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  • Writer's pictureDomino Volunteers

It's Colombia, not Columbia

By Alicia Buckles, who volunteered at our English Education program with her partner, Dennis, during their travels around the world. This blog post was originally published on their website,

We just wrapped up 2 weeks in Cartagena, Colombia.  We were fortunate enough to do so much!  The first week we explored.  We went scuba diving, "swam" in the mud of a volcano, walked through the pink sea, went on an evening cruise in the harbor, swam in the ocean just steps from our apartment and spent a couple days in the Rosario Islands enjoying the turquoise waters.

Pro Tip:  For everyone with long hair this is for you!  I kept getting my hair caught in my mask.  The rubber strap was becoming my enemy. I needed a fix so my hair would get caught and break each time I took off my mask.  Dennis had a couple of Under Armor sweat/headbands.  Basically a 3 inch piece of cloth connected in a circle.  I put this on before the mask and it is perfect!  No more caught hair, no more side bangs, no more pain.

After diving, the next day we did MUD.  There is really no way to describe this other than mud.  You climb up a little mountain, get in a soupy mud pool that is impossible to move and thank goodness you float because the pool in 10,000 feet deep and then walk down to the river where local ladies wash you off.  You continue to find mud in places days after!  

Pro Tip: Don't wear anything light color.  Unfortunately, my top will never be the same.  Also, we booked a tour that started with the mud volcano and then to the pink sea.  If possible, do this in reverse and save yourself from feeling dirty all day long.

On this day we also walked through and saw the largest pink sea in the world.  You can't swim in it and you wouldn't want to.  Normal salt levels in the ocean is 3% and here it was 28%.  Needless to say our feet started to dry out and itch shortly after we walked through it. 

You can spend so much time just wandering inside what they call the "walled city"  It was so colorful and full of history!

Last week was pretty special! We were able to get connected to a great organization in Cartagena called Domino Volunteers that places people that want to help with various organizations throughout the area.  They matched us with an organization that provides English classes to children and adults in neighboring towns to Cartagena.  We were volunteering to help with some English classes, but what really happened was all the things we learned. 

We traveled and got to see the real Cartagena outside of the tourist walled city, including riding a local bus to the community.  We met amazing local volunteers that teach the classes throughout the week and then the students! The students both young and old were so grateful, interested and engaged in taking community English classes.  Not as part of a school requirement, not because their family told them to, but because they see learning English as a way to make them, their family, their communities stronger and afford everyone more opportunities.

After traveling for five months where everyone is always new and as soon as you meet them you leave again, it was awesome to have kids remember you when you get off at the bus stop to head to the community learning center or other volunteers depending on you to show up.  A few people really left lasting impressions on me for different reasons.  

This little girl with the prettiest blue eyes is a bright little star that lights up everywhere she goes.  She always had a smile, she always was sharing or helping someone out and she loved to play hide-n-seek with Dennis.  She is going to do amazing things!

This young man's name is Joel. While only 19 has the wisdom of someone far older than him or me!  It took me a couple of days to start to understand how amazing Joel is.  He was at the community learning center everyday to unlock, set up and help with anything that anyone needs to get classes started.  He is then there during the classes not as a student but when needed helps others with English comprehension. Our last day volunteering was on Saturday where a large group assemble in another town over to provide breakfast and different level English classes.  Joel was teaching the highest level class!  The youngest volunteer, the only volunteer from the community and teaching the oldest students.  

Dennis was video taping some Q&As and Joel was asked on this last day why he volunteers.  What he said couldn't have been said any better. Joel explained that he wants better for his community, for the children to have a better outcome than drugs and violence and to give more opportunities for the children here to have a job that can take care of family members.  So basically he had already won the MVP award in my eyes and then as Dennis and I are about to leave on our last day...he asked us what our plans where for the following day.  He offered to take us on a mangrove tour with him as a token of appreciation.  Wow!  I can't wait to hear about what Joel is doing in a few years and beyond.  The whole world needs more Joels!

Thanks for reading and I hope you smile like no one is watching everyday!

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