Marina Orth Foundation: Education, Leadership and Technology

A volunteer with students at Marina Orth Foundation
A volunteer with students at Marina Orth Foundation
A volunteer with students at Marina Orth Foundation

In the first of our series showcasing the great work NGOs are doing in Medellín, I have a sit down chat with Mala Henriques, a Project Coordinator at the Marina Orth Foundation, who tells us all about their work and how you can support them.

What is the mission of the Foundation?

Our overall mission is to provide an excellent, modern education for students no matter their race, economic status or gender, so that they will be able to complete globally.

We have three pillars that underpin our work: technology, teaching English and leadership.

Why was it started and when was it founded?

Escuela Marina Orth began in the sixties when Peace Corps volunteer Maureen Orth, now known as Marina Orth in Colombia, was asked by the people of the rural community of Aguas Frias, in the Andes Mountains above Medellín, to help them build a school.

In 2004, Dr. Horacio Arango, Secretary of Education of Medellín, asked Ms Orth to help make the school named after her, the first public bilingual school in Medellín.

What problems are you currently trying to solve?

Colombia is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources, yet one of the most unequal in terms distribution of wealth, and has one of the largest internally displaced populations.

These are challenges that Colombia faces on a national level and affect every person living in the country either directly or indirectly. We work mainly with young people who are affected by these problems to help them contribute to their solutions.

Colombia needs good leaders, and to be able to combat issues like corruption and poor governance, we are trying to create a trustworthy generation who will have a real sustainable impact on the future of the country. This is what this foundation tries to encourage and helps produce.

Our education model has been designed to be applied to primary and secondary students in Colombia and elsewhere to prepare them to compete globally and make a positive contribution to the world.

What projects are you currently carrying out and where are they based?

Currently the Foundation has eight main projects. Two of these are consulting roles with Auteco and Manualita who are interested in developing educational tools using XO OLPC (One Laptop per Child) and Classmate laptops as well as regular computers, in a model based on the Foundation’s Step by Step projects.

Kids with laptops at the foundation
Kids with laptops at the foundation

Our main project work is our Step by Step program which is currently running in five schools in Antioquia, three of which are rural.

This program includes the provision of English teachers to run primary school English classes. Where possible, these classes are accompanied by a fluent English speaking volunteer who also runs English based clubs for students and the local community.

We also provide a full time IT teacher and a laptop per child in the entirety of the primary school. Finally we also provide leadership development within the school.

Our other current project is working in conjunction with Secretary of Education of Medellín. As part of their Medellín Multilingue program we provide English classes to Colombian public school teachers.

At the moment we are working with technology and physical education teachers as well as school principals and administrators. This course has the dual objectives of improving the participants’ level of English and increasing their ability to deliver parts of their subjects in English.

What is the impact of the projects and who are the beneficiaries?

The Step by Step program helps the students and staff of the schools and the community as a whole. Children take home laptops which are used as learning tools in their family homes, not just by them, but by the rest of the family.

The ability to use technology is a requirement in one of the needs of the 21st century, having access to a laptop in the family allows always all members to develop these much needed technology skills.

Furthermore, the Foundation encourages significant community involvement in the project, free IT and English classes for community are examples of this.

The teaching teachers’ project with Medellín Multilingue has a significant net impact.

We are currently working with 100 teachers each of whom will have between 100-200 different students. This means that the lessons we are giving benefit the teachers that attend, and all of their students which means we are reaching over 1,000 students.

We go on Monitoring and Evaluation visits to see how the teachers are developing, and this has a significant motivation for both the children and teachers. We also conducted a baseline study so that we can gauge the impact of the program at the end.

How is the NGO funded and what charity status do you have?

We are a non-profit organization incorporated in both the U.S. and Colombia to serve the schools in greatest need in Colombia.

We are predominantly funded through public-private partnerships, but our ideal formula is to have 40% of funding from national, regional or local government, 30% from private funds in country and 30% donated by institutions from U.S. and Europe.

How is the program sustainable?

By training young leaders we are enabling the community to take control of their own future without the need for our continued help.

Also by working in partnership with the public sector we ensure that the Colombian government is taking responsibility for the development of their own departments.

We see our programs as based on the needs of communities, and this is an important point to reinforce.

Marlon Vargos Patino - 9th grader
Marlon Vargos Patino – 9th grader

Marlon Vargas Patino 9th grader, Camino de Paz School:

“I think that the things I am learning with the Marina Orth Foundation will be a great starting point for a great future for me and those around me.

Someday, I want to put a smile on the face of each Colombian kid. I want my name to go down in history as the man who brought peace to the new generations.

I want to have a life that gives hope to people, and I know the best way to achieve is to study and acquire the most knowledge possible.”

How can people get involved?

As well as donating to our work and working in partnership with local, national and international institutions and companies, people who wish to support our work can volunteer.

We are open to accepting volunteers who will contribute positively to our communities. There are no financial expectations from our volunteers other than the costs of their travel, insurance and obtaining a visa.

We accept volunteers based on community needs rather than on volunteer supply. Our program is designed to be sustainable and insures a net positive effect on the communities with whom we work.

We have three different types of volunteers. One is a long term full time role for six months, where volunteers help out teaching in schools and the Medellín Multilingue projects. Volunteers are given a monthly stipend and accommodation and food (three meals a day).

The second is a long term part time role for a minimum of six months, where they are likely to be involved in the running of after school clubs at one of Step by Step schools.

There may also be the opportunity to work on the Medellín Multilingue project. We ask for two full days a week (15 hours per week in total) and they will also receive a stipend.

The third type of volunteer is the short term volunteer. This role is very flexible and is based on the volunteer’s skill set. Each volunteer is invited to visit the Foundation and its institutions and propose a personal project to undertake within the Foundation’s scope.

Examples of short-term volunteer work include facilitating workshops for staff members or students, or giving short-term intensive courses within the Foundation.

What are the requirements for people getting involved?

The following are preferable; experience working with children, teaching experience, English teaching certificates (TOEFL, etc.), knowledge of technology and B1/B2 level of Spanish.

We look for people who are self-motivated, flexible, organized, have the ability to work in a team and independently. Have good communication skills, are a fluent English speaker and open to new cultural experiences and accepting of cultural differences.

We ask for references and offer stringent procedures to ensure they comply with our child protection policies. We are currently formalising volunteer process.

What is the benefit of volunteering and how can you apply?

Barbara Muchisky (USA):

“I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of this wonderful group of volunteer educators…It has been inspiring to see what can happen when people of good will work together.”

You can gain new skills, while using your professional experience to benefit others and enhance your CV. It is also a great way to meet new people and make new friends get to know a new community and give something back.

As a Volunteer you can really help make a positive difference while you gain confidence & self-esteem, feel valued and be part of a team. It is also a unique opportunity to live in a rich, warm Latin American culture!

Please apply through our website:

Or send us an email: or

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Nick is an international development professional from the UK and is currently working for an NGO based in Medellin that supports miners and their communities. As well as covering development issues, he hopes to share his insights into life in Medellin and the daily confusion/excitement that comes with living in the city.