Giving a little back can go a long way. While Medellín is a city that boasts great weather, happy people and plenty of adventures, it’s not without its struggles. Homelessness, street violence, drug use and inadequate education are some of the very real social issues faced in Medellín. All around the city, there are options to help build and support communities, as well as escape the expat bubble and work with locals to improve living conditions and access to new opportunities.
As one of the friendliest cities in Colombia, volunteering in Medellín not only makes a real difference, it can also be extremely fun. Here are some of the best organizations to get involved with:
Operating since March 2006, Angeles de Medellín primarily looks after poor and displaced families in Medellín. With a center in Regalo de Dios, the foundation offers a safe environment for local children and adults alike to learn English and to use computers, as well as play sports. Angeles de Medellín additionally organizes community events and provides free equipment for school and clothing. Volunteer opportunities at the center range from teaching English and valuable skills to assisting with logistics and simply devoting time to the visitors.
A non-profit organization, e-Nable provides free, personalized 3-D prosthetic limbs to people across Medellín. The company began in 2017 and aims to remedy the devastating cost of landmines laid during Colombia’s civil war. More than 3,600 people underwent amputations due to the conflict, including 26% of ex-fighters. e-Nable works with doctors, engineers and volunteers to produce effective prosthetics for people within just two weeks, as well making custom designs for children – like Disney or soccer prints – to boost their confidence. Volunteers with e-Nable can help by fundraising for donations, marketing, assisting with rehabilitation, and conducting research. They are also open to offers to help in other ways.
Proyecto Florecer helps Colombian women navigate the difficult path between adolescence and womanhood, empowering them along the way. The team runs workshops dedicated to promoting female personal and professional development, focusing on education, design, and community. Volunteers can support by organizing and hosting workshops, as well as fundraising and mentoring. In the coronavirus crisis, they additionally need assistance providing food and hygiene products for single mothers and their families.
Working with a three-part structure – English, technology and leadership – Fundación Marian Orth seeks to deliver quality education to communities in Medellín. The range of programs available at the foundation aim to achieve Colombia’s goal of being a bilingual country, improve peoples’ digital capabilities and help children become global citizens. Foreign volunteers must commit to a minimum of six months and a maximum of 12 months, in which they plan classes, organize extracurricular events, teach English to both students and staff and integrate American culture in the classroom.
An excellent way to contribute to Medellín causes and meet fellow travelers, Nomads Giving Back rallies expats from around the world to join in activities that promote wellbeing and education in Colombia (as well as a sponsored project in Brazil). Past events have included playing football with children in Communa 13, Colombian dance classes and an ethical coffee workshop. The movement is also currently designing a ‘Digital Skills Program’ to aid students adapting to the new online economy.
Volunteers are encouraged to get involved however possible: donate money or time, identify vulnerable communities, maintain partnerships, attend events and so on. The initiative has regular meet ups that can be both action-oriented and for more casual socializing.
MasterPeace works with tens of thousands of activists across the globe to transform cultures of violence into cultures of peace. The non-governmental organization (NGO) arranges events, campaigns and training programs to promote the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN. Volunteers can join the MasterPeace network and use their talents and skills to foster unity throughout Medellín and Colombia as a whole. Previous workshops with the NGO have seen social leaders give talks about peace, as well film viewings and a social entrepreneur boot camp.
According to the 2016 GINI index, Latin America is the most unequal region in the world, with around 104 million people living in poverty. Seeking to build a fairer, equal society, TECHO originated in Chile when a group of young people began constructing emergency housing for families living in poor conditions. The initiative eventually grew throughout Latin America and today, operates in 564 settlements, including in Medellín.
Volunteers with TECHO develop projects and activities with local inhabitants to improve and construct housing, plan conferences, campaign at universities and colleges, as well as fundraise. TECHO equally offers training about poverty and human rights, citizen participation and leadership.
Focusing on ‘art, education and free expression’, PULSO is a volunteer-run collective that aims to make social impact through artistic means. They host a variety of workshops, ranging from teaching English to dancing, singing, writing and drawing. Volunteers with PULSO can set up their own sessions to teach what they’re passionate about or assist with other workshops and general logistics. PULSO operates in both Mexico and Colombia, based in Medellín (Communa 1) and Santa Elena.
A non-profit organization run by young professionals and students from local universities, Fundación Poder Joven strives to help underprivileged children in Medellín with better life opportunities. Targeting areas of the city that have been afflicted by armed conflict and drug use, the foundation supplies education and social services to prevent children becoming involved in illegal groups and to ensure they have the knowledge and tools to succeed in life. They also provide yoga and meditation classes to nurture children’s spirituality. Anyone over the age of 18 is welcome to volunteer with the organization, however, the minimum requirement is a one-month commitment. Volunteers primarily help with reading and writing activities, workshops (on topics like art and self-esteem), in addition to field trips.
Run mostly by volunteers, The Bogotá Post reports news about Colombia in English and is an extremely useful resource for expats looking to learn about the country’s political and social status. The newspaper is available in both print and online, and accepts pitches for articles across a variety of topics. Contributors can write reviews, opinion pieces and in-depth articles, or alternatively offer editorial and research services. This opportunity is particularly great for giving something back and building your resume.
Expovoluntariado is an event in Medellín which brings together volunteer organizations and projects in the social sector to network, share ideas and work towards transforming the city, alongside volunteers willing to donate their time. 2019’s event took place in Plaza Mayor on March 1st – 2nd and featured over 150 organizations and 30 speakers. Details of 2010’s meeting are yet to be announced but budding volunteers can download the app to view a full list of foundations and NGOs operating in the area, as well as collaborate on similar visions.
Have you volunteered in Medellín? Let us know about your experience in the comments. Alternatively, if you’re planning on coming to Medellín to volunteer, read the lowdown on how to get a volunteer visa.