Organization: Emerging Voices
In February 2011 a team of 12 students had the incredible opportunity to volunteer in Bogota, Colombia for two weeks. Arriving in the capital city after an exhilarating day of switching planes, hefty turbulence, and many security checks, we couldn’t wait to begin a truly unforgettable experience. After meeting Monica, the director of Emerging Voices, we all squeezed into a van and drove through the city to our volunteer home for the next 17 days.
The projects were spread throughout all parts of the city and beyond its borders, requiring us to become well accustomed to Bogota’s famous Transmilenio public transit system. Team members were able to work on several different projects. Traveling an hour away to the city of Soacha, our team members created lesson plans and taught English to students at El Colegio Ricaurte de Soacha. One of our members even began an after school teaching lesson to a group of eager children and English teacher, and by the end of the week was able to set up future lesson plans and develop a structure for future volunteers teaching English.
Members also spent time developing educational workshops for previously abused children at a group home, and focused on positive interactions with the children through teaching English/Spanish songs, collaborative games and activities. The kids even taught some of us their games, and we gladly took turns playing everything! With so much energy and excitement, it was easy to forget the reasons why these kids were at the group home, and it was important for us to be aware of how we interacted with one another and the kids during our time there. We learned so much from just being surrounded by these kids, and were humbled by their immediate curiosity and willingness to reach out and get to know us over the course of our stay. Every day there were new challenges to face and new ways of approaching situations, but we learned together and were thankful to be able to be part of the exchange of ideas, language, and love.
An impromptu project that developed at the group home was also taken on by two of our volunteers. Within 4 days, they had organized and cataloged a room full of educational and children’s books in complete disarray and stacked boxes, into a full-fledged, color coded and systematic library that could finally be utilized by the children. Our volunteers were able to utilize their experiences and skills in order to meet a need of the community that was only realized upon our arrival. In the spirit of ASB, this project was completely spur of the moment and completed all within the duration of our stay.
Members also got the chance to teach English at El Colito Escuela, a school higher up in the slums of Bogota. Rotating classes of younger kids from 3-8 and older kids from 9-14, we taught lesson plans and assisted the children with their school homework.
A few of our members also had the opportunity to spend time with, and care for elderly women at a home run by nuns, who had been abandoned by their families due to steep medical costs or who could no longer take care of themselves. Arriving in the late afternoon, each day we helped prepare and serve lunch, and then danced with the ladies to some Colombian jams for their daily exercise! Now let me tell you, these ladies got some moves! We were able to communicate with our limited but growing Spanish, and often spent the rest of the day exchanging stories and learning from one another. These incredible, strong women taught us so much about how to approach life and brave whatever situation came our way. The joy that we brought them could only be surpassed by the joy we felt in return.
Our ASB members learned to adapt on the spot to unexpected and challenging situations. We were welcomed into many communities, schools, homes, and lives, and not only brought joy and knowledge during our stay, but more importantly learned incredible life lessons, attitudes, and skills that we will never forget. Bogota, Colombia is not just a far-off place of exciting possibilities and unknown realities, but a part of us that we lived through, learned through, and grew as human beings, students, volunteers, and friends.