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A Gainesville-based nonprofit seeks volunteers to work in Colombia's poor neighborhoods

Colombian children receiving gifts from Casa Huellas volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Camilo Montoya)
Colombian children receiving gifts from Casa Huellas volunteers. (Photo courtesy of Camilo Montoya)

Andrea Ortega said she found her purpose in the nonprofit sector while helping children. Her goal to establish long-term, meaningful relationships and create systematic change led her to travel through Latin America on Bound For Peace trips.

These service trips have helped volunteers better understand that, while there are cultural differences among communities, there are many similarities that connect them too, said John Diaz, a University of Florida associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication.

Bound For Peace trips are led by Children Beyond Our Borders (CBOB), a Gainesville-based nonprofit that started out as a UF student organization. The group's mission is to eliminate barriers in education and provide a foundation for quality of life for children in the United States and in Latin American countries, according to UF alumna and CBOB volunteer Sofia Mingote.

Throughout the course of Children Beyond Our Borders’ Bound For Peace trips, volunteers immerse themselves in a cultural exchange while partnering with other nonprofits abroad to help accomplish their missions.

CBOB’s next Bound For Peace trip is to Medellín, Colombia, from June 5 to 16. Volunteer applications are posted on the organization’s website and are open until Friday, March 24.

Usually, CBOB partners with Medellín-based nonprofit, Casa Huellas during the summer to help with its program. In previous years, they have worked together to provide health education activities for children, said Children Beyond Our Borders Executive Director Maria Eugenia Zelaya.

Huellas focuses on educating children living in Medellín and the neighboring municipality of Bello, said the organization’s Executive Director Camilo Montoya.

“Everything that has to do with foreigners excites them a lot,” said Montoya about the children he works with. “It opens their eyes to the world. Normally, these girls and boys do not leave the town because they don’t have money to travel. Some of them don't even know downtown Medellín or the center of Bello.”

The children and CBOB volunteers exchange information about their cultures through photos, conversations, games and other activities, said Zelaya, who also mentioned that language barriers are not an issue during these interactions.

“It’s incredible,” said Mingote, referring to her experience at CBOB’s Bound For Peace trip to Medellín in the summer of 2022. “I gained incredible friendships and people who I know will be in my life forever because we have the same values and goals of serving others.”

But Bound For Peace is not only designed to serve others. “The main idea is for the students or professionals that go on the trip to, first, learn about the communities that we're visiting,” said Zelaya.

Mingote said that during her 12-day volunteer trip to Medellín, Colombia, she learned about the challenges communities in the city face and the strength the people there possess to help make the world a better place.

For Ortega, traveling to Colombia helped showcase a different story. She worked to break stereotypes of how Colombia is portrayed in the media. Often those images are related to drugs and Pablo Escobar, she said.

“It also helped put faces to the story,” Ortega added. “Some of the children we worked with had been internally displaced by that same civil war and lived some of the violence caused by drug lords.”

Traveling with Children Beyond Our Borders to a Bound For Peace trip is only the beginning of a volunteer’s journey, said Zelaya. “When they come back, they have the opportunity to continue serving in a virtual manner,” she added.

Ana is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.