By School Community

29 January 2024 - 11:11

Carmen Castañón

Carmen Castañón is one of the fundamental pillars of BIOOR. A former student of the school and one of the founders of the whole project, today she remembers the initiative and its beginnings with great affection. Her answers in the interview fully represent that feeling:

Do you remember your first time participating in one of BIOOR's activities?

I remember it very clearly and fondly, because it was the first activity that was organised on behalf of BIOOR. It was a Spring Fair, on 24 May 2003, on the high school football pitch. Although it may seem unbelievable today, it was the first time that something like this was organised at the school. I remember preparing the plans, organising activities with pupils such as funny races or treasure hunts, calling bouncy castle companies, requesting official permission to release balloons that we had to inflate with helium beforehand... Compared to successive events, it was a Spring Fair full of ingenuity, but also overflowing with excitement and a great desire to make it go well. I can still remember my nerves when I saw that it was time to open the doors and there were hardly any visitors. As a result, we realised that we had to start later because it is not realistic for people to get up early to go to a family entertainment event. I also remember that we had to improvise by buying pergolas or parasols in the nearby shopping centres, so that there would be some shade as soon as the heat started to build up. It was a splendid and memorable day.

Could you tell us a little about the history of the project?

BIOOR came about as the initiative of a group of us who in 2002 lost a colleague, Olivia Roddom, a former BCS student, after a titanic struggle with cancer. I always say that I wish BIOOR did not exist, because that would mean that our friend would still be with us. But the best tribute we can pay to those taken from us by cancer is to take up the baton of their fight. At that time, we felt the need to channel the pain, a very powerful energy, into something constructive and forward-looking. Our common bond was the School, which immediately gave us all its support. Thus, was born the Association of Volunteers for Citizenship and Solidarity of the British Council School (AVCS-BCS), with the vision of providing the school community with a space to educate in civic values with specific educational projects, starting with BIOOR around cancer research. The project has been transformed over 20 years as pupils, teachers and families have taken ownership of it, internalising it. This is its great beauty and its strength.

Is there a particular event or project that has left a lasting impression on you?

Shortly after starting BIOOR, we had the chance that the then Princess of Asturias, Dª Letizia, presided over the presentation of the grants of the Spanish Association Against Cancer, with whose Scientific Foundation we were associated at the time. This gave us credibility in one fell swoop and, at the same time, reinforced our commitment to our vision. I think we can be proud to have been pioneers in opening a way to channel efforts towards oncology research. BIOOR's contribution will obviously not end cancer on its own, but we have been followed by similar initiatives with even greater impact, and it all adds up. Raising awareness of cancer is unfortunately very simple because we all know someone who has been through it. Translating that experience into a stable and sustained commitment over time is the best way to support research.

How do you think participating in this initiative impacts the lives of our students and alumni?

It is undeniable that our school community is privileged. No one chooses where they are born, but with greater or lesser effort we all have the ability to decide what we do with our lives, which not only concerns our direct circle, but the society in which we live in a broader sense. Engaging as citizens in solidarity means taking responsibility for looking adversity in the face and tackling it from the capacities of each of us. Through AVCS-BCS and BIOOR, our students and alumni learn that getting involved in the solution of a problem means committing to provide constant, daily support, almost always far from the glamour of the spotlight, and that goes beyond making a one-off donation to a cause to distract from an uncomfortable reality. They also have the opportunity to get up close and personal with cutting-edge cancer research projects such as the Translational Research and Advanced Therapies Unit at La Paz University Hospital, with which BIOOR is currently collaborating through the CRIS Against Cancer Foundation. Who knows, maybe one day a British Council School alumni will put the icing on the cake and put an end to cancer.

What does BIOOR mean to you?

BIOOR is what today we would call the "flagship project" of the school's social identity. It is a project that arose from a particular situation, but from the very beginning it had a universal vocation. This explains why it is still going strong 20 years later.  Moreover, for me, BIOOR is a permanent witness that research is the only hope to end cancer. One fact speaks for itself: the cancer that took our friend two decades ago is now being cured. In twenty years, we have succeeded in narrowing the circle in a very clear way, and all thanks to research. I am convinced that before long cancer will have become a chronic disease, and on that day, we will have to look for another cause to direct our commitment towards.

Carmen Castañón & co