Bogota calling: volunteer Julija shares inspirational moments of her stay in Colombia

How about leaving your home, friends and family and traveling to a faraway country to volunteer for a month? Sounds funny? Well, in reality it takes courage and a great deal of self-confidence. All this Julija proved to have! She is a longtime volunteer in Living Library program. As well, she is a leader of Lithuanian Seed of Change project youth team. These are some of the reasons why we were confident she will do great during her volunteering. For the last month she has been going through a life changing experience in another continent. Julija traveled to Colombia to learn from Escuelas de Paz organization and to share her experience gained in the Institute. Here we present her account of several inspiring moments and surprising achievements from the journey.


Volunteer Julija at Escuelas de Paz with Seed of Change project

So, here it comes, the end of my wonderful volunteering time in Escuelas de Paz. When I look back and remember my first days in Bogota, now I see how I changed and how much I experienced in just one month.



Workshops in primary school

To start with, I gained a great experience while preparing my first workshops for children and teens. I was very proud to be the representative of my country in the Institución Educativa Compartir and Institución Educativa Santa Ana. During the workshop I have presented to the children one of the most famous and important Lithuanian artist and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, his biography, posthumous recognition, most famous symphonic poems and paintings. Kids shared their opinion, what characteristics does a true representative of a country need; afterwards they presented who they would choose to be the representative of Colombia from the fields of arts, politics and science. Later they tried to imitate M. K. Ciurlionis paintings with various materials and I was pleasantly surprised how creative they were using and combining paint, fibers, pencils and colorful magazines. What is more, before the activities I thought that I will be very exhausted after more than two hours with 40 children, but I felt very happy and positive.






Activities with teenagers

During my workshops with teenagers I was a little bit worried, because of their rebellious age. However, I was surprised again, because they willingly took part in ‘’Odd One Out’’ activity about different groups in our society, inclusion and importance of support and understanding. After this activity we had another one where they had to work in teams. The goal of this game was to explore our stereotypes and prejudices about other people, to work with the images we have of minority groups and to provoke critical point of view about what we hear in mass media about minorities.

After all the workshops with the groups and constant translation from English to Spanish, it was a pleasure for me to speak a little bit in Lithuanian language, so that the kids get to know a little bit of our language. And the biggest reward was to get gratitude and positive evaluation from the participants.

While working in schools, I was rather disappointed that some English teachers were not very good in English; the language level of the children and teens was too low to take part even in the simplest discussion. So, I was very glad that Lynda Castillo, youth educator and trainee from Escuelas de Paz, was always with me as a translator and colleague. It was also very nice that Daniel Sanabria, Jefersson Restrepo and Angelo Cardona, participants from Seeds of Change project, joined and assisted during my workshops in their schools.






Day in Angelo’s organization

Following Angelo Cardona’s wish, it was a pleasure to make two more workshops in Instituto Británico for English language students and in Fundacion CDI Herederos for the children in the community. In Instituto Británico we had an activity during which I gave a list of various specific passengers, representing a lifestyle, specific ethnic or cultural background, or life situation (internally displaced person, a person with tattoos, gay couple, mother with little children, etc.). Students had to imagine that they will have a one week trip by train and they have the opportunity to choose where company. Three people they would/wouldn\’t like to travel with. Later they had to discuss in groups and make one list and then to share their selection and explain it. It was very interesting that all students had different opinions, discussed and were open to opposite points of view. After this workshop we saw that sometimes we do not want to have any contact with other people, just because we do not know anything about them or we had never met them before. For example, no one wanted to travel with an anarchist, just because they thought that it is a synonym of a terrorist and a criminal. So this activity proved once again the need to start a dialog between the vulnerable groups and minorities and the society, to break myths and prejudice.


Human library trainings

I am very glad that Escuelas de Paz are preparing to join a worldwide project called Human Library, and that Catalina Avila and me were responsible to make the trainings for the employees and volunteers of the foundation. During the trainings I shared my personal experience and ideas which I gained from participating in the Living Library program in National Institute for Social Integration. The method of reading a living book allows people to meet each other, to familiarize themselves with some of the most vulnerable groups in the society, break their prejudice and stereotypes. It was great to work with Catalina, because she knew specific minority groups in Colombia, which suffer from discrimination, intolerance and isolation from the majority. This information also gave me a new understanding about the country.


Picnic with the participants of Seed of Change project

I spend few nice non-official hours with Seed of Change participants in a park of Soacha, where we got to know each other better, played some games and just enjoyed our afternoon. I was very pleased to receive a gift from Natalia Arias Rojas and all of the participants – a calendar, agenda book and two bracelets with Comuna 1 logo. It was a very warm and kind gift.



Unexpected inspiration

Unfortunately, I had not enough time to meet youth initiatives from Soacha and make a special workshop for them about creating and realizing their ideas. However, this idea inspired me to create my personal project about special network that could connect youth leaders from all around the world who would like to implement projects that would improve their region and community in cultural, educational and social aspects. I really hope to make it come true!


Life without Spanish language

One more thing I regret is that I do not speak Spanish language at least on a primary level; I always needed a translator to communicate with others. It was a little bit sad when I could not join the discussion or take part in others’ workshops, activities or conversations. However, people tried to let me know at least the main idea or topic of their conversation; it was very nice from their side. But this awkwardness inspired me to learn Spanish as fast as possible and next time to be full-fledged participant and interlocutor!


Conclusions and evaluation

Finally, even if it is my first time in South America and I spent in Colombia just one month, I gained much more than I could imagine before coming here. I feel very grateful for Escuelas de Paz foundation for accepting me as a part of their team, giving me challenging tasks, helping me in all ways possible, supporting me and sharing new ideas which I will hope to realize with National Institute for Social Integration in Lithuania. I also hope that our friendship will not end just with Seed of Change project and we will continue our collaboration on other great projects in the future.



Moreover, my time in Bogota was so great because I had the opportunity to stay for one week with Amada Benavides at her family’s home and for three weeks with German Paez at his mother’s apartment. In both families I was feeling very welcome, they gave me opportunities to go out in Bogota, to see nice places, like Sopo, la Calera, Alpina,Choachi, Suesca, Monserrate, amazing nature; I will always remember them and feel very grateful for this kindness.

To sum things up, during my volunteering in Colombia I have gained such a unique experience, which I think I could never get in Europe. It was an honor to work with Escuelas de Paz, meet Seed of Change participants from Soacha and do my first workshops. In this short but fruitful month I learned to be more flexible, calm and creative in unexpected situations, not to dismiss people, be more open and tolerant, enjoy and assess what I have now. In Colombia I met so many different and wonderful people who inspired me to start new things in my life, gave me nice ideas and new understanding about various things and personal virtues.



Volunteering in unknown and different part of the world was one of the greatest experiences ever. I will keep all the memories from Colombia safe in my heart, mind and soul.









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Projektą „Pokyčio daigai“ Lietuvoje įgyvendina Nacionalinis socialinės integracijos institutas ( Šis projektas yra dalinai finansuojamas Europos Komisijos. Šis pranešimas atspindi tik autoriaus požiūrį, todėl Komisija negali būti laikoma atsakinga už bet kokį jame pateikiamos informacijos naudojimą.