Literacy program


This project is all about educating the next generation of Colombia. Based in libraries scattered across the poorer areas of Cartagena, it gives underprivileged kids a chance to improve their literacy skills, broaden their horizons and brighten their futures. At first glance, Cartagena is a fairytale city of cheerful-coloured colonial houses and tumbling bougainvillea encased within ancient city walls, but the behind-the-scenes reality tells a different story. Over 45% of Cartagena’s people live in poverty.

Simple and inspiring, this program will give you a chance to become part of social change in Cartagena and improve the lives of its warm, high-spirited residents. As a volunteer, you’ll help local children between 7 and 18 years old to read and write in Spanish, as well as lending a hand with extracurricular activities. You’ll work closely with teaching staff, social workers, literacy coaches and other volunteers, bringing you in contact with a wide range of people. You’ll also help the kids develop core values such as tolerance, respect, team co-operation and friendship, kitting them out for later life.

Why join this project?


Get to know the cobbled streets of Cartagena like a local.


Help the local community and work with a bunch of inspiring, spirited kids.


Practice your Spanish every single day. You’ll improve in leaps and bounds!

Children’s literacy program?

This program is based in libraries in poor areas of Cartagena and helps children between 7-18 years of age to read and write in Spanish. Many of these children do not have the vital literacy skills necessary to be successful in their classroom and future jobs and furthermore lack structured extracurricular activities. Volunteers will collaborate with local teaching staff, social workers, literacy coaches, and other volunteers. The program also focuses on developing core values such as tolerance, respect, cooperation, and friendship by centering activities around a value each month

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cartagena de Indias was established in 1533 as a Spanish colony and later a principle slave trade port. Located on the Caribbean Sea, it is almost always bright and sunny, and the people match the climate with their happy, welcoming personalities. Named one of the most romantic cities in the world, you’d be crazy to not fall in love… However, beyond the walls of the tourist-heavy Old City, the people of poorer Cartagena are battling all kinds of social issues and nearly 50% of its residents living below the poverty line. This project gives you a chance to help turn things around for the next generation.

You can combine this project with Spanish classes in the morning to improve your Spanish.

Project duration:

Min 3 weeks – Max 12 weeks.

Location of project:

Various libraries across the poorer areas of Cartagena de Indias.

Arrival airport:

Cartagena International Airport (CTG)


  • Teaching and assisting with literacy classes aimed a different skill levels.
  • Planning classroom activities and games that back up the curriculum.
  • Assessing the reading and writing levels of the kids as they progress through the program.
  • Help social workers design activities for value-based learning activities.
  • Lend a hand keeping up the book-lending records.
  • Pitch in with the upkeep of the library, cleaning, painting, labelling books and putting the children’s work on display.
  • If you’re eager to help beyond the library, you can organize and participate in camps for the kids outside of the program.
  • Help manage and develop the project website, writing blogs, e-newsletters, posting videos and updating social media.
  • If you’re into IT, you can get involved with Head Office, maintaining the new computers and helping to introduce online tools to boost the literacy program.

Working hours:

You will work from Monday to Friday, approximately 4 hours per day in the afternoon. In case you want to imprive your Spanish, your classes will be in the morning from 9 till 12.

Getting to the project:

You will meet up with the teacher in the center of Cartagena and together with the teacher you will travel by public transportation to the literary programs.


  • Minimum age 20.
  • Police certificate
  • Basic Spanish required.
  • Medical insurance.

What’s included

  • Accommodation: Private room in a city homestay with a local family.
  • Food: The homestay provides your breakfast and lunch
  • Airport pickup: Included on arrival date.
  • Training: Orientation meeting and weekly meetings to boost your experience and impact
  • Support: Pre-departure helpdesk, local in-country team, welcome pack and 24 hour emergency support

What’s not included

  • Flights, insurance, visas, additional activities
  • Transfers to and from the projects
  • Spanish Classes
  • Return journey to the airport

Volunteering with the project can be perfectly combined with a local language school, giving you a chance to make a difference and brush up on your Spanish at the same time. In this case, you would spend your mornings studying Spanish and your afternoons working at the libraries with the local kids.

Day 1 (Sunday): Arrive into Cartagena airport (airport code CTG)

Welcome to Cartagena! Today you will be met at the airport by our volunteer coordinator and taken directly to the accommodation which will be your home for the duration of your stay. You will be introduced to your host family and given the do’s and don’ts of living in Cartagena.

Day 2 (Monday) Orientation and introductions to your project

This morning is your orientation meeting where you will be introduced to the project and assigned to one of the libraries. After your meeting you will be shown the way to your library and introduced to the teacher.

Day 3 (Tuesday) to Day 6 (Friday): working with your students

what is it exactly a volunteer does???

In case you combine the literacy program with learning more Spanish. You will go to class from 9 till 12, have lunch at your home-stay and then meet your project teacher at 1 to go to the library

Day 7 (Saturday) and Day 9 (Sunday): The weekend is here!

