TEFL Immersion at Maureen Orth Foundation
by Michael Owen (CII-6)
Serving as an education volunteer through the Peace Corps has its challenges, along with its perks. Last week (October 10th-14th), three current Peace Corps volunteers in Colombia had the chance to experience one of these said perks.
PCV’s Alexandra Reed, Michelle DiIeso, and Michael Owen were given the unique opportunity to collaborate with both the Marina Orth Foundation and RPCV’s who served in Colombia during the 1960’s on a weeklong English Immersion experience for over 100 local teachers in the city of El Carmen de Viboral. This was the first time that the Peace Corps had officially been to the interior of Colombia since the 1980’s, when the program was unfortunately disbanded due to civil distress in the country.
The Marina Orth Foundation, founded by RPCV Maureen Orth, who served in Colombia in the 1960’s, is dedicated to providing a model of education that is both accessible and sustainable to both primary and secondary students throughout Colombia. Through the use of technology and English language skills acquisition, the foundation strives to be an example for the rest of the country on how to make higher education an attainable goal for all the children of Colombia.
During this weeklong experience, local teachers gained new ideas on how to interactively teach their students English. The current PCV’s were paired up with RPCV’s and together delivered dynamic ways to teach grammar, vocabulary, and conversation. Participants also received helpful ideas on how to incorporate technology into the learning environment in their schools. The teachers that participated finished the week equipped with new materials and a different outlook on how to encourage their students and further engage them in learning English. This once-in-a-lifetime experience helped bridge the gap between current and former volunteers, while also providing a different work environment in which the current volunteers could gain valuable knowledge to take back to their sites.
To read more about Michael’s time in Colombia, check out his blog: http://lavidademigi.blogspot.com/.
From Cartagena to Tena: How Peace Corps Service Opens Doors
by Katlin Decker (CII-4)
Before I even applied to Peace Corps and graduate school, I remember hearing many people say how Peace Corps would open doors. I became a PC Masters International student back in 2011 because combining a graduate program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and PC service in an English teaching program seemed like an ideal step in my career path in the field of English language instruction. Without a doubt this combination has indeed opened doors for me, such as the opportunity to develop the English language program at a new university in Ecuador.
I had been teaching in the Intensive English Program at Arizona State University (ASU) when instructors were asked if they wanted to be part of a small team to go teach in Tena, Ecuador. I expressed interest and I believe was selected to go largely due to my experience as a PCV in Cartagena, Colombia. ASU and the Universidad Regional Amazonica IKIAM have a contract for ASU to assist in setting up the English program at IKIAM. As part of the team here, I’m teaching university level English classes, hiring and training new teachers, and developing curriculum.
Prior teaching experience and my graduate courses taught me many of the technical skills I use in this position with ASU and IKIAM, but my PC service gave me the language skills, adaptability, flexibility, and cultural awareness to be successful living and working in Tena. As a PCV I understood the importance of becoming a member of my community, learning from and sharing with others in that community. In the same way, I strive to be an active member of the IKIAM community not only in my role as an English teacher, but also taking part in sports tournaments with students and faculty, assisting teachers in other disciplines, and participating in other activities on and off campus. I’m incredibly grateful for how my MATESOL and PC service have prepared me for and led to what has been a great experience both professionally and personally. I look forward to future doors PC will open for me in the U.S. or abroad!
Small Change Makes a Big Difference
by Ashley Huebscher (CII-5)
While finishing my teaching degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was invited to serve in Peace Corps Colombia. Joining the rapidly growing community of other volunteers who bravely ventured off into the world to serve a higher cause, I left with just two suitcases not knowing yet where this bold decision would lead me. My primary project was entitled Teaching English for Livelihoods which took me on an incredible life journey that has impacted me in ways I would have never expected. I learned valuable lessons about teaching and working with diverse constituents, about joining unfamiliar communities, about creating honest relationships, about gaining respect and becoming a leader; but perhaps most surprising was the realization of my own talents and attributes that I had to contribute to the world. It was emphatically encouraging to know that I held something valuable and with that, I could help to improve the lives of those around me. Ultimately I learned that small change makes a big difference, if even in the life of one individual. Peace Corps Colombia, in turn, has changed my life quite differently than I had ever imagined.
