Bolivian teacher on a bike brings school to pupils

Publish: 6:14 PM, June 18, 2020 | Update: 6:14:PM, June 18, 2020

AIQUILE, Bolivia,  – Armed only with his bicycle and a whiteboard, Bolivian teacher Wilfredo Negrete treks across rugged country terrain three times a week to give classes to children stuck at home under coronavirus lockdown.

“As I have the bicycle and we were going to the market anyway, I grabbed my whiteboard and went to my students’ houses,” Negrete, 35, told AFP.

Negrete, whose fame has spread on social media, lives in Aiquile in the central Cochabamba region of Bolivia known for its festival of the charango, a typical Andean string instrument.

Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Bolivia in March, school classes have been suspended.

The landlocked country that borders much worse-hit areas such as Brazil, Chile and Peru has recorded more than 19,000 cases and over 600 deaths from COVID-19.

Authorities have recommended virtual classes using the internet and mobile phones but such means are beyond many rural families, leaving their children without access to education.

Negrete’s dedication, which includes fixing a trolly to his bicycle to help carry his whiteboard, has proved popular with the mothers of his pupils, who are mostly from Quechua families.

“It’s great that he’s teaching the kids, giving his time,” said Ovaldina Porfidio, a mother of two.

A keen cyclist and father of two, Negrete hosts classes at his home as well as making trips to see his pupils.

He’s set up tables to keep the pupils apart and also provides alcohol gel to disinfect their hands before and after classes.

Porfidio takes her children at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) by foot to Negrete’s house every day because “the kids are forgetting” what they’ve learnt.

“They’ve been without classes for more than two months and they’re starting to remember little by little,” she added.

– ‘Making them think’ –

Negrete, who is not being paid anything more to go the extra mile to help his pupils, says school work is sent out by WhatsApp but that doesn’t help those living in rural areas.

“I have 19 students and of those 13 don’t have mobiles or access to the internet,” he said.

Even if they did have such access, the internet signal in Aiquile is poor and where villagers have connectivity, the bandwidth is often so low that they cannot download the homework.

Another issue is that parents often don’t know how to download material and don’t understand the school work well enough to help their children.

With the coronavirus lockdown affecting the disposable income of many families, few can afford to buy a computer for their children’s school work.

Negrete, who is paid around $500 a month, says not just his own pupils but also other children and teenagers visit him to prevent missing out on any more of their education.

“I’m making them think about the illness. For example, about the food pyramid so they improve their diet to fight infections” given winter is fast approaching, he said.