Meaningful Travel to Colombia
Wrapped up in my daily routine at work, I had been thinking of traveling to Colombia for quite some time, but this time I wanted to do something more than traveling to a new destination. I googled “art+travel workshop” and it brought me to International Volunteer HQ. I quickly learned that there was a program in Bogota, Colombia and without any hesitation I applied right away for the Teaching Program. After hearing back that I got in, everything from then on was smooth sailing and the IVHQ team was super helpful with any questions I had. The idea of volunteering abroad was something that always interested me and when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t wait to go.
On February 14th, I embarked on a journey that really awakened my soul. Full of excitement and an open heart, I landed in El Dorado International Airport where I was welcomed by Lilly and Gloria, coordinators of Emerging Voices – a foundation that IVHQ linked me with for my volunteer program. Both were so kind and hugged me so tight! I immediately felt at home. We arrived at the volunteer house and met the rest of the volunteer team from all over the world. I was thrilled to be in a room with likeminded individuals.
During my stay here, I felt like my mind was a sponge gathering as much detail as I could not only from the people I was surrounded with, but just the culture in general.
There are many reasons why I chose this program but mainly because knowing that English was my second language, I know what it must feel like to learn English or another language. Granted I didn’t know Spanish which made me feel self-conscious at first, but after that you quickly adapt to things you do have in common. We taught at a foster home that was all boys aged 8-14 years old. I will never forget their faces and love. I learned that some of them enjoyed drawing so on my last day I came up with a drawing activity for the class. With the help of my fellow volunteers, it was a great success. I even took one of their drawing home with me which I will treasure forever. At the end of the class, we had to say good bye. When my turn came, I got on top of the chair and expressed how grateful I was to have been part of this journey with them. After a short two sentence, I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I burst into tears. The boys rushed to comfort me with hugs and kisses. Here I was thinking I was giving them my time and knowledge when I was the one receiving so much.
Feeding the Homeless Project
I was so grateful to be involved in another program when in fact I wanted to be involved in all of them. We went to a homeless shelter and purchased groceries at a local market, prepped and cooked scrambled eggs for 50 homeless elderly people, some of which were refugees from Venezuela. We served them scrambled eggs, bread with jam, and hot chocolate. The most powerful moment of all was introducing ourselves and hugging each and every one of them. I know I didn’t speak much Spanish but they were so thankful and I could tell how blessed they felt.
The volunteer group got along so well that we ended up hanging out together even after our volunteer time. I had no expectations at all during this journey so I was surprised and grateful for the connections that were made. Bogota (capital of Colombia) is an incredible city and the people I found to be really kind. The program coordinators were so helpful giving us ideas on places to check out. Here are some:
Graffiti Tour – It’s free and lasts about 2 hours. The guide talks about the artist and how the art has influenced the city. Bogota is the 3rd city in the world who has the best graffiti.
Monserrate – This a must see when you go to Bogota. You can get to the top of the mountain by tram or walking up the steps. On the day I went, an event had blocked off the stairs so the tram was the only choice. I costs $21,000 Pesos roundtrip. When you get to the top, there are a few restaurants for you to eat but if you go farther up, there’s a market with lots of artistry and food goods. Definitely explore this area for the food.
La Candelaria – Bogota’s most beautiful and historic district also referred to as the old city. The streets are so incredibly colorful every corner you turn it prettier than the next. Definitely check out Bolivar Square where you’ll see the cathedral built in 1539. Just walk around and I’m sure you’ll fall in love.
Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao - This is one of Bogota’s important food markets and it was a last minute trip but I absolutely loved it. There were produce that I had never seen before so it was really cool to see and I even tasted some on the spot. The vendors were also friendly and made the experience more enjoyable.
I had no expectations going on this adventure and I never in a million years thought it would have such an effect on me. I went in like a zombie and came back full of life with so much love and gratitude. I learned that it doesn’t take much to make people happy….the simple notion of being present - you are there giving your full attention is enough. Thank you IVHQ for truly existing.