Latin America and Caribbean Featured Program: Colombia
Colombia is about the size of California and Texas combined and is situated in the northwest corner of South America. It is bordered on the northwest by Panama, on the east by Venezuela and Brazil and on the southwest by Peru and Ecuador.
Divided by three branches of the Andes Mountains, Colombia has low coastal plains on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean; cool mountain plateaus, valleys and active volcanoes in the central Region Andina; and an eastern region with plains in the north and tropical jungle in the south. The country also includes several islands. With such diversity in temperature, altitude and rainfall, Colombia produces an incredible variety and abundance of vegetation and animal life.
Colombia’s population of about 44.2 million is growing at 1.2 percent annually. Most Colombians are of Mestizo, or mixed, ethnicity. Approximately 20 percent of inhabitants claim European descent. About 1 percent of the population is native Indians who reside in the eastern jungles. Approximately 75 percent of the population lives in urban areas.
The official language of the country is Spanish, but most indigenous ethnic groups have their own languages. Creole is spoken by many people in the San Andres and Providencia islands.
Inadequate housing, overcrowding and insufficient utilities such as water and sanitation are all contributors to the housing problem in Colombia. More than 11.5 million homes in Colombia do not meet the basic necessities of the families that live in them. More than 40 percent of that figure represents inadequate housing and overcrowding, while another 20 percent demonstrates problems with public utilities. Likewise, 9.8 percent of the families suffering from poverty find themselves in this situation due to inadequate housing, and 10.6 percent due to inadequate utilities.
The rural housing deficit has increased in recent years, due to a lack of new programs. Colombia’s qualitative housing deficit (that is, houses that exist but are inadequate in their conditions) is currently in the vicinity of 900,000 units, out of which 200,000 are located in rural zones. That deficit has increased in the last five years, since the financing of possible solutions has become so difficult through typical lending institutions.
The housing shortage in Colombia prevents adequate sanitary conditions for many low-income families, so they erect “cambuches,” or tin huts, without public services. This promotes disease, such as dengue, which arises from stagnant water due to a lack of sewers. Inadequate housing also affects children’s education; many cannot go to school because they lack a home that provides them with the stability required to enter an educational center. In addition, many school-age children are forced to work, in order to contribute something to the family’s income.
Habitat for Humanity was established in Colombia in 1994, when a teacher from a rural school in Quimbaya, Quindío, became aware of the organization through a magazine article. Three years later, the construction of the first 28 houses began in the Los Cerezos de Quimbaya neighborhood.
Habitat Colombia is governed by a national board of directors, and has six branches: Eje Cafetero, Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, the north of Cauca and Cundinamarca and Costa Atlantica.
Along the Atlantic Coast, Cartagena is recognized as a historic and cultural patrimony of the humanity by UNESCO, due to the beauty of its colonial landscape including the walls surrounding the city, San Felipe de Baraja’s castle – built by the Spanish colony in 1600 in order to protect the city from the pirates. There are also several ancient abbeys and many wonderful beaches, hotels, museums, jewelries, handicrafts stores, restaurants, discotheques and many other places to visit.
On the other hand, an important part of the Cartagena population lives in extreme poverty. They lack of a worthy income and, frequently, they have no access to good education or social security services. Many of the people have come from rural areas and they cannot afford to pay a house of their own, even when they live with two, three or more families together.
For more information on Habitat Colombia, visit the country profile page.
Types of construction for volunteers
Teams to Colombia GV sites are small groups to work at multiple construction sites. Volunteers complete improvements, finish new construction, and do repairs and expansions. International volunteers may work in all stages of construction, from digging the foundation to painting the houses. Regardless of what stage the house is in when the team arrives, responsibilities will likely include carrying bricks, mixing cement, compacting dirt and moving materials.
There will be designated resting zones with drinkable water and latrines with water and soap on work sites. The team will be supervised by technical advisors and construction experts who will provide construction goals every day.
Greater Cartagena: Habitat Colombia is working on a project for home improvements (construction of bathrooms, kitchens and platforms) in a town called Ararka. Ararka is located in Isla Baru, about 45 minutes from Cartagena. The project is undertaken with the Cartagena mayor’s office and two additional organizations.
Habitat Colombia has different projects around the country, and other host GV locations will be announced in the future.
Cartagena: Volunteers should arrive at Cartagena Airport.
Habitat Colombia will provide lodging, while taking group size and proximity to the worksite into consideration. Teams usually stay in hotels or retreat centers, which are basic, safe and clean. We place 2-4 people per room, sometimes in a dorm-style accommodation. If a team member needs a private room, there may be an additional charge per day. Please inform the GV coordinator in advance if this is needed for a team member.
Transport to and from the airport and daily transportation to and from the work site will be on a private bus. In some cases, the hotel is near enough to walk to the site.
If your team is having difficulties communicating, we will try to find a local volunteer to accompany your team on the days the GV coordinator cannot be with you. Depending on the situation, your team may be responsible for providing the translator with meals and lodging during their stay.
Food and water
Breakfast: Typically served in the hotel or a local restaurant.
Lunch: Typically served in the hotel or a nearby local restaurant.
Dinner: Typically served in the hotel or a local restaurant.
Typical foods include: Monte de Queso (a creamy cheese soup), Suero Costeño (a dipping sauce), fresh fish, beef and yucca. If anyone has special dietary needs, please inform us ahead of time. Please remember that vegetarianism is not the norm in Colombia. Simple requests for dishes without meat will be honored, but we cannot promise any specialty vegetarian items.
Snacks and water: Drinking water and fresh fruit will be provided in the morning and afternoon on the worksite for a quick energy boost.
Hosting structure and services
Habitat staff in Colombia can be contacted by phone, through Skype or email, and in most cases are able to answer correspondence within 48 hours. A Habitat Colombia staff representative will accompany the team for at least 50 percent of the team’s stay. Technical advisors and construction experts will always be with the team on the worksites.
Teams will be greeted at the airport by Habitat Colombia staff and will have transportation arranged from the airport to the build location. The national office arranges a welcome activity that involves the community and partner families, and will help volunteers learn about the traditions and customs of Colombia.
Day 1 (Saturday): Arrival day.
Day 2 (Sunday): Welcome ceremony with Habitat Colombia staff.
Days 3–7 (Monday–Friday): Typical workdays with time for cultural activities in the evenings.
Day 8 (Saturday): Free time.
Day 9 (Sunday): Depart for home.
Starting at US$2,000
View the standard budget.
Mid-January to mid-December (year-round).
Volunteer Engagement specialist
If you have read the FAQs and have further questions before you submit a Global Village trip proposal, please contact the Latin America and Caribbean Volunteer Engagement Specialist.
Please note: proposals for LAC trips should be submitted no less than six and no more than nine months prior to departure. This timeline ensures our team can best support you in the Global Village trip planning process.