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close this bookPeace Corps in Special Education and Rehabilitation (Peace Corps)
View the documentForeword
View the documentThe authors
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentMethodology
View the documentClassifying Peace Corps programs addressing the needs of disabled persons
close this folderSelected country reviews
View the documentBrazil
View the documentColombia
View the documentCosta Rica
View the documentGhana
View the documentJamaica
View the documentPhilippines
View the documentSeychelles
Open this folder and view contentsCritical factors influencing the effectiveness of Peace Corps' efforts in special education and rehabilitation
View the documentAlternative programming considerations
View the documentReferences
View the documentAppendix I - Country overviews
View the documentAppendix II - Volunteers with disabilities: experiences, issues, and recommendations
View the documentAppendix III - Peace Corps country survey
View the documentAppendix IV - Returned volunteer survey



27.3 million (1980 estimate)


Ethnic Groups: 68% mestizo, 20% Caucasian, 7% Indian, 5% Black Ninety-eight percent of the population lives in the Andean highlands.


439,735 square miles (larger than Texas and California combined)

Urban Centers:

Bogota (Capital), Medellin


There is a heavy movement from rural to urban areas. In 1951, 40% of the population lived in rural areas, increasing to 63% in 1973. There are 23 cities in Colombia with over 100,000 inhabitants.


Republic; President with cabinet and elected legislature


Farming and cattle herding
Colombia is classified as a "lower-middle income" country with a per capita GNP of $612 (1977). Colombia's growth rate was 1.6% between 1950-1970.


Government supports primary and secondary education, though not uniformly. Five years of primary schooling is compulsory.


While 77% of children enter primary school, only 22% finish.




71 (1970-1975)


Life Expectancy (1975): 58.5 male; 61.2 female


Infant Mortality (1975): 46.6/1000


Literacy Rate (1977): 81%


Disability in Colombia:

An estimated 6 million Colombians need rehabilitative services, but only some 2,000 persons presently receive such services. A 1980 estimate places the number of schoolaged retarded children in Colombia at 2 million.

The problems of abandoned and neglected youth are also serious in the urban areas of Colombia where there are 2,000-5,000 abandoned children between the ages of 5-14.

Institutional Infrastructure:

Special education services in Colombia are developing rapidly but the problems of disability are greater than the current capacity of existing resources.

In 1968, legislation delegated responsibility to the following agencies for provision of special education services: the National Ministry of Education (Division of Special and Preschool Education), the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare which operates 52 privately-financed day care centers, and the National Rehabilitation Council.

A number of voluntary agencies created in the last two decades have also addressed the needs of disabled persons, including: the Colombian Association for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency, the Colombian Association for Retarded Children, the Association of Parents and Friends of Exceptional Children of the Atlantic, the Association for Handicapped Children, the Foundation for Special Education, and the Foundation for the Investigation and Development of Special Education (FIDES). Approximately 60% of available services and resources to disabled persons comes from private Colombian institutions.

Legislation Affecting Disabled Persons:

A 1974 law mandated special classes for mildly retarded children in the regular school system.


Between 1977-1981, more than 100 Peace Corps Volunteers worked in special education and rehabilitation in Colombia in health, educational, social service and vocational development projects. The Peace Corps is scheduled to phase out of Colombia at the end of FY 1981.

Under its present project plan, the special education and rehabilitation program (initiated in 1976) is working to increase the self-reliance of disabled persons, to improve training opportunities for local personnel, to increase material resources, and to promote awareness about special education in the general public. Volunteers also work to help increase employment opportunities for disabled persons.

Resources for Peace Corps activity have been provided by the Ministry of Education (Office of the Chief of the Division of Special Education - the host agency for Peace Corps Volunteers), the National Institute for the Blind, National Institute for the Deaf and international sources such as the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, Partners of the Americas, Goodwill Industries, and the Victoria Gildred Foundation.

