Ten years ago, Gisela Adriana Belén Gomez was working as a dietician when, dissatisfied with her job, she decided to become a teacher. She joined a technical training institute, Republica de Italia, specialised in food production and located in the small town of Estación General Paz. The school was nearly decrepit, and lacked space and facilities for its 450 students – most of whom hailed from disadvantaged backgrounds, and were often the first in their family to complete secondary school and access higher education. Nevertheless, Gisela and her colleagues made the most of the limited resources available to them. Soon, Gisela and her students started taking part in science fairs across Argentina, presenting innovative research projects.
The students produced a wide variety of projects, but always started by consulting with the local community, to find out which challenges needed addressing. These were often linked to nutrition. The students created protein-rich sweets made of nopal cactus (also known as prickly pear cactus), and caramels fortified with vitamins C and E, which teenagers often lacked in their diets. When they learned that one of the teachers at the school had celiac disease, they developed gluten-free baking ready-mixes and organised an awareness campaign around the condition. This included putting on a play for children, and carrying out tests in Estación General Paz to find out whether anyone else had the disease. In 2015, they analysed 245 water tanks to check for Escherichia Coli, which was detected in 11 tanks. This project helped educate the local community on the importance of water sanitation, and won in the natural science category at the National Science and Technology Fair. In 2018, the students worked with a neighbouring computer science school to design a sensor capable of measuring water hardness.
By guiding her students through these projects, Gisela teaches them to apply technical know-how to find practical solutions to real-world problems. Taking part in science fairs enables them to feel intellectually motivated and build a dialogue with students from across Argentina. A testament to Gisela’s successful teaching methodology, many of her students have gone on to pursue specialist studies in food science, and some are even training to become teachers themselves. Gisela has also received numerous accolades for her work, including the national ministry of education’s Illustrious Teacher award in 2018.
Gisela hopes to secure funds to build a new school, so that her students have access to a laboratory in which to perform food analysis. The school would follow a microenterprise model, so that older students can share their skills and knowledge with younger pupils. Together, they would produce affordable foods for people with dietary restrictions, and the money raised would be reinvested into the school.