Raúl Álvarez: «If we want to survive as a society, we must feel that responsibility to help others»


The future civil engineer received the Cristóbal Conde Scholarship that is awarded by Friends UC, which allowed him to considerably reduce his student debt.

Raúl Álvarez entered the Catholic University the same year in which the Governmental Free Education Program in Chile began. His mother’s salary of around $600,000 CLP, however, left him out of the benefit, which covers the first six deciles of the population. «I financed 30% with the solidarity fund, 10% with the Academic Excellence Scholarship and the rest with student loans. I didn’t pay anything, because my mother barely had enough for the month, so the option was to go into debt,» he says today, shortly before becoming a civil engineer in computer science

Raúl’s mother, who has no university studies, had long cherished the dream of her only son becoming a professional. That, says her son, has been a difficulty in her life. She managed to embark on an emerging career in the retail world, but the merger of the company where she worked resulted in her dismissal, a layoff that lasted a long time. «That’s when my mom had a lot of problems, because at least in those times, without a university degree and with only that one job as an executive in her background, it was very, very hard for her to find a job,» says Raúl. Fortunately, the young man, whose father passed away shortly before his birth, has a large, close-knit extended family that was there for him in difficult times. «I didn’t lack a home or food, for obvious reasons, but still psychologically this affected her; as a single mother, she thought, if I didn’t have my family I couldn’t provide for my son. She felt that she was failing as a mother, which is why she has always had issues with money», confided the also amateur bass player, who says that they had to resort to loans to cover the expenses, which have only now been paid.

Raúl with rector Sánchez and Sava Thomas in April 2017

Always a good student, Raúl has a relaxed air, of a person who follows the flow of things rather than trying to force them. A couple of weeks before the PSU (Prueba de Selección Universitaria, or University Selection Test), chance -literally a coin flip- dictated that he wanted to study Engineering, so he obsessively prepared for the Science test in a few days, an effort that was enough to get him into the Catholic University. One day of his first year, he was in a friend’s car making time to enter classes when he received an email inviting him to apply for the Cristóbal Conde Scholarship, a benefit that covers the gap between the reference fee and the real one, and which is granted thanks to the contribution of the eponymous donor, a renowned Chilean businessman and philanthropist based in the USA who is part of Friends UC. According to Raúl’s calculations, having a scholarship of these characteristics reduced his debt from $30 million CLP to $14 million CLP, which, for the level of salary he will be able to aspire to as an engineer, he considers very reasonable. «My mother was super happy, and especially because this scholarship is not given to everyone. It was a source of pride,» Raúl recalls.

The young man had the opportunity to meet his scholarship donor a few years ago. On that occasion, Cristobal Conde told him that donating, for him, had to do with a moral responsibility: «That is what he tried to instill in me, that when I am in a situation where I earn more, that for me it is part of my responsibility, not necessarily to donate money, but to donate my time, to be philanthropic in a way (…) If we want to survive as a society, we have to have the ability to feel the responsibility to help others, not because I want to feel good, but because it is my social responsibility to help».

Raúl also values the fact that this scholarship was with him in a difficult moment he experienced in 2018, which resulted in him failing two classes: «I had a very bad time that semester, I thought about leaving, and then I decided to take a semester off, but it was still a painful process, because it was difficult for my mother». That decision, which turned out to be the right one to overcome the moment, did not mean losing his scholarship.

Raúl is currently working part-time at Magnet, a software development company, while he finishes his bachelor’s degree. Afterwards, he will do his degree work. He also plans to become a donor. «In my case, it was in that year, 2018, when I had my biggest existential crisis, that that scholarship brought me a lot of peace of mind, because I knew that, regardless of what happened, I was still going to have it, I still wasn’t going to have an immediate economic crisis. How many people must have been in the same situation as me, who had no scholarship or credit, and who are in the same situation with money? I feel that the nature of human beings is not one of hatred or war, but of empathy, and in that sense, I think it is important to connect with this empathy, and there are many ways to achieve that. And if one has the privilege, as I probably will in the next few years, to literally have more money than I can reasonably spend, without spending it on stupid things, it’s not only helpful, beneficial, but I feel it’s like a duty to our own nature, to be able to see how our life could have been better if there had been people who would have had that benefit.»