Special Education and Rehabilitation

• Volunteers serving as Educators for Mentally Retarded, Deaf and Learning Disabled persons work as part of a team to assist school staff in setting up educational programs. In some centers volunteers assist the psychologist in testing procedures and introduce new procedures where appropriate. Volunteers in this capacity have also set up recreational programs and other training activities.

• Other volunteers have worked as team members with the National Institute for the Blind (under the auspices of the Ministry of Education) as Placement Officers for the Blind. Their aim is to increase employment and educational opportunities for blind persons, primarily through evaluating clients for job suitability and job readiness. Their recipients range in age from 18-64.

• Volunteers also work as special educators for deaf children through the Instituto Nacional para los Sordos (National Institute for the Deaf, or INSOR).

• Volunteers have worked as Pre-Vocational Trainers for the Mentally Retarded as part of a team with staff members of their schools. Volunteers in this program train mentally retarded adolescents and adults in skills which prepare them for gainful employment. Training generally takes place in the areas of carpentry, agriculture and handicrafts.

• Volunteers serving as Organizers of Camps for the Mentally Retarded work in conjunction with the YMCA and FIDES to organize week-long and weekend camps for mentally retarded children from inner city Bogota.

• Others volunteers, also working with the YMCA in Bogota, organize short and long courses for parents of retarded children as Organizers of Programs for Parents of Mentally Retarded Children. The goal of these classes is to prepare parents to work with their children in the home and thus help overcome the problem of insufficient space in the presently existing programs.

• A volunteer has worked as an Organizer of Services for Physically

Handicapped Adults helping to organize the country's first Telethon to raise funds to assist programs for the physically handicapped. The same volunteer is also helping to build a center for the physically disabled, where medical and vocational training services will be available.

Special Olympics

The Special Olympics project was initiated in April, 1978, and is hosted by the Foundation for the Research and Development of Special Education (FIDES). There were seven volunteers working in the Special Olympics project in 1978, increasing to ten in 1979.

Volunteers working in this project received several days of training in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from the Mississippi Special Olympics in the preparation and direction of Special Olympics programs.

• Volunteers serving as Physical Education Instructors for Mentally Retarded Persons work to set up physical education classes in a Center for Mentally Retarded Children, to write, plan and implement a physical education curriculum, and to assist in the organization of Special Olympics games at the local, regional and national level. They also aid in the promotion of a national effort to increase awareness of the problems of mentally retarded persons and to increase educational opportunities for them. All age groups are affected by this project and recipients vary from lower level "trainable" stages of retardation to the learning disabled.

Colombian nationals have now taken full responsibility for the Special Olympics program, having held major new events and raising a sizable sum of money to continue the program into the future. The work of the Peace Corps Volunteers, viewed a year or two after their termination, set the stage and created a demand for follow-up.

Involvement of Disabled Special Education Volunteers

In 1977, three blind Peace Corps Volunteers were recruited to work in Colombia. Only one of the three remained for the full term while the others terminated shortly after their assignments began due to personal difficulties. The volunteer who remained believes that the other two terminated early because of factors other than blindness.

The blind volunteer who completed her service worked in the small town of Bucaramanga at the National Institute for the Blind, a branch of the main Institute in Bogota. Her primary assignment was to teach music, but she also became involved in teaching braille and mobility classes. Despite the extra involvement, the volunteer stated that she did not have enough to do and so transferred to a private Catholic primary school in Bogota, the Instituto Colombiano pare Niños Ciegos. The Instituto provides services for approximately 60 students and the volunteer was called upon to work with the complex disabilities of blind retarded children.


Colombia stands out prominently as a country in which the Peace Corps has had a dramatic impact upon the lives of disabled people. There has been extensive planning and a large number of well-qualified volunteers working in all parts of Colombia. Many special education volunteers have extended their Peace Corps service.

In the opinion of the reviewers, Colombia has been an appropriate kind of country for Peace Corps assignments in special education and rehabilitation. Colombia has some very creative programs as well as some highly trained and capable professionals. However, the number of programs and people has not been nearly enough to meet identified needs. The Peace Corps has helped to fill large gaps in important human service delivery areas.

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