Two Salvadoran sisters attend online classes up a tree - GulfToday

Two Salvadoran sisters attend online classes up a tree


Matilde (L) and Marlene Pimentel try to reach internet signal from a treetop on a hill to attend a virtual class in El Tigre, El Salvador. AFP

Two sisters in western El Salvador are taking their love of learning to great heights: every day they climb a mountain, then scramble up an olive tree to get a signal to access their online college lessons.

Studysisters2Matilde (L) and Marlene Pimentel access online educational material from a hilltop. AFP

Thousands of El Salvadorans living in rural areas have faced the same juggling act since March, when authorities closed schools and universities to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It's especially hard to get a strong phone signal to access the internet in the El Tigre canton, near the border with Guatemala, where the Matilde and Marlene Pimentel live.

GirlstudentMatilde Pimentel poses as she climbs up a hill searching for internet signal. AFP

"For most of us living in rural areas it's difficult (to study.) There's no (internet) connection," Matilde, 22, who's studying mathematics in college, said.

She's joined on her daily escapade by 19-year-old Marlene, who is studying statistics.

The seventh and eighth of 10 children, these ladies are aiming to be the first members of their family to graduate from the state University of El Salvador.

'Positive story'

Their touching story came to light when police officer Castro Ruiz stumbled across Matilde "in the middle of nowhere" while patrolling the El Tigre mountain.

Finding the young woman on a path leading to a lush olive tree, "my first impression was that something had happened to her," Ruiz said.

 GirlsNetMatilde and Marlene climb up a hill to try to get internet signal. AFP

When he asked her what had happened, her reply stunned him: "I just want to study."

Touched by such a "positive story," the officer took a photo and published it on Facebook, where it went viral.

To reach the peak of the mountain in the middle of the rainy season, the sisters walk a kilometer along a slippery path while avoiding snakes hiding in the undergrowth.

They tackle the journey weighed down by a foldable table and chairs, while trying to keep the rain off their heads with an umbrella.

InternetgirlsMatilde and Marlene try to reach internet signal from a treetop on a hill to attend a virtual class. AFP

"This is the only way to get a little bit of a signal, and sometimes even here it doesn't work," Marlene told AFP, speaking from her perch in the olive tree.

She admits to being afraid of falling out of the tree, and scared of the "venemous animals" lurking in the grass in this lush area.

When not studying, the sisters sell bread at the weekend to help out their father, who grows sweetcorn, beans and squash.

Fending off mosquitos

Erick Palacios, a university student in Ojo de Agua, around 20 kilometres west of the capital San Salvador, has to climb a hill strewn with rocks and waste to access the internet.

TreegirlsMatilde (bottom) and Marlene climb a tree to try to reach internet signal. AFP

"I came here because I realised it was clear ... it gave me a signal," said the 20-year-old, who is studying to get a degree in communications at the private Jose Matias Delgado university.

Perched on three bricks and covered by an umbrella, Palacios admits that taking classes in this way is "uncomfortable" because of the mosquitos he must fend off.

SisitersuptotreeMatilde (L) and Marlene Pimentel climb a tree to try to reach internet signal. AFP

He's decided to visit other students in Ojo de Agua to collect signatures to present to internet providers so they can see how many "people are interested in a good service."

El Salvador is divided almost in half lengthwise by volcanoes that disrupt mobile phone signals.

According to Internet World Status, almost 60 per cent of El Salvador's 6.6 million resident use the internet.

Agence France-Presse

Related articles