Presented by Museum of the Peace Corps Experience and American University Museum

Photographs By Foto Colombia Students

Cartagena, Colombia 
Courtesy of Alyssa Galik, Colombia, Manzanillo Del Mar 2016–18

Top row, left to right:

1. Posing in the school playground, photo camp enthusiast Luis, age 13, looks forward to a career in technology or the visual arts.

2. Fresh flowers adorn a girl’s braids, one of the ways in which students dress each other’s hair.

3. Young photographer Miguel Arias, age 9, pauses in the neighborhood of
El Vecino.

4. A brightly painted house typifies the local preference for a colorful palette.

Bottom row, left to right:

5. Kids play along the Guayapito, a shallow stream that runs through the
Manzanillo mangroves and empties into the Pacific Ocean.

6. Murals decorate the entrance to the combination primary and secondary school.

7. A boy plays with his pet bird.

8. Empty bleechers at la cancha (sports field) await fans for a weekend game against a neighboring pueblo. In Manzanillo baseball is as popular as soccer.


Cartagena has always been a place of contradictions, a city of realismo mágico (magical realism), where Gabriel García Márquez set his novel Love in the Time of Cholera (1985). Cartagena is the poorest city in Colombia, yet it’s also the epicenter of luxury and wealth.

While teaching English in the primary and secondary schools, I thought about how I wanted to spend my off-work time. Manzanillo was fighting to preserve its culture, and telling the story of this struggle through photography could be a powerful creative outlet for my students.

As members of a primarily Afro-Colombian community, the people of Manzanillo were extremely proud of their ethnic heritage—even more so, it seemed to me, than in other communities within Colombia. I wanted my students to grow up knowing that their stories were unique and valuable, even amid encroaching development as Cartagena’s wealthier residents moved into the area.

A few years prior to my arrival, Outside the Lens (OTL), a nonprofit group located in San Diego, California, had donated a dozen digital cameras to Peace Corps Colombia. OTL developed the curricula for photography workshops focused on self-expression, showing students how to capture daily life in their homes and villages.

My efforts in Manzanillo began in September 2016, but other PCVs set up photography workshops in their own sites. We passed the cameras along every month or so to the next volunteer who wanted to get involved. The amazing artistry produced in these workshops is displayed on the Outside the Lens Colombia website and on OISTE, Peace Corps Columbia’s digital magazine.

Sometimes the story behind a photo is as powerful as the image itself. Luis Mario, my most enthusiastic attendee, said he hoped to become a visual artist when he grew up. Several months later he was part of FOTO Colombia, the culmination of our workshops, bringing together Colombian and American teenagers in a weeklong camp to focus on peace building and reconciliation. The 2016 Colombia Peace Deal with FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) had just been signed six months previously, and the collaborations between the Colombian and American teens produced some moving photography and stories.

It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the children of Colombia tell their own story. Enjoy this small sample of their creative talents!