I now find myself living in beautiful Hawaii where the scenery closely resembles the Caribbean beach town of Santa Marta, Colombia, the place where I was proud to call home for over two years. It’s a wonderful medium for me as I can enjoy the faint resemblances of home in the United States, while still remaining aloof from the culture shock of the mainland. The island has provided me with tranquility and inspiration to continue forging toward my goals. Shortly after arriving to the island, I was invited to work with the University of Hawaii as an ESL instructor. I accredit this opportunity to the Peace Corps which prepared me and gave me the necessary skills to teach students from other countries. In addition, I continued efforts to fundraise for a children’s foundation with whom I worked closely during service. With the help of many donors, I was able to raise nearly $1000 to send back to my community in Santa Marta. Most notably, however, my work in the Peace Corps gave me confidence to capitalize on skills that I hadn’t recognized in the past. In reflecting on the talents that I now saw as valuable to the world, I decided to start a clothing design business, something I had never imagined doing previously. Although starting a business is an arduous task, I embody the grit and tenacity to continue pushing toward my goals only due to my service in Colombia which provided me with great challenges. From those moments, I found ways to adapt both physically and mentally to strenuous times. For that, I am grateful because I can take those learned skills and now apply them through abstract thinking to find creative solutions to problems when they arise in my business.
While moving to Hawaii, working with the University, raising money and starting my business seem like an individual endeavor, I know that it takes an incredible amount of teamwork to make anything successful. Graciously, I have an unwavering community of support from fellow volunteers and those who supported me through my service who are constantly cheering me on. To their accreditation, I am constantly inspired and motivated to continue achieving my goals. Every move, every exchange of communication, every decision I make, is done so out of the experiences I had while serving in the Peace Corps.
Ashley’s clothing is a perfect addition to your summer wardrobe and her beautiful skirts are available for purchase on her website: http://www.ashleyroseclothing.com/home.html
Opening Night of my Exhibition in Brooklyn
by Sarah Shaw (CII-5)
A few weeks ago, I boarded a Concord Coach bus in Portland, carrying a black portfolio filled with two years of drawings, photographs and plans to install my first solo show at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. It seemed almost surreal to hold two years of work in my hands. Thinking about those countless hours spent researching, sketching, drawing, and coloring, while trying to avoid drops of sweat from splattering on the pages, made me realize how they had become such an integral part of my experience in Colombia.
At the end of January, when one of my professors from the Art Ed department recommended me for a show in Pratt Institute’s Nancy Ross Project Space, I hurriedly replied, “Yes!” Not only was the timing great and the opportunity incredible, but it was the perfect way to share my experience in Colombia with an American audience.
Before arriving in New York, I’d already planned the layout on my computer. With the help of one of my best friends and some work study students, we installed the show in two afternoons. The opening reception was on Thursday, April 7th.
To see more photos from this amazing exhibit visit Sarah Shaw’s blog at: http://www.mappingwords.com/2016/04/20/in-photos-the-opening-night-of-my-exhibition-in-brooklyn/.
Adopting a “Cógela Suave” Attitude
by Kelsey Minten (CII-4)
The effects of two years living in Barranquilla, Colombia don’t fade easily. That’s what I’m learning almost a year and a half after returning from Peace Corps service and settling into my new life in New York City. The Puerto Rican or Dominican Spanish I hear on the subway floats just as naturally into my ears as el español costeño. The exorbitant prices for tropical fruits in my grocery store don’t stop me from buying a mango every once in awhile. The salsa music roaring from cars on street corners in my East Harlem neighborhood in the summer makes me feel at home. It all transports me back to the loud, hot, vibrant city in Colombia where I was challenged and changed in the best possible ways.
