Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A quick update while I have the time...

Wow, so I have so much to update but so little time to do it in. Remember when I said I was feeling better? Haha, well, I started feeling much worse right after I said that. In fact, the weekend I thought I'd have a ton of free time to relax I basically spent in bed. It seems that there is a bad case of the flu going around all of Bogota and I was a victim of it. Alas, the rest did me well though and I am finally (fingers crossed) starting to feel better.

In the meantime, the rest of the group have all now left so I am now starting to finalize my official responsibilities over the next month and half. Before I go on, I do want to say how much I miss Chris and Nadia! They were my roommates in Funtibon who stayed when the rest of the group went on to Barranquilla for a week. They're friends of Alison's from New Hampshire who from day one I just somehow resonated with. They're 24 and 20 years old, respectively, and are simply amazing people. Both had a very similar experience to my first time in Bogota and we found ourselves emotionally debriefing for an hour or two each night before going to bed. They both have such good hearts and are already hoping to come back and volunteer after Nadia graduates college. I wish I had more words to adequately express it, but suffice it to say that I think they'll be lifelong friends of mine, or at least I hope they will be. Ironically, Nadia goes to college at Suffolk in Boston and they only live an hour outside of the city, so if I end up going to Boston University for law school, remaining close will be very easy :-)

Okay, so with that said, I spent the day today at Fundacion Formemos teaching English (which I've spoken about before but still need to eventually give more details about). I taught 3rd, 4th, and 11th grade English respectively and made arrangements to go every Wednesday while I'm here to do the same. I've taught elementary kids in Sunday School and middle and high school kids as a youth minister, but I had never taught English and found the experience quite overwhelming. Don't get me wrong, it was a blast, haha, it was just difficult at times because of my limited Spanish. I've always felt like I can communicate well and express myself adequately. Given any circumstance, I've always been able to earn respect. But when you don't speak their language, often you just appear like a dumb-ass, lol. Suffice it to say that it was one of the most humbling, yet rewarding, experiences of my entire life. And I can't wait to do it next Wednesday :-)

I also met with Maria Rodriquez with RGOS, a private social institution, whose main purpose is to provide computer and entrepreneurial training programs at public and private telecenters to those in poverty. The idea is that, through providing affordable educational programs, those in poverty can learn the necessary skills that empower them to break the cycle of poverty in their lives. I will be working with Maria and RGOS one to two days a week until April and could not be more excited about it!

Also, tomorrow, I am meeting with Marcela Forello who works for Mercadeo Social, Sense International and Save The Children. She is a friend of mine I met last trip and an avid volunteer for Voces Del Silencio. I am meeting with her to discuss how I can assist in any of the foundations she works for and hope to volunteer 2 to 3 days a week directly with her.

Okay, well that's just a quick update on how things are going. I haven't been able to update frequently because I've been sick and, quite conveniently, the internet stopped working at my apartment. I've been forced to find wireless hotpots at local cafes and restaurants with what little free-time I have to even check my email and keep my ebay business running so I simply haven't had the time to post updates. I'm sorry for that, but am grateful I found the time now! I'll write more after I finalize my schedule!

I hope everyone is doing well and thank you all again for the emails. Please keep writing as it's so great to hear from you! Hasta luego!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pictures!

Well, I am finally feeling much better! It seems that about a third of the entire group came down with the same sickness that lasted about three days. Now that I have some energy, it's my luck that nearly the entire rest of the group left today to visit Barranquilla and Cartegena in northern Colombia. From there, they'll return home in about a week. I'm so glad that they get the opportunity to go, but I will miss them. If I haven't already given the proper background, Alison McKellar had organized a trip of 11 people from her hometown in Camden, Maine to come visit Colombia and learn about the various organizations here and what they are doing to make a difference. Ever since my last trip here, I had been planning to come back for 2 or 3 months and so when I found out about Alison's trip, I decided to start my trip at the same time as hers.

Since they left today, I actually had some free time this evening and used it to finally relax some and, more importantly, to call home and talk to my Mom. I hadn't had the opportunity to do so yet and so it was great to update her and get the "I'm so proud of you" encouragement that only Moms seem to give best.

With that said, I need to go to bed now and will have to give a more detailed update over the weekend. My Mom did, however, have one request and it was for more pictures, haha. Particularly, she wanted some that captured the natural beauty here. One of the most amazing aspects of Colombia is its contrast of modern cities and rural countrysides. It really is astonishing how quickly you can go from the hustle and bustle of the contemporary city to some of the most beautiful panoramas you've ever seen. Well, here are a few pictures that capture the wonderful dichotomy that is Colombia.


This is in downtown Bogota in La Plaza de Bolivar.


This was from my last trip. We stopped on the side of the road at a random cafe. I stepped out on the back patio and this was my view.


This is the view atop Monseratte, 3,200 meters above Bogota. Usually people get to the top by a funicular or cable car but this weekend a few friends and I are taking the road less traveled and hiking up.


An example of the views you get when just driving an hour outside of the city.


I just took this picture on Monday. It's the scenic view at Fundacion Formemos, by far one of the most impressive foundations I've visited in Colombia.

