First and Last Projects

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

As apart of my training program to become a Volunteer for Peace Corps – Colombia, my fellow trainees and I have worked hard over these past weeks and months in developing and implementing mini-projects in partnership with our community here in different ways.

Overall, there have been three community projects that we have been working on over these past two months. All of us trainees together have worked on a ‘Limpieza La Comunidad’ or ‘Cleaning up the Community’ project with local citizens in an effort to make the parks and the local river here cleaner and safer for everyone. So far, we have conducted two clean-ups so far during the weekends which have at the central park of our town and then most recently at the ecological park and the area near the football stadium.

It has been a real joy to work with the young people of the community especially. The children and teenagers, who have helped us with the clean-up process the most. They have been extremely enthusiastic and willing to pitch in to assist and work with us. I have worked with one child in particular, named Jesus, age eight, who has helped me specifically with picking up the trash and sweeping the leaves. For both times where we have had our clean-up project in different parks, Jesus has been there to be my partner and help me with my big trash bag. I hope that after we leave for our volunteer sites in mid-April that the children, teenagers, and young people of our current community will become the next leaders of this clean-up effort and will continue these projects and make a sustainable difference in their town.

In addition, my colleagues and I have been able to create two mini-projects related to English education here in the community. A few of my fellow trainees have started a ‘reading buddies’ after-school program where they have read books alongside children and teenagers over the past couple of weeks. Others and myself have worked hard to create a community English class based around conversation lessons that have taken place on Thursday nights and during the weekends.

My fellow trainees and I have split the hours of teaching between ourselves and now provide about three hours a week between the three of us in giving conversational lessons in basic English to those members of the community who want to learn and expressed sincere interest to us in attending our classes. I have been very pleased with the turnout for my community class on Thursday nights and the hard work, engagement that my students have had so far for learning conversational English.

Eight adults showed up for my first class last week and I hope that they will continue coming to class over the next few weeks. For this program, I also hope to designate a leader(s) to continue having English classes within the community. If possible, I will select an adult with the English skills necessary in order to teach his fellow Colombians and keep the class going into the future. I always think back about how lucky I was in the past to pursue my passion for foreign languages and how I was able to take Turkish and Arabic classes at night and also attend Spanish conversation groups as well. It has been great giving that same opportunity to those adults interested in learning my language and developing their conversational proficiency.

Lastly, my fellow trainees and I have successfully completed recently two separate training sessions for the English teachers in our community. The topics have focused around creating speaking and listening activities for their students in an interactive way, as well as working on the pronunciation of difficult sounds in the English language. Both ‘charlas’ or teacher training sessions have been well attended; the teachers were enthusiastic about sharing what they had learned from us and applying this knowledge in their classrooms for the future.

As our first projects finish up over the next few weeks, I can say that we made a meaningful impact in our community during our training program. Each of the trainees has worked hard, provided a lot of time and effort, and have developed good relationships with the local community too. I believe that we can hold our heads up high as we head into April 2016 and the beginning of our formal volunteer service here in Colombia.


Colombian Fruits and Juices

“So many choices to choose from, so little time.”

One of the joys of living here in Colombia is the diverse and plentiful selection of fruits to choose from. The choices are quite abundant and it is an integral part of the culture to imbibe in a cold and tasty fruit juice at the end of a long day.

As I mentioned before in my blog post titled, ‘The Heat Is On’, one of the best ways to deal with the heat and humidity is to cool down with a delicious fruit juice. It is also much healthier and refreshing than having soda or coffee instead. Over the past two months, I have done a great job of sampling the different choices of fruit juices and which ones I have a preference for. I’ve listed below the common fruit juices available here on the Atlantic coast and have also highlighted my personal favorites. The one juice that I have not tried thus far is the ‘Zanahoria’ or Carrot juice but I’m willing to give it a shot during the rest of my time here.

I hope that for those of you who plan on traveling to Colombia in the future will consider this ‘fruit juice’ list as a helpful guide to you. It can be a very hard choice to make when you’re at the ‘Fruteria’ and there are ten choices available but you’re not sure which one will be most refreshing.

Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices detailed below. Colombian fruit juices are freshly blended together rather than squeezed as is the case in the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition, the fruits are mixed with water or milk (smoothies) and topped off with a little bit of sugar. What results is a very fresh and tasty drink to keep you cool during those hot days and humid nights. The Colombian people take their fruit juices seriously and so do I.

  • Lulo: Orange on the outside with green and yellow pulp on the inside, Lulo has a citrus flavor that is very sour to eat. However, jugo de lulo, mixed with some sugar, is perhaps the most popular juice here on the Atlantic coast. Also known as Naranjilla in other parts of Latin America, the fruit is related to the tomatillo and some people would describe its flavor as somewhere between green apple, and lime. It’s up there with being one of my favorite juices here.
  • Guanabana: Another one of Colombia’s most popular fruit juices. Its’ thorny green skin is filled with white filling and black seeds, similar in appearance to the fruit known as the cherimoya. Its juice has a creamy flavor with hints of strawberry and pineapple, and goes well with water, milk, and sugar.
  • Tomate de Arbol: The ‘tomato of the tree’ in English is an egg-shaped fruit with a yellow filling that is distinct from the typical red tomato that you would find in the supermarket. It has one of the most unique flavors I’ve ever tasted, and is similar to a mix of passion fruit and tomato, and supposedly has many health benefits. I enjoy its unique flavor and its refreshing qualities.
  • Granadilla: This fruit is a close relative of the well-known passion fruit. On the outside, it looks like a small orange or mandarina, but when it is cracked open, it contains a gelatinous pulp filled with black seeds. The flavor is similar to that of the passion fruit, but sweeter, and the seeds are easily disposable by spitting them out amidst the delicious juices. When turned into a fruit juice, it’s pulpy yet satisfying on a hot and humid day.
  • Mamoncillo: On the outside, this fruit looks like a lime, but when cracked open, it reveals a pinky-orange flesh similar to that of a lychee. The flavor is a mix of the tartness of a lime with the mild sweetness of the lychee. When blended into a juice, it looks like an iced tea and has a light orange/beige color.
  • Maracuya: Another part of the passion fruit family along with the Granadilla. It has an oval-shape, can look a bit wrinkly, and makes for a delicious juice or ice cream flavor as well. Maracuya is a great source of Vitamin C and is also known to be a natural sedative too. It also is known to aid digestion of food in the stomach. Extremely similar to the look of orange juice, Maracuya has a yellow-orange color when turned into a juice.
  • Gulupa: A cousin of the aforementioned Maracuya and another passion fruit. It has a dark purple skin that becomes wrinkled when it is ripe for eating or drinking. Along with Maracuya, it has plenty of Vitamin C and can help ease stress and tension in the body. When blended into a juice, it has a yellow color and looks very similar to orange juice.
  • Zapote: One of Colombia’s toughest and most durable fruits. It can grow very fast and is resistant to heavy wind and drought conditions. Zapote is full of minerals and antioxidants and can help with ailments ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to gastritis. It is very high in fiber so be careful not to eat too many as it does act as a natural laxative. Like other fruits here, it goes well with sugar and has a pink-orange color in juice/smoothie form.
  • Borojo: Known to be a ‘Love Juice’, and possessing some aphrodisiac qualities, this juice has been well-known for centuries and can act like a natural Viagra if you’re in the mood. Nutritionists have claimed that ‘Borojo’ is one of the most nutrient-rich fruits in the world can help combat malnutrition. When mixed and blended into a fruit juice, it gives off a dark to light brown color.
  • Mora: Known as ‘Blackberry’ in English, this is my favorite juice to have here in Colombia. Rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, and nutrients, it is the most refreshing drink I’ve encountered thus far. I also enjoy the dark red color of the juice and enjoy it after a long day outside. While not an exotic fruit or drink, it gets the job done and I enjoy the simplicity yet refreshing qualities of the juice itself.

While I only listed ten fruits / fruit juices to indulge in, there are over dozens of unique fruits here in Colombia to try out. Some of the most exotic and sought-after fruits reside here in Colombia and you usually can’t find them anywhere else. A lot of the fruits I mentioned in this post have great health benefits and are packed with nutrients. Different than the apple, banana, and grape, these ‘superfruits’ can cure ailments, keep you well, and give you more energy. If you decide to ever visit Colombia, eat the fruits and try the fruit juices. I promise you won’t regret it.



