When I first came to colombia a little more than a year ago I never thought I'd meet the Colombian president in person. Back then, I was an exchange student in Bogotá finishing a bachelor's degree in business administration. The cool thing about studying in Colombia is that you have the opportunity to visit an extremely beautiful and culturally rich country during your free time, and that's exactly what I did. After my final exams, I flew to Santa Marta, rented a motorcycle and ventured along the Colombian coast up to Manaure.
On my way I met with a friend in Palomino and she told me that she had just left this amazing place that I would love, an eco-hotel and finca in Minca called Mundo Nuevo, where they grow their own vegetables and are aimed for self sufficiency (something I have always been interested in). Moreover, the project had been launched by a young compatriot of mine. I was immediately sold and headed for Minca, Santa Marta, the ecological capital Colombia.
This small village is located at the entrance of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Most of the inhabitants were coffee farmers, but more recently, with Colombia becoming an increasingly more peaceful country, the village has become a major attraction point for Colombia's eco-touristic demand.
When I first arrived in Mundo Nuevo, I discovered a community with amazing people working together towards self-sufficiency.
I befriended Phil quite rapidly. We shared ideas and opinions on a whole lot of subjects. We agreed most of the time or felt enriched by the each other's contribution to the conversation. I quickly saw a huge potential in Mundo Nuevo and its capacity to raise awareness and bring solutions to some of the important challenges that we face in the 21st century.
To get to Mundo Nuevo, you have to take a 45 minute hike up into the hills above Minca. The road is difficult but it is definitely worth the walk. You go through beautiful panoramas and lush vegetation and can spot exotic birds. If you're not the walking kind or if you carry a lot of bags you can also get a moto-taxi from the village center.
For 16 years I have been a member of the Belgium Federation of scouts. I became a scout leader 4 years ago. After meeting Phil, I immediately thought that this would be a fantastic place for us to come, as the ideals Mundo Nuevo strives for are in complete accord with the values of the scouts. As a scout leader, we aim to contribute to the education of young people teaching them about aspects such as the preservation of the Earth and living in community. Mundo Nuevo has the capacity, through it's people and projects to contribute to the education of our scouts and help turning them into world citizens . Phil was excited with the idea, it was decided.
I didn't waste time when I got back to Belgium and in September my team and I sat down and began to build a project around reforestation and water preservation. In October, we presented the project to the scouts and by January all the scouts and their parents agreed this would be a great thing to do; we finally received authorizations from the authorities to come, and now on a bright sunny day in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada my scouts and I met the president of Colombia.
He was visiting the town to inaugurate a new bridge and road, connecting Santa Marta to Minca and promote the ongoing peace process and I thought that it would be a great idea for us to show our support for this. In fact, our very presence here proves the importance and the results peace talks have yielded over the last 5 years, because without this it would not have been possible for us to visit the country.
The day before his arrival, I talked with his organization staff present in Minca and it was settled, I would get the opportunity to speak in-front of the president and national television cameras, the Colombian press, and a crowd of over 1000 people.
I spoke about the peace process and my love for Colombia and Colombian people, who have immense hearts and strength of character. I talked about how the peace process enabled this group of young scouts to travel in Colombia for the first time and enjoy all the beauty the country offers.
Colombia has brought me so much and it was an honor for me and our team of scouts to show our support for this historic occasion. It is an experience I will never forget and one of the proudest moments of my life. (And of course, meeting el presidente was pretty cool too).