By Michael Band, Colombia II-3
I was a Teaching English for Livelihoods Volunteer in La Boquilla, Bolivar from 2011 to 2014. I got the call when I was walking back from an undergraduate class in the spring of 2011. I reached into my pocket, picked up my Blackberry and was ecstatic to hear I had been accepted into the Peace Corps and would be headed to a country in the Middle East after I graduated.
But it turns out that wasn’t the call that changed my life; that call came a week later when the Peace Corps called me back and said they had overlooked a new program in a country that was bringing back Volunteers after a long hiatus. The recruiter asked, “How would you like to be part of the first group of two-year Peace Corps Volunteers to return to a Latin American country after 30 years?” That was the call that changed my life. Peace Corps started its reentry into Colombia in December 2010 with nine Response, or shortterm Volunteers assigned to specific tasks.
It is with our arrival in Barranquilla that the Teaching English for Livelihoods project was born. This project called for PCVs to train, co-plan, and co-teach English at public technical, elementary, middle, and high schools in three departments along the Caribbean coast (Atlantico, Bolivar, and Magdalena). Peace Corps Colombia saw its first cohort of traditional Volunteers join in October 2011. With 22 Volunteers swearing in, this group marked the first cohort since reentry to serve 27 months.
Fast forward to 2015, and Peace Corps Colombia expanded its operations by welcoming its first group of Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteers. Currently, Colombia has 71 Community Economic Development Volunteers, 20 English Education Volunteers, and three Peace Corps leaders working throughout five departments along the Caribbean coast (Guajira, Magdalena, Atlántico, Bolivar, Sucre, and Cesar). And on September 23, 31 Peace Corps trainees arrived in Colombia to begin their threemonth training. After this group swears in, some of them will be selected to live and work in the interior of the country, which will be the first time Colombia PCVs are stationed outside of the Caribbean coast since 1981.
At this very moment there are 94 Peace Corps Volunteers in Colombia utilizing their knowledge, skills, and abilities to work with host country nationals on primary and secondary projects that fulfill their respective community’s needs. With the geographic expansion under way, along with the continuation of successful projects and the creation of new ones, the future of Peace Corps Colombia is just as bright as the sun where many of the Volunteers serve.
This sentiment was reiterated this past July when I had the opportunity to sit down with Matthew Carlson, the current Country Director, and chat about his ambitions for Peace Corps Colombia in the coming years. Matthew foresees the total number of PCVs in Colombia reaching between 150-200 within the next few years, dwarfing the 22 I swore in with. He wants Volunteers to continue to focus on the quality of work they do, Increase their partnerships with traditionally marginalized Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and continue to champion gender and inclusion-based work.
Larger goals also include introducing another sector, such as agriculture, and potentially bringing short-term Response Volunteers to work on projects assisting with the Venezuelan tefugee crisis. I will always be grateful for my time in the Peace Corps and now, as a RPCV and member of FOC, I look forward to providing continued support to nuestra querida Colombia.