“Where are we going?” asks the front passenger on the Magic Bus.

“I don’t know where we’re going!” jokingly replies the driver, Alexander Supertramp, turning around with one hand on the wheel, as he pretends to drive his Magic Bus through the Alaskan wilderness one day. (The film? Into The Wild. One of my favourites.)

This is a question I have been asking myself a lot recently with regards to Mariposas Amarillas, the charity I am working for in Santa Marta, Colombia.

The answer? “No lo sé“. “I don’t know“.

We took a 2 week reorganisation break at the end of October and the beginning of November, but has that had any real impact? The first two weeks were reasonably successful but now Metka, who was an integral part of the reorganization break, has left and all of her hard work has been wasted, it seems. What, for example, has happened to the establishment of a board of directors that we discussed?

Everybody, I find, who volunteers with Mariposas Amarillas says exactly the same thing – “the charity needs a better structure with more Colombian people involved”. Yet in the 6 years that the charity has been up and running very few Colombians have actually worked for it. Everybody who volunteers volunteers for a different period of time – one week, one month, 6 months, 1 year, whatever – but when they leave all of their good work and progress is normally lost because there is nobody in the charity there on a permanent enough basis to continue it. A new volunteer starts and he or she has to take 1 step backwards in order to start moving forwards.

The past two weeks I have been covering for Lucy, the current volunteer coordinator, while she earns a well deserved break. I’m glad to have helped Lucy out but I’m looking forward to handing back the reigns to her on Monday. I didn’t realise just how much work she had to do and how little support she receives. Not once has Oskar, the director of Mariposas Amarillas, come up to me and said “Hi Charlie, thank you for covering for Lucy this week”. That doesn’t bother me one bit and I’m not fishing for compliments. What does bother me is that he probably hasn’t thanked Lucy once for what she does even though she is giving up her time to practically run the show in Colombia! If there was one position to be filled full time by a Colombian, then it should be this position. Has this not crossed Oscar’s mind? What happens when Lucy leaves in May next year and nobody wants to take over this demanding position?

Some of the kids are lovely, don’t get me wrong. They smile, they’re polite and thankful and they give it their best shot in the activities.  But, after being here for 2 and 1/2 months now, I am starting to become disheartened by some of the kids. Today, two four-year old girls wrestled around on the ground pulling each others hair. “Simon dice” was going well until 3 girls, over the age of 12, decided to run and barge their way through the group. A small boy, no older than 4, fell to the ground and banged his head and started crying. Some kids just turn up to disrupt things. They’re rude and I’m really fed up with their racist language to one girl in particular. I don’t see the point of the kids putting their work up on the walls if their fellow class mates just tear it down. Where did the 3 marker pens, the rubbers and the numerous felt tip pens go? I didn’t steal them. These aren’t just one-off behaviour problems, it is happening all the time.

Sometimes I think that the adults of Barrio Oasis just see Mariposas Amarillas as a bright yellow building. And while that is true, I don’t think they truly appreciate what we are trying to do.

I dabbled in volunteering 3 years ago while I was in Costa Rica. It was ok but the excitement of being in a foreign land by myself got the better of me, and after reading my guidebook, all I wanted to do was travel with my rucksack on my back, visiting new and exotic places. That, I have decided, is what I love doing the most – travelling – and this urge is fast returning to me. I want to see Colombia – not just the department of Magdalena – but places such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Popayan, Villa de Leyva, San Gill, the list goes on and on. Then there is Venezuela and Ecuador as well………

Rant over. But as someone once told, “sometimes it’s just better to write it all down and get it out of your system“. So I have done just that. Some volunteers are only here for 2 weeks and barely scratch the surface of the problems but after 2 and 1/2 months in Santa Marta, I am starting to see the cracks widen and deepen.

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not unhappy just super super frustrated – as I don’t think Mariposas Amarillas has any real direction and I don’t want to be wasting my time twiddling my fingers when there is one huge country waiting to be explored.

Please don’t write back to me and say “Don’t worry Charlie I’m sure you’re doing a great job etc”. I haven’t written this post to receive comments like that. Perhaps this is more of a post for those who have volunteered with Mariposas Amarillas and it would be interesting to hear your views, whether you agree with me or not.

Hasta Luego,