This past summer, Children Beyond Our Borders’ Bound for Peace program was prepared for an eventful service trip to Medellin, Colombia. Volunteers were scheduled to stay at a hostel in El Poblado, serve the community with workshops at a weekday residence for girls in Envigado and experience the city while collaborating with our IAMCBOB scholars.
Briana Fletcher, CBOB’s Service Trip Director, joined the team in February of this year and played an instrumental role in planning this trip for Bound for Peace. By March, however, the plans were drastically changed due to COVID-19.
Still determined to make an impact on our communities overseas, Fletcher remained in contact with teachers in Medellin and networked with others in Monteria. After coming in contact with Mrs. Yanilis Romero, an English teacher at Colegio Antonia Santos and professor at Universidad de Cordoba, Fletcher was able to begin coordinating virtual workshops for Colombian students from 1st to 11th grade. Over June, July and August, CBOB was able to serve over 1,060 students through these successful events. We worked with both public and private institutions from K-12 and the University of Cordoba.
The workshops were divided into two components: personal wellness for all grades, then cultural perceptions for older students and a happy place visualization for younger students. Integrated throughout all of these activities is the goal of English comprehension with bilingual educators and volunteers aiding the process.
Johanna Lily Penagos Arrieta, a professor at the University of Cordoba, participated twice in our workshops as a teacher and once as an attendee with her young daughter. She says that the workshops have been culturally enriching activities and that her students are eager to participate in more in the future. By creating a curriculum that teaches English in a conversational format instead of the traditional classroom method, Arrieta explains that students are much more engaged and comfortable with participating.
In the general wellness portions of the workshops, students were encouraged to perform virtual yoga with our volunteers as instructors. Interestingly, the younger children were more competent at mirroring the exercises than their older counterparts were. Arrieta’s daughter, a third-grade student at La Salle, participated in the activity and was able to understand all of the English instructions of the virtual yoga routine. She loved engaging in the workshop’s fun activities and anticipates seeing Briana and the team again in the future.
Younger students participating in the workshop were incredibly willing to learn and stay engaged with the material. When asked to draw their happy place, several students drew sketches of their surroundings — their own homes — which demonstrates how the activity was perfectly suited to learning in an online format. According to Fletcher, children participating in this activity were adaptable, optimistic, resilient and sought to enjoy the activities.
The older students discussed cultural perceptions during their workshop sessions. The goal was to recognize culture through different lenses, such as by values, beliefs, perspectives, religion and upbringing. Students were asked to compare culture in Colombia to that of the United States, and volunteers aimed to tackle stereotypes by seeing culture in a new light. Arrieta explains that her students felt comfortable discussing these ideas among their peers because tolerance and respect were so heavily encouraged by the volunteer staff.
As a result of this program’s success, the CBOB team is working on a new workshop project titled “Crossing Borders Through Conversation,” which will focus on practicing the English language with college-aged students through discussing current social concerns such as politics, sexism and racism. The team expects both new and returning participants from this summer’s workshop and aims to ensure that the content facilitates a fresh, new experience for all. The activities will be planned with teachers in an attempt to support their classes’ curriculums, and upon completion of the workshop, participants will receive a certificate.
CBOB’s mission is to work to eliminate barriers to education and provide a foundation for quality of life improvements for the children we serve. We believe that education is the most powerful tool for children around the globe, and through these workshops, our team strives to empower students by providing them with the tools they need to succeed.
As a result of all of these activities, CBOB has been able to establish a formal partnership with the University of Cordoba in Colombia. In the future, our team hopes to expand the program to more areas and encourage students to participate in multiple sessions so they can become more comfortable and engaged over time.
As of right now, due to COVID-19, the status of next year’s service trip is still pending. However, thanks to our hardworking and dedicated team, we know that we will be able to continue to make a difference virtually if we are not able to travel.