As Medellin, Colombia continues to grow in popularity with tourists, so does the disparity between the rich and poor. Instead of being a tourist, I wanted to travel with purpose and give back to this beautiful city so many people love. I spent over 2 months volunteering, living like a local and getting to know the friendly Colombian people. Here is how to volunteer in Medellin, Colombia with a great local foundation.
Why Volunteer In Medellin, Colombia?
Medellin, Colombia has a brutal past and it has taken its toll on many of the locals. While the days of Pablo Escobar are long gone, the illicit drug trade has left it’s mark on this city for decades to come. According to Reuters, an estimated 37% of the Colombian population live below the poverty line. In 2020, over 23 million Colombians lived on less than $91 USD per month. In addition, an estimated 1.5 million Venezuelan refugees are living in extreme poverty in Colombia.
Many families struggle to put food on the table and live in deplorable conditions sometimes packing up to 10 people in one room. These families are living in tight quarters and will share one bathroom with up to 50 people in illegal dwellings (Inquilinatos) in Medellin’s city center. This leads to rampant sexual abuse and disease. Many parents are unable to feed their children and barely scrape enough money together to put a roof over their heads each night.
The children lack basic education, social skills and health care that is desperately needed.
The Best Local Foundation In Medellin, Colombia To Volunteer With
I spent months researching foundations and watching their actions and posts on social media before making a decision on who to contact and get involved with. For one week I worked with several foundations in Medellin before making my final decision. I finally came to a decision that I would give a majority of my time to Sueños y Huellas (Dreams & Footprints of tomorrow.) The non-profit organization has multiple programs with deep roots in the community. The founder Lorena is a woman who grew up in poverty in Medellin, Colombia and has the respect of both locals and the community.
How Does The Foundation Help In Medellin, Colombia?
Sueños y Huellas foundation has various programs to help families living in extreme poverty and the cities most vulnerable youth. The foundation has a house in Prado, Medellin where children receive before and after school education, lunch and social skills. The children learn about their future options, sexual abuse prevention and even basic hygiene.
Another program is working with the teen girls who either live in extreme poverty or have been sexually exploited by gangs/tourists or abused by family members. These girls are taught self worth and healing through counseling, group activities and a safe environment to be with other women going through the same battles. The teen girls also learn new skills including macramé and designing custom hand-made jewelry. This gives them job opportunities that are away from the dangerous streets of Medellin.
The foundation also offers a program working with the Emberá tribe people who have been displaced by paramilitary groups in Colombia. These families end up in Medellin, Colombia with no skills, do not speak Spanish or English and usually live in extreme poverty. They face extreme prejudice in the community and have little hope for the future.
Sueños y Huellas also provides other social programs and activities for the cities large homeless population including food distribution, drug recovery options, counseling and mentoring.
How To Volunteer With The Foundation In Medellin Colombia
The Sueños y Huellas foundation launched a program called the Transformation Project in 2022. This is an opportunity for those who want to volunteer in Medellin and live like a local. Work has just been completed on the new volunteer house where volunteers will live under one roof and give their time to help the most vulnerable in Medellin Colombia. The non-profit project is designed to give volunteers an immersive Colombian experience while volunteering your time to help children, teens and families all living in poverty.
2023 Update: Since the Transformation Project launched, dozens of volunteers have now gone through the program and have emailed us letting know their experiences have been life changing. From young backpackers to retirees, the program has been a huge success and more locals are forever grateful to the volunteers who have given their time.
Three Different Volunteer In Medellin, Colombia Programs To Choose From
Volunteers can choose from three different volunteer programs with the foundation in Medellin, Colombia. The difference between the programs in the length of time you are committing to helping. Volunteers can choose from two weeks, one month and three months. All three give people a great opportunity to live like a local and help transform lives. I did the one month program helping the foundation in Medellin, Colombia and it forever changed my life. The people I met, the stories I heard and the lives I was able to impact made me forever grateful to have had the opportunity with the Sueños y Huellas foundation.
The only costs associated with volunteering are food and accommodations. All money goes to helping the foundation run the volunteer house and program.
The two week volunteer experience starts at $500, 1 month starts at $1000 and a 3 month plan starts at $3000. This covers your accommodations and three meals a day Monday to Friday.
Accommodations in the volunteer house range from shared rooms to private rooms with bathroom ensuite or even a private balcony. The house includes common dining areas, patio area, full kitchen, and 4 separate bathrooms with showers. The renovated volunteer house is cozy, trendy, comfortable and of course offers high speed internet.
Spanish Is Not Required
Volunteers do not need to speak Spanish and will actually have the opportunity to take Spanish lessons while volunteering. At first I was nervous that I didn’t speak the language but quickly felt comfortable knowing multiple employees at the foundation speak English including the Program Director.
Volunteer In Medellin With The Transformation Project
Over the course of the Transformation Project, volunteers will have the chance to impact countless lives while giving back to the Medellin community. My life was forever changed and I will never forget the children, families and volunteers I met along the way. Thank you to Lorena (founder of Sueños y Huellas) and Oscar (Program Director)!
To join the Transformation Project as a volunteer in Medellin, Colombia please contact Oscar on Whatsapp at: +57 305 297 0015
For more details see: Transformation Project Website