I arrived in Pereira, Colombia, on 1 August to start volunteering with the Nukanti Foundation. My job is to enhance the quality of English education in a public school in the Risaralda department of Colombia, the heart of Coffee Country. I will aid the English teachers in improving their own English to better serve their students, and provide a cultural exchange for the students in the school. I’m really looking forward to getting started!
I was greeted at the airport by Alex, a liaison working on behalf of Nukanti. We jumped in a taxi and headed to a hotel in Pereira where I would eventually stay the next 4 nights. I was not expecting a pickup so it was a very nice gesture. They’ve also provided just about every meal for us so far.
The same day, I met several of the other volunteers I would be sharing the experience with. We are all from many different backgrounds and have lots of different areas of expertise. There are social workers, conflict management specialists, political science majors, teachers, IT professionals, and students. Most of the volunteers are from all over the USA (including three from Chicago!), Colombia, Australia, and New Zealand, and from ages 20 to 65. It’s a great mix of people who are all like-minded and very excited to be in Colombia. More importantly, we all get along well and are looking forward to meeting and traveling together on weekends.
In our first meeting on Friday, we were given a very warm welcome by the organization and the Secretary of Education of the Risaralda department. He was very enthusiastic and grateful to have all of us willing to give our time and energy to children that basically have been given no chance in the world. Many of them have experienced violence and have been displaced by the drug wars. Others are indigenous Colombians who face social difficulties. It seems like it will be quite a challenge, especially motivating the children, but we are all up to the task.
Three officers from the Risaralda police department also popped into the meeting to assure the group of our safety. They told us not to hesitate contacting them if we ever felt threatened or needed an escort, or any safety advice. There are many rumors being spread about guerillas operating in the villages but they ensured us that Risaralda is one of the safest departments of Colombia.
After the meeting, many of the volunteers were transported to their villages and host families. I stayed behind in Pereira with 5 others. We had a great weekend together. We visited a few local bars on Friday and Saturday night. On Sunday, we went to a coffee themed amusement park about 90 minutes away. We were able to ride roller coasters and a couple of water rides!
This morning, we met with the principals of the schools we would be working at. I will work in a town in the mountains called Belén de Umbría with a college student from Tampa, Florida, named Lashae.
The principals and I sat down for an hour and hashed out a weekly schedule. Monday to Thursday, from 7am to 1:30pm, I will teach two classes. The ages of children will range between grades 6 to 11. In the afternoon from 3pm to 6pm, I will hold a conversation class with the local English teachers. On Fridays, I will hold a conversation class in the morning and have afternoons free. Lashae and I brainstormed a few activities and hope to hold English conversation a few times a week after school for anyone in the community who would like to attend. She will have a similar schedule at a different school, but we were told we would live with the same host family.
This afternoon, I tied together a few loose ends in order to get my Colombian ID card. I went to the hospital for a blood test, made copies of my passport, and took passport photos. In the morning, I will visit the immigration police to officially register my visa and apply for my ID. The ID will be ready within the next ten days.
Finally, tomorrow afternoon I will travel to Belén with Lashae to meet our host family. All of the locals I’ve met so far tell me Belén is a great place to live with friendly people and lots to do.