Home Social Impact Heroes Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Miriam Agüero of Meraki Smile School...

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Miriam Agüero of Meraki Smile School Is Helping To Change Our World

Surround yourself with positive people: Mentality and people are critical. I have encountered over the past months two kinds of people: those that bring positive vibes, for instance with words of encouragement, and those who bring negative vibes or give us reasons why what we are doing will not work. If you want to succeed, focus on people bringing positive energy in your life. There is no time for negative thoughts.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Miriam Agüero, Master in Management student at ESMT Berlin.

As the child of parents who started an NGO in their hometown of Seville, Spain, Miriam considers social volunteering to be in her DNA.

Passionate about helping people, no matter who they are or where they’re from, during the pandemic, Miriam dedicated herself to starting her own non-profit in Africa which is how she became the co-founder of Meraki Smile School to provide education, food, and health care to the children of Madagascar.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After studying a Bachelor of Business and Journalism at Queensland University of Technology (Australia), I am now a student of a master’s degree focused on Finance at ESMT Berlin (Germany).

My parents founded an NGO in Seville, my hometown, in 2000, so I have been volunteering in different social projects my whole life. You could say that social volunteering is part of my DNA.

Before I founded Meraki Smile School, I was the co-founder of a non-profit school in Lebanon, Beirut, helping mostly Syrian refugees living there. During the pandemic and the lockdown in Berlin, I was frustrated and decided to do more of what I have been used to doing up until then: help people through my social volunteering commitment.

I am convinced that education is a tool that helps to change the world. So, I decided to look for the proper place to launch a project that could help children with scarce resources have a future and be sustainable in the long term. After doing some market research, I concluded that Madagascar was the right place for it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you founded and began leading you company and organization?

Meraki Smile School is a cooperation project and relies on a team of international volunteers as well as on local staff. For me, the most interesting story is the way I met my current colleagues at the NGO. Most of the international volunteers are ESMT students, people who, for different reasons, I crossed paths with such as Riwa, Ilaria or Pasham, but volunteers in Spain and the UK are also part of the team. People like María, Pablo or Angelica, or the football player Marc Bartra and his wife, Melissa Jiménez, who are presidents of honour of our organization.

Meeting Justin, the co-founder of Meraki, principal and teacher at the school, was also a moment of serendipity. I truly believe that this meeting changed my life and had a great impact in the launch of the school back in September.

Along the way, I have met great people doing their best to help launch Meraki and make it a sustainable project. At the end of the day, it proves that if you aim for something, work hard and with passion, nothing can stop you. So, now we have a school in one of the poorest areas of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where 30 children are studying, being fed, and getting basic health care.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Meraki is a cooperation project that counts on the local people to adapt to their needs. We want to help them by giving them the tools to shape their lives and future, as well as to improve the situation in their communities.

Our students live under the poverty line; they wouldn’t go to school because it was too far away to walk. So, we opened the school in their neighbourhood to offer them free and high-quality education. Our students, 15 boys and 15 girls, are 5 to 7 years old, have lunch and a snack every day they go to school, and are bathed and brush their teeth after lunch. This way, we help their parents too. We also provide support to the families, for instance, when their kids get sick. As you know, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. The south of the country is also suffering a severe drought, causing a famine among the population there.

We also employed local staff: two teachers, the cook and the maintenance and security staff. Employing local people, buying the furniture, books and other school material there supports the local economy.

Every year, we want to have 30 new students, so in 10 years-time we will have more than 700 students and this will have a huge positive impact in the local community.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

The story I would like to share, is the one of Justin. Justin is from Madagascar; he comes from a rural area over eight hours away from the capital of the country.

Justin is, without a doubt, my discovery of 2021. He’s one of the most genuine human beings I have ever met. We often talked about how chance or perhaps fate brought us together. What would have been the odds of a local guy from rural Madagascar meeting a girl from the south of Spain in the middle of a pandemic?

Justin worked as a teacher, as an errand boy, as a driver. He had to provide for himself, so things didn’t come easy to him. No matter how hard his life was, you would always see him with a giant smile. What he was most passionate about was children. And that’s exactly what brought us together.

Together, we started making things happen for Meraki Smile School. One day we’d go shopping, another day we’d do staff interviews, another day we’d talk to families and students. Little by little, we built Meraki Smile School together. I still remember the day I asked Justin to become co-founder. We both were crying and hugging each other.

He did not think twice and left his old life to live at Meraki Smile School as it is quite common for principals to live at the school they work at in Madagascar. He trusted me, shared my vision and now we are working together to provide free and high-quality education to all.

He says that I changed his life, but I always tell him that it was him who changed mine. And this is just the beginning.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, leadership is defined by the following three words:

Resilience: Do not give up.

Empathy: Before being quick to judge someone for their actions, you should always try to put yourself in their shoes.

Communication: Understand the context of each person and then adapt your message to it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each if you can.

Leave excuses aside: Excuses are the biggest barrier. Adopt a pro-active attitude and find solutions.

Believe in yourself: Sometimes we tend to trust other people more than ourselves. It is important to bet on ourselves. If you don’t believe in yourself, who would?

Remind yourself of why you are doing what you are doing: Working towards ending a social inequality comes with all kinds of emotions. Sometimes good ones and other times sad ones. In those low periods, I like to remind myself the reason why I wake up every morning, my biggest motivation and the DNA of Meraki: the kids. And that always works to keep me going.

Surround yourself with positive people: Mentality and people are critical. I have encountered over the past months two kinds of people: those that bring positive vibes, for instance with words of encouragement, and those who bring negative vibes or give us reasons why what we are doing will not work. If you want to succeed, focus on people bringing positive energy in your life. There is no time for negative thoughts.

Do not give up. Success does not come without failure. The important thing is that you learn from it and you stand up again.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Zero hunger. According to the UN, more than 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide and most of them live in developing countries. 151 million children under the age of 5 suffer from stunting or low height for their age. It is hard for me to understand how still, in the 21st century, there are so many people across the globe without access to a meal every day.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Difficulty is the excuse that history never accepts” — Edward R. Murrow.

In life, it is easier to give excuses on why we cannot do something rather than adopting a pro-active attitude to solve that problem.

Before coming up with Meraki, I spent around two months looking for non-profits across Africa where I could volunteer. I couldn’t find a perfect match. Instead of complaining about why I did not like those non-profits, I decided to work on solving the problem: opening my own non-profit. I left excuses aside and I tackled the problem with a direct approach. And everything that came after that is history.

Is there a person in the world whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would like to meet Michelle Obama. The former first lady used her influence to support young women. She opened the Obama Foundation to analyze and evaluate the education system, and also develop solutions to put an end to inequality. I would love to exchange ideas on how to tackle this issue and hear the voice of experience.

How can our readers follow you or your initiatives on social media?

We are on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Following us on these social media and sharing our posts to spread the word about Meraki will help us make our project sustainable in the long term.

https://www.instagram.com/merakismileschool/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/meraki-smile-school/?originalSubdomain=mg

https://www.facebook.com/merakismileschool

https://twitter.com/SmileMeraki

They can also have a look at our website (merakismileschool.org) and our GoFundMe campaign (www.gofundme.com/f/merakismileschool) where we are receiving donations to fund our project.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Miriam Agüero of Meraki Smile School Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.