By Xavier Montalvo and Daniela Brik
Tulcan, Ecuador, Apr 17 (EFE).- Every morning at 6:00, Valentina Arellano sets out with her mother on an arduous hike across the Carchi River into neighboring Colombia to the home of a relative who has a computer and internet so the 9-year-old can continue her education with schools shut down by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Though Valentina is a Colombian citizen, she and her widowed mother live with a family member next to a rather grand abandoned customs post on the Ecuadorian side of the border.
The border has been closed for more than a year because of coronavirus, forcing the youngster and her mom to make their way along a treacherous path to evade the official crossing and reach the Colombian side of the Rumichacha International Bridge.
“I like mathematics,” Valentina tells Efe, acknowledging the risks of the journey.
“When it rains, it’s very slippery and I know to be afraid because I could fall onto the rocks,” she says.
Roughly 90,000 of Ecuador’s more than 4.3 million school-age kids have fallen out of the educational system amid the pandemic, according to a study released in January by Unicef.
Those students cannot take part in virtual classes because their families can’t afford the expense of a computer or access to the internet.
In Valentina’s case, the solution is to make the trek to the home of her aunt, where she shares the use of the computer with two cousins who are likewise dependent on virtual classes.
The youngster proudly displays certificates of commendation she earned in pre-pandemic times while a pupil at Tomas Arturo Sanchez primary school in Ipiales, Colombia.
Valentina and her mother live with her great uncle, Raul Arellano, who said that the daily trip across the river was the only alternative to her missing yet another year of school.
Her education has already been set back by the loss of one year, as she is having to repeat fourth grade.
On the journey, mother and daughter often cross paths with Colombia soldiers who nip across the border to enjoy some thermal springs next to Arellano’s home.
The soldiers generally look the other way.
“They let me pass because my grandfather asked them to,” Valentina says.
Miriam del Carmen Arellano and her daughter bring a dog with them to provide moral support as they look down on the river where dozens of undocumented migrants have lost their lives.
As evening approaches, they embark on the return journey. EFE xm-db/dr