[Province of Spain–South] Santa Isabel School has 700 students of 58 nationalities. «Only 1% is Spanish, the rest are migrants and from disadvantaged families». As a result of its service to these students, the Spanish Refugee Assistance Commission (CEAR)has awarded the school with ‘Juan María Bandrés Shelter Actions Award’.
The students «do not have to pay anything». The Administration covers a portion of their studies and the Sisters provide for their other needs. The Madrid Community pays for the school books during the first three primary courses and the Sisters supply the uniform. Children often “come without uniform and without food”. With the help of the Red Cross, the School distributes food baskets twice a week since “many of those who come to the school canteen take the only meal of the day there.”
“There are children who come but, after two or three months, they leave because they are relocated by organizations like CEAR.” Their level is assessed and they are assigned to “a team of counselors who are aware of their needs because the School is a large family”. In some cases, the children do not know Spanish but a group of “very dedicated’” teachers devote time to teaching the language and attend especially to their needs.
The Child Care Center of Madrid City Council accompanies Santa Isabel students. “Some have lost their parents or siblings and we want them to live a childhood they have not known before.” This accompaniment is also offered by Church institutions such as ‘Luz Casanova Foundation’, which especially cares for children who suffer violence in their homes. «All children are known and their families collaborate on matters of discipline and of peaceful living». Aware of cultural differences, discipline is one of the values that this School upholds and respect for rules is fundamental in order that the exchange of ideas among its students is fostered.
As a consequence of this peaceful environment, families of most of the students who live in the peripheries of Madrid, “prefer to take buses and trains and come to this school because of its atmosphere of tolerance and welcome”. Many of the parents have also studied in the School’s center that offers courses for adults and which has won the first prize for “Nacional de Compensación Educativa” in 2005. “The School is a reference center in the neighborhood.”
Evangelization by example
Santa Isabel School is a Catholic school and, therefore, has classes in Religion. This is something that, in the experience of Sr Carmen Benavides, parents accept regardless of their beliefs. But beyond the books, says this Directress, the basic way of evangelization is by example. «I have been Daughter of Charity for 40 years and I serve Christ in persons who are poor, as St Vincent de Paul asked us; it is the only thing that interests me».
Sr Benavides, who is convinced that “Christ is in every child,” argues that, “each time I fight for their rights to be respected, I am living the Gospel”. “What is most important is that they feel loved and valued so that we will be able to transmit God’s love to them,” she concludes.
Rodrigo Moreno Quicios
Publication Date: January 09, 2020