August 8, 2016

Alumni Reflection: A Week with Squash Urbano Colombia

By Jazmin Matos


Squash Urbano students and their peers at Institución Educativa Antonia Santos

After graduating from StreetSquash four years ago, it has been exciting to hear about the new travel opportunities offered to the younger urban squash generation. In July, I was able to be a part of one of these opportunities as a counselor of StreetSquash’s Cartagena service trip to Squash Urbano Colombia. Along with nine StreetSquash students and three staff members, I spent the week volunteering at SUC and its partner school, Institución Educativa Antonia Santos, and learning more about the Colombian way of life.

Our week of volunteering was split between NUSEA’s International Affiliate, Squash Urbano Colombia, and its partner school Institución Educativa Antonia Santos (IEAS). IEAS is an inclusive school that focuses on providing formal education to ethnic minorities in Cartagena’s neighborhoods. At IEAS, our group visited classes to meet students and faculty, painted the school’s exterior, and engaged students in conversations in English as much as possible.


Squash session with Squash Urbano Colombia students

My time in Cartegena opened my eyes to the daily comforts I have back in the U.S and reminded me to be grateful. I learned that IEAS’ lunch program often loses funding to provide free breakfast and lunch for their students. Moreover, with a maximum of 40 students per class, the school does not have enough space to house all its students at the same time. As a result, the school has three to four hour long sessions, each with different students.

Despite these challenges, I was truly impressed by the school’s attention to inclusivity. In three of the four classes that we visited, there were students that were hard of hearing accompanied by a teacher that translated Spanish into Colombian sign language. I was able to communicate with these students and learn some Colombian sign language as well. In return, they wrote me a poem about birds even though their teacher explained that it is difficult for them to write. I left inspired by the way all students were accommodated by the instruction at IEAS.


Students welcoming us at our arrival

During our time at Squash Urbano, our volunteer efforts focused on coaching and tutoring in students’ squash and academic sessions. Similar to IEAS, instruction in English is a key element in the curriculum at Squash Urbano Colombia. Therefore, we assisted in students’ practice of English through engaging exercises and games. It was also beneficial for students to hear English spoken by native speakers in our volunteer group.

Beyond volunteering, the trip included countless cultural excursions. We visited numerous museums, such as the Palace of the Inquisition, explored the fort of San Felipe de Barajas, participated in a three-hour walking tour of Cartagena, and even had time to visit the Rosario Islands for a beach day. My favorite outing was scuba diving in the middle of open water.     

This was a trip of a lifetime and I feel very fortunate that I was able to go on it. My week in Cartagena gave me a new perspective and I hope to visit and volunteer again. Who knows, maybe I can master my Portuguese in time to visit a potential NUSEA program in Sao Paulo, Brazil!