York gives gift of science to school in Peru

An enthusiastic contingent of teachers and students from the Colegio Bilingue Peruano-Canadiense, San Diego College in Lima, Peru, experienced the trip of a lifetime when they travelled from Lima to Toronto on Nov. 16 to visit York’s Keele campus. Led by the school’s founder, alumnus Carlos Berdejo Botta (BA ’92), the group was treated to a presentation and a tour from York’s Student Recruitment, lunch at The Underground, to wind up their visit, a special presentation made by York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden.

Above: Lorna R. Marsden, president & vice-chancellor of York University, and Carlos Berdejo Botta, founder of the Peruvian school named Colegio Bilingue Peruano-Canadiense, stand behind York’s donation of microscopes. They are flanked by Naguib Gouda, executive director, York’s Alumni & Advancement Services, and James Allan, director, Alumni at York, along with some of Berdejo Botta’s students.

It all started with a letter from Berdejo Botta last summer. He wrote Marsden asking if the University could donate a microscope to his bilingual Spanish-English school for working class students in Lima. Teachers at the Colegio have been teaching science for years without a single microscope, and so Berdejo Botta was hoping his alma mater could spare one to help his students.

With the help of the Faculty of Science & Engineering and the staff in the Alumni Office, the University was able to tell a delighted Berdejo Botta that he would receive not one but 12 microscopes. "We were having a general assembly when the letter arrived," said Berdejo Botta. "After reading its content, a general applause exploded on our small patio, touching our hearts."

Deemed surplus equipment and no longer in use at the University, the microscopes will be a valuable and rare tool for students in Peru and will help with – and inspire – their studies in biology, chemistry and general science.

Left: A student delivers a science presentation at Colegio Bilingue Peruano-Canadiense in Peru

And the timing couldn’t have been better. As luck would have it, Berdejo Botta and eight of his students had been saving up for a trip to Canada, and so they came to the Keele campus in November to get a taste of life at York. At a reception in the Ross Building, Naguib Gouda, executive director, Alumni & Advancement Services welcomed Berdejo Botta and his students with a few words in Spanish and Marsden happily presented the group with the microscopes.

The eight students, whose academic aspirations range from medicine and teaching to business and fine arts, were extremely grateful for York´s generosity. They presented Marsden with a traditional Peruvian medallion along with one of their red school sweaters and – in perfect English – expressed their great thanks for the microscopes and the warm hospitality they experienced at York. In turn, Marsden remarked on how proud the University is of Berdejo Botta and encouraged his students to consider York in their futures.

Right: Berdejo Botta and Marsden admire the traditional medallion presented by the Peruvian students

Because the 12 microscopes wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment for the flight back to Peru, York’s Alumni Office used revenue from its Perks Program to ship the equipment to the Colegio in Lima.

Berdejo Botta – whose daughter Rosa Berdejo Williams works in York’s Admissions Office – spoke passionately about how York changed his life and how his education prompted him to move back to Peru to open a bilingual school shortly after graduating from Atkinson College in 1992. "I realized that without a good knowledge of English, people from countries like Peru are going to miss many opportunities," said Berdejo. "I decided to come back and open up one school in the northern, poor part of Lima."

Left: Berdejo Botta in his office at Colegio Bilingue Peruano-Canadiense in Peru

The college is the first bilingual Spanish-English school for the working class in Lima and charges just $40 to 50 a month in tuition. In a country where English schools typically charge at least $400 per month, Berdejo Botta created San Diego College to provide bilingual educational opportunities for working class students. The school currently has a population of 350 students and teaches classes from kindergarten up to high school.

From Alumni Matters, the online publication for York University alumni.