“If Aristotle is wrong about this, then I don’t want to be right.”

Self-sufficiency: “Able to supply one’s own or its’ own needs without external assistance.” (Noun –

Overlooked and misunderstood by many, the concept of self-sufficiency is important for realizing one’s potential as a person and for achieving true independence and maturity. Especially for those of us including myself whom are going through the 20’s, this is a period in our lives where we must rely on ourselves first for our success and prosperity before we reach out to others for help. I believe that it’s natural to ask for the mental and emotional support from your friends and family but there comes a time in a man and woman’s life where they must strike it out on their own and attempt to realize their self-sufficiency.

For different people, being self-sufficient could mean different things. It could be paying off your student loans or enrolling in a trade school to learn skills in order to become more employable. For others, it could be owning/renting your first apartment (without roommates), shopping and/or growing your own food, and changing a flat tire / getting your oil changed. Millennials are often criticized as the ‘Peter Pan’ generation considering that we come back to live with our parents after college in order to save money. I can’t say that this is a good trend but it is mostly due to a tough economy and a lack of good job opportunities, especially for those who were affected by the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007-2009 and still are to this day.

Rather than being discouraged and dismayed by the recent economic troubles affecting our generation, it is important to realize the opportunities that are out there. For realizing opportunities and achieving self-sufficiency in different areas, the Internet is perhaps the greatest tool out there for changing your future. We are quite lucky in that it is incredibly easy and free to access an almost infinite amount of information, both educational and informative, that can change our course in life if you are able to do the research and put the work in.

I can honestly say that learning self-sufficiency is vital in this day and age. Being able to take care of your body, your mind, your apartment/house, your car are all-important to be a fully functioning adult. In addition, managing and developing your finances, having healthy relationships, working successfully with co-workers, clients, and bosses are all steps on the path to self-sufficiency.

Most people stumble into ‘adulthood’ and will fail to become self-sufficient in their lives and suffer negative emotional and psychical health as a result. Resolve to yourself that you will take the steps necessary to become a mature adult who can take care of business and be able to function in society.

A lot of the problems and maladies of society originate from a lack of self-sufficiency and a heavy reliance on others (friends, family, and neighbors) to help them out continuously. I mentioned before that mental, emotional support from others including friends and family is necessary and even should be encouraged. However, don’t rely on others as a crutch because the people in your life won’t be there forever. They love you and want you to succeed in life but it is your job to make it happen. Your family and friends can’t hold your hand and walk you through every problem and setback you will experience. It is a common fact of wisdom that life will beat you down and keep you there if you let it. Achieving self-sufficiency in the necessary areas of life will make you happier, stronger, more resilient, and a better person overall.

Once you become self—sufficient and confident in your abilities, it is natural that you might want to share this with another person such as a wife, husband, and children. That is a reflection of your realization that you have become a full adult and can handle the responsibilities of helping future generations to become self-sufficient as well. Even if you do not marry or have kids, it’s possible to impact others and lead them down the road to self-sufficiency as well. Mentoring young people, being a leader in the community, and encouraging others to succeed can help lead others down the path of self-sufficiency as well.

After achieving self-sufficiency in your life, you can truly focus on the hobbies and interests that challenge and stimulate you. Human beings thrive in life when we conquer both internal and external challenges. Learning an instrument, studying a foreign language, dedicating yourself to a project at work or at home, or achieving mastery in different subjects are all great ways to keep yourself stimulated and happy.

People become unhappy when all they do is consume and don’t do anything to make themselves better. When all you do is watch TV and films but don’t know how to make them, or eat at fine restaurants but don’t know how to cook the food itself, and listen to music without knowing how to play an instrument or how its’ actually produced. Becoming self-sufficient is a result of handling the struggles and challenges of life with confidence and resolve.

In addition, having hobbies and interests in the pursuit of continuous knowledge and wisdom is extremely important to becoming a whole person. Anxiety, depression, and other issues manifest themselves when people can’t take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally. Don’t be one of those people. Work hard to become a mature and capable adult in our society. I promise that you won’t regret it.