As part of the CII-4 cohort serving from 2012-2014, I served as a Teaching English for Livelihoods Volunteer. My primary projects at my school in the gritty downtown area of Barranquilla were co-teaching English classes, leading extracurricular English groups, and other youth development activities. In my free time, I volunteered as a program coordinator for TECHO, an international NGO that mobilizes youth to fight poverty and is well known across Latin America for building transitional houses in extremely impoverished communities. When I first started, the organization’s Barranquilla office was fairly new and poised for growth. I was able to help them develop streamlined processes, organize their records, and become more efficient as they grew to serve more communities and incorporate more volunteers.
While I loved working directly with youth in my time in Barranquilla, my behind-the-scenes capacity building and program development work with TECHO was also incredibly gratifying and sparked the successful launch of my career in the nonprofit sector back in the USA. Currently, I work as a program associate at a small nonprofit in the South Bronx that provides pro bono legal and financial services to entrepreneurs in underserved NYC communities. We’re also a small and fairly new non-profit, and so I get to do similar work to streamline our processes and make our work more efficient. I am lucky to use Spanish daily to interpret for and communicate with Spanish-speaking small business owners. I’m now also starting to consider options for graduate school to expand my knowledge and skills for a career dedicated to community development.
My time in Colombia led to immense and obvious professional growth, but I think the personal growth is the part that still continues to surprise me. When the Internet goes out at work, I don’t get angry – but others do. When people or cars are loud outside my window, I sleep fine – my roommates don’t. When it’s hot in July, I can survive without air conditioning. When there is a slightly longer wait for a bus or a train, I don’t get anxious. These feel like such small things, but in such a fast paced and high-strung city like New York, my adopted “cógela suave” attitude will help me lead a happier and less stressful life. And for that, among hundreds of other reasons, I will be forever grateful for Peace Corps Colombia.
Greetings from a Community Economic Development Response Volunteer
by Andy Lamb (PCRV, CED)
Hey Friends of Colombia,
I am writing desde the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where the sun is always bravo and the neighbor’s vallenato is never-ending.
I’m part of the 10 person Peace Corps Response Volunteer team assigned to the region with the task of establishing the Community Economic Development (CED) sector. We are spread out across the coastal area, operating in four departments: Atlántico, Bolívar, Magdalena, and La Guajira. The first three months of our time in site was dedicated to performing a community diagnostic, in which we were able to better understand the various needs and desires of the communities. The information gathered during this period will be used to set a more standardized view of the region in order to prioritize the focus of the entire CED sector and to aid the future PCVs that will be continuing our work in October.
My community is Campo de la Cruz, located at the southern tip of Atlántico. This entire region was devastated by extreme flooding in 2010 and is still working to recuperate the economic activities that sustained their livelihoods. Due to the lack of employment opportunities for the majority of Campo’s citizens, and especially the youth, one of the main projects that I will be developing is an entrepreneurship course designed specifically for the community’s youth. The course, Construye Tus Sueños, was designed by PCVs in the Dominican Republic and has now been edited and formatted to fit within a Colombian context. The goal of the course is to teach youth how to start their own small business from the ground up. Throughout the 14 sessions, the students learn everything from feasibility studies and SWOT analyses to marketing and accounting. At the end of the course the community and I have planned a business plan competition, during which each student has the opportunity to present their project in a professional setting. After determining which project is the best developed and most feasible, we would like to have the event sponsors invest in the small business so that the project’s starting budget is covered. Each year, the course will be taught and a winner will be selected with the ultimate goal being the establishment of a network of small businesses throughout the region that simultaneously contribute to the local economy and decrease youth delinquency.
Even though we are just getting started with our work here on the coast, it means the world to us knowing that we have the support of Colombia’s RPCV network, and our loved ones back home. Nevertheless, we have quite large shoes to fill in order to live up to this country’s legacy of amazing volunteers. With your hard work in mind, we are eager to develop a CED sector that will result in a positive, lasting change for the communities that we currently call home.
Documenting Daily Life in Colombia Through Illustration
by Sarah Shaw (CII-5)
Less than two weeks ago, I finished my Peace Corps service in a peri-urban fishing community called La Boquilla, located 25 minutes north of Cartagena, Colombia. I’m still thinking about scenes that I need to draw—the lime green cart filled with fritos surrounded by red plastic tables and chairs, the aggressive hat vendors in the Centro, and the bustling, chaotic Bazurto Mercado. Cartagena continues to inspire me.