Alas, I have to go to bed, but can't wait to talk about this foundation and the many others we've visited. In the meantime, I hope my Mom and everyone else enjoys the pictures :-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Estoy enfermo

Well, I hate that I haven't been able to post more frequently, but unfortunately I've become quite ill. We've been doing so much and I've wanted to write about it every night but if I don't sleep, I'll never get better. For the worriers out there, tranquilo! Haha, that's one my favorite words here essentially meaning "no worries." It's nothing serious, just a really bad cold. I usually can fight these off rather easily but something about my complete lack of sleep and presence in a foreign country has apparently made it difficult. Nonetheless, I will write an update as soon as possible! I do want to thank everyone again for their emails though! I probably will end every post with this, but that's ok! I just love to hear from everyone so much!

Alright, well it's off to bed for me. Feel free to email me with any questions or you can make comments directly on the blog for everyone to see. That's really helpful sometimes because then others can learn from your reactions as well!

Okay, I'm getting tempted to start talking about everything I've been doing and how amazing it's been so I better stop now, lol. Beunas noches!

P.S. Okay, well I can at least post a new picture, although the explanation will have to wait until next time. Hopefully the suspense will keep you coming back for more, haha.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Voces Del Silencio!

Wow, well, in true Colombian fashion, I have had absolutely no time to sit down and write an update, haha. It's really awesome here because they are so grateful that we take the time to come down that they literally have us busy all day! Last night, I wanted to write an update but got back around midnight and knew I was being picked up today at 6:30am. Tomorrow, I get to sleep in some and get picked up at 7:45am! Since it's already 2am, that doesn't leave me much time for sleep, lol. But trust me, the lack of sleep and sheer exhaustion is completely and utterly worth it! For example ( which is "por ejemplo" en espanol, which I am trying desperately to learn!), today we attended a photography workshop at a local public school where organizations were presented with digital cameras through my friend Alison McKellar's non-profit program "Lives Worth Sharing." It's an absolutely amazing program that essentially enables the poor to document their lives in a universally understandable and easily transmittable means of communication. Alison has done a ton of fund-raising and was able today to present 10 digital cameras to organizations all over Colombia in order for them to present to the world their struggles. The organizations had each sent representatives, many of which were youth. The youngest was only 9 years old and he actually gave a speech on the activities that his organization has done. It was so amazing!

Then, to top it off, we got to see a presentation by Voces Del Silencio (Voices of Silence), which is an organization of deaf-blind youth who perform and sign to popular Colombian songs. I honestly don't have the time to discuss just how special a program this is! People, especially children, suffering from these types of handicaps are essentially abandoned and ignored. Many in the program were literally abandoned on the street and adopted by caring families and placed into this organization. By allowing them to be cared about and to have a purpose through inspiring others with their courage and creativity, they have literally been given another chance at life. The last time I came to Colombia, I got to see them perform on numerous occasions. Even so, each time was no less moving. I'm not one to cry, but I couldn't help but be moved to tears by the courage these children exude and the sheer unadulterated happiness they get from being able to perform and be cared about.

Plus, they've become very popular in the last few years, even appearing on television and being able to perform live to some of Colombia's most popular artists. Last time I was here, I was fortunate enough to see them perform with Tinto (who you obviously have never heard of, but is muy popular aqui, haha). I have a video of this concert that was held at the biggest mall in Bogota that you can watch:

video

Alas, this is just an example of the amazing experiences that are here in Colombia! And this all happened before noon, haha. Then we had lunch with all the performers, went to the Botanical Garden of Colombia - which was truly stunning - and got to meet with several other organizations in the afternoon. Whew!

Well, unfortunately, in order to have some energy tomorrow, I have to go to bed. I will definitely find time when I can to send updates though. I have received several emails and want to let everyone know that I really appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers! I'm so happy that I can share my experiences with everyone and that you all can keep updated from thousands of miles away! It's so exciting and enriching to be here and it makes it all the more better that you all can experience it with me! :-)

Buenas noches mis amigos!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Introduction

So, I've never blogged before. In fact, I find it hard to even keep a journal - although I do have one and entries come every few months or so. Nonetheless, as the description above explains, I really do want to keep everyone updated on my travels. So for my youth group, family, friends and anyone else who's asked about what I've been up to lately, well, this is for you!

I imagine a quick introduction would be appropriate. Most of you obviously know me (or else you wouldn't be reading this), but I haven't had the time to update everyone thoroughly. Well, I am 25 years old and a graduate of Stetson University. I just applied to law school for this upcoming Fall and have been accepted at Boston University and Fordham so far (still waiting to hear from others). Since graduating college, I've had the opportunity to travel all over the United States (I played in the 2007 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and took a 4,000 mile road trip up the east coast into Nova Scotia, among other trips) and I've been to South and Central America as well. I've volunteered in Colombia and El Salvador and am currently back in Colombia to spend 2 months, after which I'll be hiking through Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru until May.

For a great look at what I did last time in Colombia, click here to read the report we published.

I've been volunteering with an organization called Partners of the Americas and that is found on their Florida Chapter website. You can also research the rest of the website for all sorts of helpful information, including how you can become involved if you want to.

For some great pictures, check out my facebook photo albums of my trip to Colombia here and here. Each picture has my commentary so it's a great way for a quick intro.

Without getting into too much detail, that gives you some background on my past travels. If you want to know more, obviously feel free to ask!

Well, believe it or not, I just arrived to Bogota tonight! I'm exhausted but wanted to take the time to write this intro. I'll write more soon!