory data was entered. This involved an extremely time-consuming process of creating the initial architecture using a series of interconnected tables and blah blah blah…most of you are sleeping by now so let’s leave it at that it was challenging but helped reduce the entire process from three days to approximately 3 to 4 hours – the time it would take to enter all inventories for the 11 educational centers. Furthermore, it was designed to create automatic purchase and distribution reports with associated costs divided in specific categories further analyzing consumption on a per/child cost basis. This was actually done to satisfy my personal main goal of this projects which was to create a system that ultimately simplified the purchasing process so as to reduce costs and hopefully allow FAN to afford giving the children more food – perhaps even dinner (as was Luz Maria’s goal as well).
– Reporting templates improvements: As with any organization, reporting is essential and FAN is no exception. Each of the aforementioned 11 educational centers’ professors need to send timely reports on the childrens’ progress. The director of pedagogy at FAN, Sandra, asked Pablo to help her improve such reports so that the formatting could not be altered by professors to ensure standardized reports and proper printing.
– Distribution of materials: on our first visit to the communities where FAN operates, I had about 5 guests from different nationalities at home in Medellin (the group eventually grew to almost 10). We decided to take them along to get to know the communities and as such, see the reality of my home city. We delivered school supplies to two remote locations and as an added bonus, took along Tata and Natan from Argentina, who travel Latin America playing Andean music – incredibly well – and delivered a series of three mini-concerts to the children and their professors in two centers. Ahhhh…that beautiful experience showed us once again just why we are doing these projects and the feeling was truly indescribable. For pictures of these visits, don’t miss the web album and video (both below in the media section).
– Painting of an educational center: Along with a group of six friends that I pulled together (Colombia, Argentina, and Spain represented our mini-UN paint committee), Sandra the director of pedagogy and Jose Fernandes the van driver, we headed to one of the remote communities (La Honda) to paint an entire center for a good 8 hours along with the center’s professors and a few community mothers (and their beautiful children). It was a great experience, FAN fed us well (although the music left much to be desired), and we managed to paint the entire place inside and out (minus some finishing touches, of course). For pictures, view the web album on the media section below.
Mini concert for the children of FAN