How Santiago’s journey to school was cut in half
“The Journeys to School exhibition changed my life,” says 14-year-old Santiago Muñoz, from New York (United States). “Before, I was always stressed out. Now I have more freedom.”
It used to take Santiago two hours and 30 minutes to get to class. Today it takes him less than half that time, all because of the UNESCO/ SIPA Press/Transdev photo exhibition, Journeys to School which opened at the United Nations on 4 March. The exhibition shows the difficulties children around the world face to get to school, including Santiago’s five-hour daily commute.
The local media took an interest in Santiago. They observed that children who went to school on rickshaws, donkeys, sleds or canoes (or on foot) took less time to arrive in class. Two weeks later, he had a new home.
“The housing authorities read about Santiago's tremendous effort to get an education. ”, explains Julio, Santiago’s father. “They helped us find a transfer.”
In mid-March, Santiago and his family moved to a new public-housing complex in Brooklyn, closer to his school - the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Today, it only takes him an hour and 10 minutes to get to class, whereas he used to get up at 5 a.m. to start the arduous journey to school by public transport from his former home in Far Rockaway, Queens.
The seven-person Muñoz household qualified for a housing transfer because Hurricane Sandy had disrupted local public transport in early 2013. “After Sandy, what had once seemed like a long trip suddenly felt endless. We all had to add an extra hour to our trips but Santiago had the furthest of all to travel,” explains Julio, adding that despite these obstacles, all three children continued to maintain high averages.
“We can smile again”
Julio was very relieved, not only because of the shorter commutes but because they had left behind a dangerous neighbourhood.
“We lived in constant insecurity. We would throw ourselves to the floor whenever shots were fired by the gangs that surrounded our neighbourhood,” he remembers. “I was on my computer in the living room and my grandma was in the kitchen when a stray bullet hit our kitchen window and shattered the glass. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.”
Santiago lives with his father Julio, sister Natalia, brother Anthony, aunt Gloria, grandmother Blanca and cousin Jonathan. What is life like for the Muñoz family these days?
“I can spend more time in the shower!” laughs Santiago. “Six of us used to get up at 5 a.m. and get 10 minutes each in the bathroom”. Now everyone gets up at different times so mornings are easier. “I also feel safer in the street,” he adds.
“We can share more moments as a family, sleep better, and not feel so vulnerable. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the project, we can smile again,” says Julio. “I hope UNESCO will continue to do projects like this, that recognize the efforts of children all over the world, with all kinds of problems, and hopefully help them. I am glad Santiago serves as an example to other children.”
The Journeys to School exhibition opens in UNESCO Headquarters, Paris on 3 April and will be inaugurated by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on 10 April.
Interviews by Jean O’Sullivan
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