Tuesday evening, January 8th, found some 2013 Colombia volunteers cranky about the next day. They were expected to get dressed up and board a bus before 7 am to travel into the Historical Center in Bogota, all for a routine Presidential Palace tour and an afternoon of free time. Field Director Kim’s insistence that they rise and shine polished and presentable seemed to be falling on deaf ears until her announcement that – drumroll please – they would be meeting The President, Juan Manuel Santos. A unanimous, excited gasp was followed by animated chatter and a complete change in the outlook for the next day, and possibly the entire year.
The President of the Republic of Colombia wanted to meet 43 foreign volunteer English teachers. Suddenly, the experience became more than a year of volunteering abroad – it was truly part of a collective move to help fulfill a country’s specific needs and bilingual goals.
The WorldTeach program has been recognized and lauded by the Colombian Minister of Education as well as several presidential advisors since its initiation in 2009. Upon describing the program to President Santos, he was immediately intrigued and supportive. Through WorldTeach Colombia’s partner organization, Volunteers Colombia, a private meeting was arranged in the Casa de Nariño for 43 awestruck English speakers.
President Santos cordially greeted the group and received a warm introduction from Volunteers Colombia Executive Director Pablo Jaramillo, outlining the volunteers’ role here in Colombia. President Santos then addressed a few volunteers to ask about their backgrounds and personal motivations for signing up to teach this year. He then made a startling announcement: a promise to support 200 volunteer English teachers in 2014.
Astonished applause broke out across the room as volunteers absorbed the significance of their presence in schools in Colombia. Bilingualism has become ever important in the age of globalization, especially with ongoing peace talks to end conflict, an exponentially-growing tourism industry and the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with the United States last year. English is suddenly of absolute importance for Colombia to advance internally as well as globally, and native English teachers dedicating a year to underserved educational institutions are a vital resource.
The Colombia volunteers officially started teaching in their placement cities this week with President Santos’ sentiments in mind – that a president can show his interest through his budget or his time. His time will certainly not be forgotten by the 2013 cohort anytime soon!
Written by Assistant Country Director Brighid Carey