Colombia I, the first groups of volunteers to enter Colombia, reported to training on June 25, 1961. They arrived in Colombia on September 18, 1961 and were the second group of volunteers to arrive overseas. The first Peace Corps Colombia Director was Christopher Sheldon. The movie “White Squall” was about his adventures with his life long passion with sailing ships.
Many of the first groups to enter Colombia were in community development, Accion Comunal. They helped organize rural communities to build/improve roads and schools, educate people about new methods and ideas to improve their lives, and-- most importantly-- give them the confidence that they can, by their actions, improve their lives.
Subsequent groups-- and there were many-- were in sports, university teaching, cooperatives, health and nutrition, architecture, educational television, literacy, agricultural development and diversification, and small business development.
Volunteers often came to Bogotá for meetings or R and R. They often stayed at a local pension called the Residencies Montreal (also known as “the pit”) and ate hamburgers and ice cream at the Crème Helado (ice cream).
During the 1960’s the average number of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV's) in Colombia was about 1,200 at any one time. Sadly 20 years later, in 1981, the program closed. A total of 5,289 volunteers served in Colombia from 1961-1981.
Friends of Colombia was instrumental in Peace Corps returning to Colombia after an absence of 29 years. The combination of the support of members of Friends of Colombia with the desire for Peace Corps in Colombia on the part of Ambassador Carolina Barco and the request by President Uribe, Peace Corps returned to Colombia in 2010.
Peace Corps started its reentry in Colombia in December 2010. Welcoming nine Response Volunteers (former PCVs from different countries) in Barranquilla, it is with their arrival that the Teaching English for Livelihoods (TEL) project was born. In order to honor the first generation of PCVs’ work in Colombia, those who served between 1961 and 1981, this new group was called CII-1. They were joined in January 2011 by the CII-2 cohort, partnering 14 Peace Corps Response Volunteers with an equal number of schools.
Peace Corps Colombia saw its first cohort of traditional Peace Corps Volunteers, CII-3, join in October 2011. With 22 Volunteers swearing in, this group marked the first cohort since reentry to serve 27 months. As the TEL project was piloting a first Project Framework draft, the insights gained from this cohort were invaluable. It was a particularly exciting time, in which the training staff facilitated its first 11-week Pre-Service Training, and the first Host Family meetings were held.
Fast forward to 2015, and Peace Corps Colombia expanded its operations by welcoming its first group of Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteers. Currently, Peace Corps Colombia has 84 TEL and CED Volunteers working in five departments (Guajira, Magdalena, Atlantico, Bolivar, Sucre, and Cesar). More recently, Peace Corps Colombia staff announced further expansion plans. This expansion pilot program aims to place 90 PCVs within the Department of Boyacá by 2021, with the first volunteers placed there in 2020.Update: Peace Corps suspended all volunteer activities in March of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Volunteers are expected to return sometime in 2021.