Investing in the next generation and the future of our children is vital for the long-term prosperity of the La Riojana co-operative. Which is why we were so pleased to be able to use our Fairtrade funding to help build a new secondary school in the village of Tilimuqui, where many of our members, workers and their families and children live.
Before 2010 many children in the remote village of Tilimuqui were unable to attend school after the age of 14, as the nearest secondary schools were too far away and travel was prohibitively expensive.
To address this issue, La Riojana decided to invest money in what has become our biggest Fairtrade project to date.
We allocated money from our Fairtrade Premium revenue to fund the building of a new, free secondary school in the village – the Colegio Nacional Agrotecnico.
The initiative was not only the first pre-university technical college to be built in La Rioja province, where La Riojana is based, but it was the first Fairtrade-funded secondary school ever to be built in Argentina.
It was also one of the single largest Fairtrade projects ever undertaken in the world.
The work began in 2008 and the school was opened two years later.It was largely funded by sales of The Co-operative’s Fairtrade Argentine wine range in the UK. It was also supported by additional contributions made by The Co-operative, and by sales of our Ecologica organic Fairtrade brand in Sweden, distributed by Giertz Vinimport.
In addition to the funding of the construction of the new school, this project would not have been made possible without the on-going support and contribution from the Universidad Nacional de Chilecito, the local university in Chilecito where La Riojana’s main winery is located. The university is responsible for providing the curriculum, the highly qualified teaching staff and for the day-to-day management of the school – therefore enabling the school to offer a very high level of education.
Since its inauguration in 2010, the school, which specialises in agriculture, has been open to children aged 13-18. It has proved extremely popular and not just benefiting children of La Riojana’s workers and members, but also children from the wider local communities.
In its first year there were only 33 pupils, compared to its 2015 intake of 337 pupils. The school’s growing reputation and excellent teaching means that the school is already over-subscribed.
Due to the popularity and impact of the school in the local community, and given the demand for places, construction of 12 new classrooms is underway. Once these are complete, the school will have capacity for around 600 pupils - twice the size of the original plan.
The school will not only be responsible for providing hundreds of children, who might not have necessarily been able to attend secondary school, with a top quality education. It will, given its agricultural focus, also be responsible for producing a new generation of skilled agriculturalists who will be able to continue the work of their parents and help stem the flow of emigration from the village of Tilimuqui.
In addition to directly benefiting local children, providing them with an improved education and enhanced career prospects, the school has also led to considerable local development which has had a profound effect on the village and people of Tilimuqui.
This includes improved transport links and public services such as street lighting and roads, as well as a boost of local employment within the community with the creation of 50 new jobs at the school.
The local government has also donated 15 hectares of land to the school to carry out experimental and practical farming.
The first graduates
In December 2015 we celebrated the graduation of the first 17 pupils from the Colegio Nacional Agrotecnico. These pupils were among the very first to join the school in 2010.
The graduation represents the culmination of a long term project between La Riojana and The Co-operative, as well as Giertz Vinimport, Sweden, whose shared dream was to build a much-needed secondary school offering the children of TIlimuqui, Malligasta and the surroundings areas the chance of a free technical education specialising in agriculture.
Over 400 people, including families of the graduates, local Tilimuqui residents, members from La Riojana co-operative, the Fairtrade Association and the National University of Chilectio as well as representatives from The Co-operative UK, attended the graduation ceremony.
Other education projects
In addition to the construction of the new school in Tilimuqui, La Riojana has invested the Fairtrade Premium in a variety of projects to enable children access to better quality education.
These projects include:
- Allocation of part of the premium to the university towards funding the infrastructure of the new school. This extra funding allowed the purchase of a 29-seat school minibus in 2012, enabling the school to take its students on study excursions and field trips.
- The funding of school lunch and transport bursaries for particular children from deprived backgrounds attending the Fairtrade-funded school in Tilimuqui
- The funding of school kits containing equipment such as rucksacks, pens, pencils and notepads for the children and grandchildren of La Riojana’s workers’ and members. Since 2012 over 1,500 school kits have been donated, therefore allowing children the right tools for their education and at the same time helping ease the family economy for many of our workers.
- Improved access to internet technology for the three local communities where La Riojana workers’ live: Malligasta, Tilimuqui and Chilecito. This includes fully furnished computer rooms for each of these communities to help provide free specialised IT training for both adults and children.
- Maintenance improvements to a school in Catamarca.
- The donation of books to a school library in Salta.
- The donation of computer and printer equipment to a local special needs school.
- Food donations to a local rural school in Santa Florentina.