Throughout the last 27 months in Colombia, I documented my experience through a series of full-color llustrations and daily drawings. During training, before I knew much about Colombia, I began making collages of scenery from the beaches outside of Barranquilla, typical meals, and street scenes with kids riding bikes and playing soccer. However, on a trip back to the States, I discovered a set of Prismacolor markers that I hadn’t used since high school. The fuchsias, turquoises, and bright yellows reminded me of the colors I saw everyday in Cartagena, and I hadn’t realized the extent of their absence until I was once again surrounded by the calm blues, whites, and muted tones of a New England summer.
Back in Cartagena, I began posting my sketches on Facebook and received a very positive response. Colombian friends, Peace Corps Colombia volunteers, my family and friends from the States, co-workers and friends from Korea, and people I’d met from all over the world began commenting and following my posts. This personal endeavor turned into a third goal project, where I suddenly felt motivated to illustrate images that subtly combatted prevailing stereotypes of Colombia being a dangerous, drug-ridden country. My work showed the daily, monotonous beauty of fishermen working on the beach, a watermelon vendor sending Whatapp messages on her smartphone as she waited for customers outside of a run-down building in a rural town, and indigenous kids playing soccer outside their home in the mountains. Through art, I was able to show the complicated beauty of my Peace Corps site, a community struggling through cycles of poverty while trapped in the midst of a rich, booming tourism industry.
As I constantly observed my surroundings, inspiration struck often, no matter where I was or what time of day. Luckily, my Peace Corps cell phone had a camera function, which allowed me to document daily occurrences. Once I decided on a scene that I wanted to illustrate, I would use photo references to create a composition, often researching other details that I wanted to add into the story—a stray cat or dog, a certain facial expression, or vendors selling various types of street food. After sketching the initial composition, I would outline the drawing with black pens and India ink,and add color with Prismacolor markers and colored pencils. The colored pencils were mostly used for adding highlights.
Although I’m now shivering in my over-sized sweater in Maine, rather than sweating through my shirt before noon, the coast is still within me. Songs that I’d hear everyday play in my head as the bright colors continue to evade my sketchbook. I plan to keep illustrating scenes and telling stories from my service in Colombia to eventually combine them into a graphic novel.
Bio: Sarah Shaw is a recent Colombia RPCV. She served in La Boquilla, a peri-urban community north of Cartagena. She mainly worked on the Teaching English for Livelihoods project in a public secondary school, but also taught computer classes and photography through a youth development curriculum. She has a passion for illustration and visual storytelling, and is continually drawing scenes from her Peace Corps experience, which can be seen on her website, www.saraheshaw.com . She hopes to continue working with communities on art, design and media-related projects.
Once Upon a Time…
by John O.Montoya
The total trip to Andes from Medellín took about six hours since there were stops at Fredonia, Bretana, Bolombolo, etc. I was beat when we got there. What impressed me most were the steep cobblestone streets and houses supported on stilts—they seemed to be ready to fall into the river at any time. Another Andes characteristic was the tango music that could be heard all over town, especially in the cool nights. Men on horseback, wearing their ruanas, machetes, hats and carrieles or man-purses like the Scots, were common. Their horses would make distinctive sounds when their metal shoes hit the cobblestone surfaces. It was reminiscent of how the Wild West may have been in the U.S. Andes was the largest community where I was assigned, but wait—there I was told I wasn’t there yet! The next morning, Luz Elena Espinal, a mejoradora de hogar working for the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros, took me to Santa Rita, a corregimiento of Andes. Other than the business-like Luz Elena, I did not have an American or Colombian co-worker.
Santa Rita was unique in that it showed no visible means of support or existence. When you got to Santa Rita, it was the end of civilization. There were no more roads, no more villages, no more anything except the uncharted wilderness of the Andes mountains that made a spectacular surrounding. Reportedly, some native Colombian tribes were out there somewhere and beyond the horizon, there were impassable, steamy tropical jungles.