My first trip to South America was in the Summer of 2011. I was living and working in Gainesville, Florida as a new teacher. One of my fantastic co-workers, who happened to be Colombian, told me about an organization that she was involved in called Children Beyond Our Borders aka CBOB. I honestly admit that at the time, I didn’t know very much about Colombia, besides the stereotypes that it was a country that produced only two things: drugs and reallly good coffee. She told me a lot about the war in Colombia between the Government and the FARC. Because of this conflict, Colombia had a huge number of IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons), and sadly many of them were children. I asked what her organization does to help, and that is when I found out about the Service Trips program, now known as “Bound for Peace.” They take a group of people, usually students, over to an effected area of Colombia in order to provide eduacational workshops to the displaced children. They also would take suitcases full of school supplies. I felt that this was something I could do, so I decided to sign up. Honestly, I thought it would just be a fun way to travel to a new place and help others at the same time. I got much more than that. It was two of the most emotional weeks of my life. I learned a lot about my own humanity, as well as how to be more appreciative of the life I have.
A few months later, with tickets purchased, bags packed and my new passport, I was off.
I wasa traveling with a group of strangers, to a new contintent, for two weeks.I was very excited. We flew in to the capital city, Bogota, which also happens to be the largest city in Colombia. We were supposed to meet with a driver that had been arragned by our Team Leader, who had grown up in Cali. Normally, this service trip would be either in Cartagena or Medellin, but we were the first group in the Organization’s history to do the trip in Cali. We waited for a long while, but could not find the driver, who was supposed to be holding a sign that we would recognize. It was cold and getting late, and we were starting to get worried. We went back into the airport to find someone who spoke English. There would be a mix of English and Spanish speakers on the trip, and unfortuantely, the three other girls I traveled with were not Fluent in Spanish. We all had our basic grade school Spanish, but that was about it. I don’t remember how, but we arranged for a new driver to take us to what I assume was the hotel we were supposed to be staying at. We were pretty nervous because it seemed like a very sketchy part of town but we made it there. The hotel was amazing. It was to be a little bit of luxury before the real work began. We got pretty silly in the hotel taking a bunch of pictures!
The next morning we were to take a short flight to Cali, our final destination. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we arrived. We would be staying with about 10 people total in a small 3 bedroom aparment. Sharing rooms, and with only one shower. I got a small mattress on the floor. I didn’t care though, I could only imagine the living conditions of the displaced children and was thankful that I had a bed to sleep on. The View of the room was nothing special, but I was still super excited for the opportunity of being in Colombia.