Located in the northwest of South America, Colombia is ethnically and ecologically diverse. From beautiful coasts to tropical rainforests, this Spanish-speaking country is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. In contrast to its beauty, Colombia has had a tumultuous past, which plays a major role in defining the kind of volunteering opportunities available. Poverty, a lack of educational opportunities, epidemics, and unemployment are among the most common issues faced by the Colombian people, and the source of many volunteer programs in Colombia. If you are ready to jump in and make a Colombian’s day a little brighter, then read on to learn how you can join dozens of other volunteers!
The nation’s vast, diverse geographical bounty mean volunteers drawn to the coast, the jungle, or the city will all be satisfied with volunteer placements in Colombia.
The capital city of Colombia, Bogota, is also the third largest capital city in South America. Due to heavy workloads and demanding jobs, locals appreciate volunteers who can contribute their time, affection, and attention toward childcare and elderly care specifically. The city also faces an alarming number of homeless people, resulting from population growth, drug abuse, natural calamities, and high unemployment rates. With innate compassion and a willingness to help, volunteers can truly make a positive difference in the lives of locals. If teaching is your passion, then becoming a teaching volunteer in Colombia may be the perfect option for you; most local schools welcome volunteers with open arms as most are under-equipped and understaffed.
Cartagena is a beautiful city boasting colonial architecture, which provides a glance into Colombia’s Afro-Caribbean influence of the imperial days. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is culturally rich and offers meaningful volunteer opportunities amidst a beautiful backdrop. Apart from community projects, childcare, healthcare, and teaching placements, you can also contribute to environmental projects focused on keeping the environment clean, green, and tourist-friendly.
A coastal paradise for the lovers of the sea, Santa Marta is blessed with serene landscapes which also serve as the vital element of its economy. While volunteering in Santa Marta, volunteers can get their hands dirty by participating in various agricultural or fishing activities. Known as the oldest surviving city in Colombia, it owns historical treasures in the form of archaeological remains at Tayrona. Located away from the hustle and bustle of major cities, those who volunteer in Santa Marta will be able to assist locals in preserving the nation’s assets. Volunteers can also engage in healthcare and education initiatives in Santa Marta to improve the standard of living standard of within local communities.
Volunteer Programs in Colombia
Volunteers impassioned by a number of causes will find plenty of productive ways to channel their fervor through volunteer work in Colombia.
Healthcare. In 2012, a universal health care system was launched in Colombia. However, there are many Colombian citizens still deprived of medical assistance, and as a result, skilled medical volunteers are needed to assist the local population. Healthcare volunteer placements in Colombia require volunteers to contribute to public health efforts focused on eradicating malnutrition in children or treatment of infectious diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, and HIV. Volunteers can choose to help with a definitive access to medical treatments or to educate the local community about the treatment and prevention of these diseases.
Education is another important, high need type of volunteering in Colombia. Although there are many schools and universities in Colombia, underprivileged neighborhoods still struggle to have access to proper educational opportunities. Teaching volunteers will typically find themselves teaching in the country’s rural areas, as teachers in these areas are slim pickins’, often under-qualified, and schools typically lack basic classroom resources. The government has made it compulsory for students to attend school, but some schools don’t offer secondary education, leaving many students without a viable way to complete their studies. Volunteers often teach English, mathematics, science, art, sports, and even vocational skills to uplift students living in low-income communities and provide them with lessons they would otherwise not have access to.
Community Projects. From childcare and elderly care to helping the homeless, working with vulnerable teenage mothers, and rehabilitating drug addicts, community-based volunteering in Colombia gives volunteers the chance to improve the welfare of locals. As simple as it may sound, community volunteer projects in Colombia require flexibility, sensitivity, and patience. Those who volunteer in Colombia will find they are forever impacted by their volunteer work and the people they help serve through community projects.
Environmental Preservation. Although it is a country which is rich in natural resources and endowed with picturesque beauty, Colombia actually has an array of environmental issues to be dealt with. Volunteering in Colombia on conservation projects will give volunteers an opportunity to contribute to agriculture, ecotourism, anti-pollution efforts, and wildlife preservation.
Costs & Affordability
Colombia is a relatively inexpensive place to volunteer abroad, with affordable volunteer projects widely available which include food, lodging, and local transport. If volunteers adopt a local way of living, their wallets will breathe a sigh of relief on a daily basis. To save money, volunteers should stick to hand washing laundry, eating Colombian food, taking public transport, and avoiding unnecessary internet or phone charges from calling back home too many times. The overall cost of living in Colombia is average and very affordable for many international volunteers, especially those from developed countries. Instead of splurging on that imported bread, use your extra pocket money to take Spanish or salsa lessons!
Accommodation & Visas
Those who choose to stay with host families while volunteering in Colombia will be able to experience a homely environment and have a first-hand experience of the culture and way of life. Some volunteer programs in Colombia will provide alternative accommodation options, but homestays are by far the most common housing available and the most highly recommended too!
Depending on your home country and the length of your volunteer program in Colombia, you may need to organize a temporary visa at a Colombian consulate in your home country prior to departure. Foreign nationals can apply for a short-stay visa to volunteer in Colombia for up to 90 days, or a long-stay visa for programs that exceed three months in length.
Benefits & Challenges
Diverse Placements. The variety of ways you can volunteer in Colombia can be both a blessing and a curse! While the interiors of Columbia provide a more banal, rustic opportunity for incidental learning, cities like Bogotá are more urbane for international volunteers. Volunteers should definitely align their preferences for their volunteer program in Colombia before deciding on a placement and setting foot in country.
Culture. The warmth and hospitality of Colombians is unmatched! Volunteers are likely to fall in love with the culture and nature of Colombia’s vivacious residents. Repeat offenders (aka. alumni volunteers) often cite their relationships as their main draw for returning to volunteer in Colombia a second time.
Turn off Narcos and go experience the real Colombia through volunteer work. Just don’t be surprised when you go back a second, third, or fourth time!