When I was little my father told me: “university is the only way to reach happiness in life.” I grew up listening to that phrase. A lot. During middle school I decided to ignore it, I was busy having fun at school. I was just enjoying my learning process and creating memories with my friends. At the beginning of high school that phrase came alive in my life.
I became aware of how society works.
I discovered how hard it was for my family, a Peruvian low-income family, to achieve quality education. My parents struggles as internal immigrants became apparent to me. I learnt how fortunate I was to be a scholar in a private high school. And, I was shocked by the fact that I was able to use a laptop to study. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have access to education today. Yet, I lacked any security of keeping that privilege tomorrow.
It was then that I fully understood the meaning of my father’s phrase: education leads to improvement. That is why he told me higher education leads to happiness.
So, what happens when someone from an underrepresented background can’t access college education?
My name is Isabela Sanchez. I’m a 19 years old Peruvian low-income woman and I follow a divergent plan in my journey to achieve happiness. I am from Latin America, a region mostly known for its culture, environmental diversity and (sadly) for its inequality. Peru’s persistent inequalities related to technology gaps have become one of the biggest barriers to youth accessing education. And, ultimately, breaking their cycle of poverty.
According to the INEI (Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Informatics), at the start of 2020 only 40% of households nationwide had access to the internet. Of those who do use the internet, 53.4% of people do so exclusively by mobile phone. These statistics have long been known, but the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the stark digital inequalities here in Peru. Only 25% of middle school and 35% of high school students used the government “Aprendo en Casa” (I Learn at Home) platform for public education students, which was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the third quarter of 2020, only 1 in 5 young people managed to access higher education after completing basic education.
Clearly, technology gaps have a substantial impact on students’ right to an education, and have a lasting impact on their futures.
Nowadays the internet gives us the biggest platform to search for opportunities like scholarships for college or good paying jobs.
When we finish high school at 16 years old, we need to decide our future as soon as possible. We face a choice between higher education – an opportunity to eventually take our family out of poverty, but at a significant time (and in some cases financial cost) – or finding paid work to alleviate family economic pressure in the short term. Despite many low-income Peruvian youth having a passion or a plan in mind, the economical factor is very often decisive.
In my case, after my high school graduation ceremony, I couldn’t apply to any college due to my necessity driven motivation (and more significant worry): getting a full-time job to start supporting my family’s economy.
Without undergraduate studies, it’s hard for Latinx teenagers to apply to a well paid job.
So, I worked in the customer service field for around 8 months. It was a difficult time for me because I really didn’t want to give up on my studies. I worked hard to try to continue learning. But, when you are in a full time job, time is against you. Work was a big opportunity to help my family, so I was always trying to get extra hours to earn more money. I was living for the money I needed and had to forget my personal aspirations and goals.
Despite these experiences, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found the opportunity to achieve my dreams. I applied for – and won – a spot in the twelfth class of Laboratoria Bootcamp, a UX/UI and front-end development bootcamp for Latina low-income women. With 3 free admission per year, Laboratoria is geared towards women who have not been able to start a professional career, and since 2014, more than 1800 women from Peru, Colombia, México, Chile and Brazil graduated from Laboratoria. Through its original and accessible business model, Laboratoria connects their graduates with companies that look for diverse talent. And only once they get a job in the tech sector, students start repaying their education. This money then supports the education of the next generation of Laboratoria students. Leading to more Latinx women having the opportunity to be part of the tech industry.
I was extremely grateful to be part of an incredible class of 53 women of different backgrounds and ages. I spent my bootcamp days learning about resilience from my Venezuelan refugee friends, learning more about myself with my indigenous Peruvian partners and reflecting about independence with my single mother friends. Laboratoria was a second chance in life for us, underrepresented women.
We wanted to change our lives and our society by doing something we love and Laboratoria was the way to that goal.
During the bootcamp, Laboratoria lent us a personal laptop and through that, we accessed an integrated education on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). I had the opportunity to learn about soft skills and work with agile software development methodology. I was invited to regional hackathons. There I had an intercultural exchange and I found my passion for creating digital products. Each of us had the support of a mentor working in the tech industry. They taught us how to create a winning personal pitch and a great CV. On completing the bootcamp, we were supported to get a job as developers in less than a year.
By the end of the programme, students like me are then capable of studying and supporting their family’s economy. Ultimately, breaking their family circle of poverty. After studying for 6 months in the bootcamp, I got my first tech job less than 4 months after graduating.
Now, I’m leading my family financially while learning and working in the STEAM industry.
Having experienced the impact of the Laboratoria bootcamp first hand, it is clear that to achieve SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities), we need more opportunities and programmes like this. Bootcamps are a different kind of education. The methodology is fast and focuses on practice. And they have huge potential to transform lives by including everyone in the technology revolution.
Today, even though I graduated from Laboratoria as a front-end developer, I’m working as a robotic process automation (RPA) developer at NEORIS, a digital business transformation accelerator.
I love working as a developer.
I can’t describe how excited I am while I am brainstorming with my friends for our next project. To be part of the process to deploy robots that can support thousands of workers in different companies, is something I love. Computer science was my dream major when I graduated high school. Now, I am a 19-year–old woman who is creating RPA for big Latino companies from home.
Programming is not only a job for me, it is my key to build a better future for my region.
I can combine my technical knowledge and life experience to change lives. Some years ago I was a mentee from an underrepresented background, looking for one opportunity to let my ideas be heard. And now, I am a mentor in different Latinx communities, supporting the personal and professional development of underrepresented young leaders.
Everytime I start my daily tasks, I can’t help remembering my journey.
I remember how every time I turned on my computer, I was able to dive into unique worlds of challenges and wisdom. I couldn’t access STEAM education at school, so I was always looking for free university workshops, coding camps on the weekends and doing as much volunteering as I could, to learn more about programming with different communities. The road to achieve that dream was rough but it was worth it too. I gained resilience and determination. I was able to live rewarding experiences with my teammates. Learning from each of their stories gave me the inspiration to continue my advocacy.
I know I am following a different path of education to achieve my happiness.
And after years of personal growth, I proudly claim that I am loving each part of this adventure called life.
No matter how many hardships you go through, the trajectory of your dreams is only directed and written by you! Make sure to never be afraid of diving into different opportunities. Give all your ideas a chance (they can be the way to achieve your goal!) and even when you fail, keep trying!
I hope to hear your story of resilience and power one day!