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The voice of volunteerism in Colombia

March 13, 2009




“I have learned that the only time that one man can look down upon another is while he is helping him up.”

“Experience has taught me that working with others and for others is essential, transcendent and necessary. It is to change another person’s reality through a specific action. A part of volunteerism that I love is the willingness to collaborate. It’s satisfying to see the product of my actions, and the delight of the people who are going to enjoy its results, however small or large.”
-Arturo Hernández, coordinator of CAS “Creativity, Action and Service” at the Anglo-Colombian School in Bogotá.

Where the law promotes giving back
In Colombia, the concept of volunteerism is protected by law. These laws serve to “promote, recognize and facilitate volunteerism as an expression of citizen participation, and an exercise of solidarity, social responsibility, and volunteer management in public and private entities.” This law also applies to Colombian organizations- those which send volunteers abroad and those that mobilize volunteers locally.

“I love the volunteer experience because I am giving what I can to other people. I think often in schools there isn’t an opportunity to volunteer. Maybe as a professor, but to do this type of activity is unique but at the same time very familiar. For me it is something in my blood, I feel like helping others however I can… Every bit helps.”
-Jhon Wells, teacher at the Anglo-Colombian School in Bogotá.




One force with many talents

Colombia has an average of 300 volunteers per year. Among them are professionals, high school and university students, foreigners and local businesses on construction brigades training (Financial Literacy and Healthy Housing), and volunteer advisers providing administrative support to the Habitat Board.

In three years, Habitat Colombia has trained approximately 1,000 families in Financial Literacy (Citi corporate and local volunteers) and Healthy Housing (local volunteers) in the different regions where Habitat is present.

“Before volunteering for Habitat Colombia, I was focusing on increasing school knowledge of the organization. Today I am the president of the Board, and I am very pleased to be on this team. We are structured as an organization that assists people in need of decent housing and we create effective strategies with other organizations to fulfill our mission as a leading organization in the social housing sector, serving families that are most vulnerable.”
-James Vásquez Lerma




“I am encouraged to know that the building is almost ready and I’ll continue to help. I think it’s a very cool experience; it’s amazing that we can see the evolution of this project and see the results of the few hours of work we put in on the weekends.

We also meet children that make you laugh and they tell you stories. It’s an experience that you wouldn’t get where you live. I think it is beautiful that while we rest they bring us a bottle of water, potatoes, and then they stay with us until we leave.

If people knew the progress made in the few hours we volunteer, I think there would be more people interested and committed to such projects “
-Carmen Andrea Gálvez, student at the Anglo-Colombian School in Bogotá, grade 11.

By Teresa Machado, community and Volunteer mobilization coordinator for Habitat Colombia, and Paola Mora, National Communications Coordinator.

Pictures courtesy of Habitat Colombia
Canadian volunteer Brian Asher
Volunteers from the Anglo-Colombian School
Volunteers at the Anglo-Colombian School