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  • Writer's pictureDomino Volunteers

Q&A with our Co-Founder, Christina Kuntz

Updated: Jul 29, 2018

by Alex Berryhill

This week on our new up and running DV blog, we sat down with our Co-Founder, Christina Kuntz, for a few questions on Domino Volunteers, living in Cartagena, and what volunteering means to her.

A few favorite highlights from our interview with the lovely Christina: learning to cojelo suave in Colombia, a new way to look at development and volunteering, and a long list of all that cartageneros can teach volunteers and visitors.

After serving 28 months in the Peace Corps in Cartagena, Christina traveled for 9 months in Southeast Asia with her Cartagena-local husband, Jota. It was there that the idea for Domino Volunteers and effectively facilitating the connection and collaboration between volunteers, donors and foundations in Cartagena was formed. Here, Christina is pictured with a local foundation she worked with as Project Manager, while further developing the idea for Domino Volunteers. We continue to work alongside this foundation and send volunteers to their youth programs.

DV: Where did the idea for Domino Volunteers come from?

Christina: The idea formed somewhere in Southeast Asia as I traveled around after completing my Peace Corps service in Cartagena. I tried so hard to find volunteer opportunities throughout my travels... It was next to impossible: either I got no response, the places I went had little to nothing for me to do, or I did not feel like the project was transparent and making an impact.

After traveling through Southeast Asia, my husband and I returned to Cartagena and I was hired as Project Manager for a foundation. I realized that I knew many foundations which were legitimate, making an impressive impact, and furthermore had the infrastructure to welcome and support a volunteer; however, despite the fact that Cartagena had so many foreigners wanting to give back and get outside of the touristic city center, there was a lack of volunteers and donors at these foundations. I felt like I was in a unique position where I understood the needs of volunteers, donors, and foundations and became concerned that foreigners in Cartagena faced similar challenges and frustrations to those I had faced in Southeast Asia… What a waste.

So, I spoke with the foundations I knew personally about their needs and created a basic webpage to try find people interested in volunteering or donating to fill those needs. Sure enough there was a demand. Our model since has always been win-win-win: volunteers feel safe, integrated and enjoy their placements (100% report that they would recommend the experience); foundations (most of which are small, grassroots organizations where a little bit of help goes a long way) gain donated time and resources, and those that work for Domino Volunteers, including myself, are able to work with inspiring people and projects.

DV: There’s many different ways to go about volunteering and participating in social service. What’s your vision of volunteering?

Christina: The idea of “saving” someone is very dangerous and creates a hierarchy of cultures that is unjust and destructive. Assumptions and terminology perpetuated by top-down development models create conditions of disempowerment and dependency.

Instead, I believe that progress should focus on quality of life, and development should follow bottom-up models such as the Capabilities Approach. It is important to be conscious of the fact that volunteers and donors tend to be of European descent whereas much of the population in Cartagena is Afro-descendant and an estimated third lives in extreme poverty.

There are many pressing needs of communities in Cartagena that should not be ignored, and volunteers and donors do have skills and resources that can make large positive impacts—but let’s not forget about what volunteers also gain in the process. Music, dance, food, resilience, connection to history, a strong sense of community, and many other aspects of the rich culture in Cartagena are not something to be developed, but instead to be admired. Volunteering, to me, is a cultural exchange where both sides have something to give and learn.

DV: Tell me about your volunteers. Who generally volunteers with you? What’s their typical age? What are their typical motivations or interests?

Christina: We get a little bit of everything; anyone can volunteer. We have had families, retirees, solo travelers, gap year-ers, researchers, large corporate groups, schools, NGO groups, and everything else in between. Most volunteers are between 20-35 years old and come from Europe, but there are also plenty without that profile.

DV: I'm sure you've been impacted by the cultural and lifestyle differences since moving to Cartagena, Colombia 7 years ago. How would you say you've personally grown since arriving to Cartagena?

Christina: I am a lot more patient and have learned to love having no set-schedule. Nothing is ever on time or goes as planned in Cartagena, but somehow it always comes together better than expected. Cojelo suave is a common saying around here which basically means “chill out” or “go with the flow”. Colombia understands that time spent enjoying life with good people is most important.

I also am more conscientious of how small intents and actions can make a big difference, and that I can put any idea into action if I am determined to do so.

Alongside Domino Volunteer's work in connecting volunteers to impactful foundations, Christina also has designed and overseen projects of her own concerning girls' reproductive health education, increasing acceptance rates of students from the lowest socioeconomic strata to public university, and, as pictured above, Christina and her husband Jota currently train youth who lack formal employment and education and live in island communities off the coast of Cartagena to become professional scuba divers and coral reef monitors.

DV: What was your biggest challenge in founding and building up Domino Volunteers?

Christina: Not wanting to answer emails and instead sit in a plaza sipping a cafe tinto, eat a delicious double fried arepa ‘e huevo, go swimming in the Caribbean, attend a concert, go to the newest art exhibition, or anything else constantly going on in Cartagena...

DV: What are you most proud of, when it comes to your work with Domino Volunteers?

Christina: The gratefulness and positive feedback of volunteers, donors and foundations regarding our work.

It is really special to be able to send people, materials and money to where they make a big difference.