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English Gets the Vote

Voting in rural Colombia
In Cartagena, everyone from the mayor to the fruit seller knows that English means opportunity. It provides access to better jobs and higher education. It puts money in people's pockets and when money is involved people listen. No one know this better than Colombian politicians trying to get votes for the upcoming elections in November.

Gabriel, the teacher I work with, has a part time job in a small town just outside of Cartagena. One day, he began telling the people about how he would like to create the first bilingual (Spanish- English) public school and we how started a project called English for All. People's ears perked up when they heard public and bilingual in the same sentence. He continued to explain that the project  has four components:

  1. English teacher professional development
  2. English classes at the elementary level
  3. English test preparation for high school seniors
  4. Free community English classes
The most interested person in the crowd was the mayor.  He became fixated on Gabriel's ideas and invited us to start the project in the town's public schools right away. Gabriel was delighted, but not naive. He also knew if the mayor brought in a project to create bilingual schools, he would receive full voter support in November. English wins elections. The days of politicians promising water, electricity, and hospitals to the Colombian people are long gone. Now English gets the vote.


  1. I just found your blog. My daughter is adopted from Colombia, born in Cartagena. We spent 7 weeks in Cartagena in 2005 during the process. We went back last year as simple tourists for 10 days. In those 5 years, I could tell a big difference in the amount and quality of the English spoken. I speak Spanish. So mostly in 2005, I only heard and spoke Spanish. But last year, store workers in tourist shops would great us in English. I was shocked! In 2005 that did not happen. I walked in and would be greeted and would greet in Spanish! We saw many more tourist walking around el centro historico. The difference in five years was quite profound.


  2. Hello Wendy,

    Thank you for providing some context. I'm sure you also noticed the amount of construction too. Real estate investors are expecting it to really boom. English will help in that process. Can't wait to see Cartagena in the next 5 years!

    Keep reading!


  3. Yes!! We stayed in Bocagrande and I would go running around Bocagrande, El Laguito and Castillo Grande. I saw lots of construction in Castillo Grande in particular.
    My husband and I would walk from Bocagrande to el centro historico, sweating buckets! I was holding a 22 pound, 18 month old.

    Last year, I was surprised to find a "real" mall as well near el cerro de la popa. We would see cruise ships in 2005, but not nearly as often in 2010.

    I genuinely love Cartagena as my own. Your blog has made me homesick for a place that never really was my home, but holds a dear place in my heart. After my daughter grows up, I would love to be doing what you do right now as I am a teacher as well. For now, I plan on visiting every few years.


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