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Antonia McGrath and Lisa van Holsteijn

'Education can be a force for really locally-rooted and sustainable change'

On 2 November 2019 Antonia McGrath and Lisa van Holsteijn won the AUV Alumni Award 2019 for their project 'educate.' With this project they empower children and young people in Honduras through education. SPUI interviewed Antonia about their project, their student days at the UvA and their ambitions for the future.

How you do look back on the AUV Day on 2 November, where you heard that you and Lisa were the first-prize winners of the Alumni Award 2019?
‘It was a bit of a blur actually. Lisa, who lives in Germany, came over to Amsterdam for the day and we rehearsed our pitch together, it was very exciting. Sometimes when you do a public speech, and you sit down afterwards, you think: did that just happen? That was kind what it felt like. It was really exciting to share what we have been working on and to meet the other nominees who have equally incredible projects, and to speak to people at the drinks reception.’

How did you come up with the idea for educate.?
‘When Lisa and I were in high school, we both signed up to volunteer with a Scottish charitable organisation. We both got selected and were placed in projects in Honduras. We lived and worked there for a year, in different parts in the country, but we met up a few times and got on very well. We both ended up studying in Amsterdam and that’s when we started talking about the communities we had been a part of and the people we had met.

We had both worked in the educational sector, Lisa worked as a teacher and I worked in an orphanage, so we talked about the power of education and how it can be a force for really locally-rooted and sustainable change. Education is such an important part of life for children and young people and can be really equalizing in a place like Honduras, which is the most economically unequal country in Latin America. But we had also seen a lot of non-profit organisations working in ways that were really top down, where foreign experts were saying ‘this is what we want to do’, without having any genuine local input. We put our frustrations about this, and our ideas, together in educate. which is trying to promote community-driven educational projects. We officially founded educate. in March 2017.’

How many people are part of the educate. team?
‘We have six people in Amsterdam, and about ten people in Honduras. There are so many people behind this. Lisa and I are sort of the faces of this award, but it’s not just for us, it is for this whole incredible team of people.’

Does educate. have sponsors, either in the Netherlands or in Honduras?
‘No regular sponsors like companies or anything yet unfortunately, but we have sort of a donor base of individuals, and we are working on a lot of grant applications at foundations and trusts. We also do a lot of fundraising events.’

AUV Alumni Award 2019
Antonia McGrath (left) and Lisa van Holsteijn (photo: Christina Chouchena)

What are you going to do with the prize of 3,000 euros?
‘We haven’t really decided for 100% yet, but we are starting a library network in the municipality of Trinidad, which is a rural coffee-growing region, with most families working in agriculture and coffee production. We are working with five different schools there to set up a library network, so that each school has an in-school library with a rotation of books. We also want to organise joint literacy day activities and try to foster intercommunity and interschool collaboration for reading. The prize money will probably be going towards a central library for this purpose.’

Did your studies influence you in any way in setting up this project?
Massively, definitely. Lisa studied Liberal Arts and Sciences and I did my masters here in International Development Studies. I think our studies shaped our mindsets on global development, power relations etcetera. Also, I did my bachelors in Latin American studies, so I learned a lot about the history of the region. Often you don’t know what you don’t know, and I think our studies have been very important for both of us in teaching us to look at things critically, keep learning constantly and keep questioning ourselves.’

What are your ambitions for the upcoming years?
‘I just graduated a few weeks ago and am doing a lot for educate. now, so I don’t really know yet. It would be great to get more experience working in other organisations that educate. can also benefit from. As for educate. we have big plans: moving forward! We would like to set up a central Youth Hub in Trinidad where our scholarship students can come together to work on the community projects like the libraries and other things together. We would love for it to be a really creative, connecting space for our community of students, and for it also to be used for tutoring and mentorship between students, and as an office for our Honduran team. We are also working on growing our scholarship programme, potentially adding a vocational scholarship option there as well. We have lots of plans and ideas, it’s all very exciting!’