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Information For Volunteers

Visas for Volunteers

Unfortunately we cannot offer any solid advice in terms of visas. One government department says that to be an unpaid volunteer you in Colombia you need to have what is called a 'temporal visa' which lasts from 6 months to two years and cost between $US120-$US205. This should be organised with the Foreign Affairs Department in your country before arriving in Colombia. Another says that as long as you aren't being paid you do not need any special visa. It is easy to slip under the radar of the DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad - The Colombian Security Service) by not drawing too much attention to yourself, only having a normal tourist visa and then claim ignorance should you have any problems.

For detailed information about Colombian Temporal Visa's, visit the Consulate General Colombia, Texas


Visa Extensions in Cartagena

All visitors to Colombia receive an entry stamp upon arrival at the airport or land border. These visa's are issued for 30, 60 and 90 days, although you may have to explain the purpose of your stay if you require a 90 day visa. To extend your tourist visa you will need to go to the DAS office which is located in the suburb called 'Pie de la Popa' (open Monday to Friday 8-12am and 2-4pm). The easiest way is to go by mototaxi from Calle de la Media Luna. This shouldn't cost more then 1,500 pesos (US$0.55, June '06).

You are entitled to a 30 day visa extension and the whole time of your stay in Colombia with a tourist visa is limited to six months per year. To extend your visa at the DAS office in Cartagena you must be prepared to present a valid passport including visa/stamp of entry, four photographs, your onward ticket and a copy (if you don't have one, say you have an e-ticket) and two copies of both the ID page and your entry stamp of your passport. Furthermore you need a folder for files and the receipt and a copy of your money transfer at BANCAFE (no other bank). The price for a 30 day extension is 60,600 pesos (US$23, June '06).

The DAS office (Tel: 6562524 Extension 15) will give you the up-to-date price of the visa extension as well as all details for the money transfer to the DAS account, alternatively you can look at the BANCAFE near to the Plaza de Reloj which has example 'Visa Extension Form' on display. You can find this bank in a small side street between Av. Daniel Lemaitre and Av. Venezuela. You will see the Bank if you walk down the Av. Daniel Lemaitre.

Anyway, you should ask at the DAS office for the documentary requirements before your visa runs out because they change frequently. They will give you a note with all things you'll need (and they can show you a folder in case you don't know what to buy).

Ask for an extension beginning with the date of expiration of your old visa otherwise it could be they give you 30 days beginning with the date of issue. Count on spending a lot of time waiting and be polite, there is no point in getting upset.


Schools in Colombia

Public schools in Colombia generally run two sessions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Some schools provide uniforms and lunch for children. There is a government program set up to pay for underprivileged children called 'Plan Becario', these children receive the same educations and benefits as normal children. Most children living in orphanages/youth homes attend public schools although this isn't always possible due to the school's capacity and uniform requirements. There are cases where children will attend alternate days at school because they have to share their shoes.

There are also foundations set up to act exactly like public schools in which children receive education, have school uniforms and receive lunch. These foundations are funded and supported through combinations of personal investment of the directors, international corporations and the ICBF (Instituto Colombiano Bienestar Familiar) which is the government office of social services. These foundations are usually set up in the poorer areas where there aren't schools and areas where there isn't sufficient space in the schools to accommodate all the children of the area. There is usually no cost for children attending class at these foundations, although just like school the children need to be enrolled. There are foundations (especially ones funded internationally) that have remarkable facilities, some will have electricity and computers in an area where the houses in the surrounding area may only have earthen floors.


About the Bienestar

The Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (www.icbf.gov.co) is the social services office in Colombia. They provide foundations with food to prepare for children, uniforms for children at the expense of the government. The Bienestar also has some centres themselves.

The first point of contact for children without families or children living on the street (in Cartagena) is the ICBF office in Torices which is open from 8.00am to 5.00pm. Outside these hours children will be taken to the Niños de Papel centre in Canapote until the office reopens. Once the children are seen by the staff at the ICBF the staff will decide, depending on where there is space and the needs of the child, to which institute the child will be directed. If the centre the child is sent to has a limited duration of stay then the ICBF must reassess the situation at the end of this period and then decide if the child will be sent to another institution.

AN important thing to be understood is that the decision to leave the street belongs to the child. He/She can be taken to the ICBF to be assessed but only if they wish to be taken.


Young offenders in Cartagena

Depending on the severity of the crime young offenders will end up in either an institution, such as Niños de Papel, or they will be placed in the juvenile judicial system. Less serious crimes will see the child taken to the ICBF office in Torices to be processed, while the serious offenders are taken to Asomenores, a Juvenile Centre in Zaragocilla. Here they will stay for 5-6 days while they are assessed by psychologists and social workers as to their psychological situation and needs. From here they go the juvenile detention centre in Turbaco which holds around 80 minors and where, depending on their progress they will stay for between 1 month and 3 years. Families have counseling sessions and are allowed to visit their children, some are even granted weekend leave. The centre is well equipped with educational facilities, sports areas and medical services, however, it is difficult to ignore the barb wire fences.


What to prepare

There isn't a large history of volunteering in Cartagena and so most of the institutions that exist don't have any protocol for people who approach them to do volunteer work. For this reason we have contacted all of the institutions in this directory about what they may require from potential volunteers. The best thing you can do when contacting an institution is to have a copy of your Resume (Hoja de Vida) and a reference from your previous employment (translated into Spanish). If you intend to run a course or an activity you will also need a basic outline of the program as well. Don't let yourself get bogged down with this part though, especially if you're already in Cartagena and can explain your ideas in person.

Most of the places listed on this website are organisations that would happily accommodate any enthusiastic stranger with good ideas. Depending on what you're skills are and how much time you have you could present almost anything. Have a look at the Projects Page to see some of the activities that have been done in the past. Activities that are hands-on and educational are obviously the best and most fun for you as well.

Generally, the staff at the institutions listed on this page speak Spanish only, unless otherwise specified. If you do not speak Spanish, don't worry, the best option would be to have someone you know at home help translate your proposal/ideas and try to finish all the communication before arriving in Colombia.