After a hard working week you will now have the weekend free to do what you want, whether you just want to chill on one of the beaches, learn Samba or explore Cartagena, the choice is yours.

Following weeks

The following weeks will follow a similar pattern of working at the project, learning Spanish and enjoying your free time. Time will fly by so make the most of every minute in this vibrant city!

Your last day (Saturday)

Having said your fond farewells to the children and staff at the project, taken your final photos and packed your bag full of souvenirs, you can make your way to the airport via a taxi.

You’ll stay with a welcoming family at a local homestay in the city. All of the houses are located within walking distance of the beautiful historical center, as well as the lively Mango and Getsemani neighborhoods. Breakfast and lunch are included on a daily basis. We give you the freedom to choose what you eat for dinner, so you can cook for yourself in the homestay, meet friends at local restaurants or try some authentic Colombian street food. It’s totally up to you! If you’re really eager to eat dinner at your homestay, we can arrange this for you at an extra cost.

It’s important to note that the project sites are not within walking distance from the homestays, as you’ll mostly be working in the poorer areas of the city. You’ll first take a taxi or bus to a meeting point each day, where you’ll meet your fellow volunteers and teachers. From here, you’ll take motorbikes to the libraries, as they are located along narrow, dirt roads. Transport costs are not included, but they’re pretty minimal and, in general, you’ll only need to travel around 10 or 15 minutes from the center of town.

The volunteering program doesn’t run during the two 3-week vacation periods in Colombia, which take place in February and June. In 2015, the June vacation begins on 22 June and lasts until July 10. However, Afro Caribe Foundation holds leadership camps across these vacations, and volunteers can get involved with these instead.The leadership camps aim to help young people in disadvantaged communities to develop a handful of essential life skills, including team building, critical thinking, clear communication and creativity. Each camp includes seminars and mentor sessions with a range of professionals in fields such as journalism, international development, nutrition, theater or the environment. It’s all about preparing the kids for university entrance exams and helping them on the road to a successful career.

Perched on the edge of the Caribbean coast, Cartagena is tropical, hot a little bit sticky all year round. The temperate hovers at around 27C all year round, although on the ground it often feels far warmer. It’s a brilliant city to visit on a year-round basis, although you’ll probably find the weather most comfortable between January and March. During these months, mornings tend to be scorching but cool breezes from the Trade Winds roll in by the afternoon, bringing great relief from the heat.  Even during rainy season, from April to November, you’ll find plenty of bouts of bright, sizzling sunshine. The heaviest downpours arrive in August, September and October, although they never last for long.

This project is on the lookout for…

Volunteers over 20 years old with a good level of Spanish. Although the foundation will still consider volunteers with basic Spanish, it will hugely limit the amount of work that you can do directly with the kids. Having said that, Head Office has plenty of office work up for grabs, so if you’re interested, it’s definitely still worth applying. We recommend getting a firm grasp of Spanish before arriving and snapping up lessons during your stay.



Cartagena de Indias is a wonderful city to call home for a stretch of time. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s a fairytale mixture of atmospheric cobbled streets leading to shady plazas lined with pastel-coloured colonial houses. Established in 1533 as a Spanish colony, it was once a key slave trading port and echoes of its swashbuckling history linger through the city. Perched on the edge of the Caribbean Sea, it is almost always bright and sunny, and the people match the climate with their high spirits and big hearts. Named one of the most romantic cities in the world, it’s sure to have you at ‘hello’.

Not only is Cartagena cosmetically beautiful, but it’s packed with lively local culture. Filled with more exotic fresh fruits than you can name, more cultural events than you can attend and a neverending supply of hidden nooks and crannies to explore, it’s a brilliant base for a volunteering stint. You’ll find everything from sporting events to tropical beaches, international film festivals, cutting edge art and sizzling salsa clubs, so there’s absolutely no chance of getting bored.

Ideas for

days off


Relax on the sweeping white sands of Playa Blanca, just a 30 minute drive from the center of the city. Snorkel in clear Caribbean waters, stretch out in the sunshine and grab some freshly grilled seafood. It’s a laid-back and totally tropical way to the spend the weekend.


If you’ve got a whole weekend to play with, make a beeline for Tayrona National Park, around 5 hours from Cartagena. Trek between gorgeous wild beaches and forests, sleep al fresco in swinging hammocks and feel a million miles from the city lights.


Spending the weekends sailing around the Islas del Rosario, a sun-kissed archipelago 35km southwest of Cartagena, complete with soft white sands and swaying palm trees. It’s a wonderful way to recharge your batteries ready for the week ahead.


Get plastered from head to toe in healing mud as you climb down into the pit of the Totumo Volcano, an hour outside of Cartagena. Surrounded by mountains, lakes and forests, it’s a beautiful spot for a truly bizarre and totally unforgettable experience.

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