Giving Back – The Influence of Maureen Orth

It is our goal at Escape Artist Colombia to not only promote the benefits and advantages of an expat lifestyle, but to also “give back” to the communities that we adopt. It has been said that there is no greater satisfaction than that of “giving back”, setting your own needs and desires aside to provide for those who are less fortunate than you. We often downplay and thereby ignore our ability as an individual to accomplish anything of significance in such circumstances but the fact of the matter is that EVERYTHING begins with one person, one thought, one idea. The vision of one can be the inspiration for many. …and the inspiration of many can change a community, a city, a country…even the world, so never doubt your ability to change someone’s life for the better. YOU can actually change the world ! … even if it is only one person at a time. Consider the influence of Maureen Orth.

Many of you know Maureen Orth as an award-winning journalist, correspondent and celebrity interviewer. Orth studied at UC Berkeley, receiving a BA in Political Science, and at UCLA, graduating in 1964 with a Masters in Journalism and Documentary Film. Beginning her career in journalism in 1972 as only the third woman to write for Newsweek, she went on to write or serve in various capacities from correspondent to senior editor for the Washington Post, the New York TimesOprah Magazine, the Rolling StoneNew York Woman, New West MagazineNew York Magazine, and Vogue. To say that Orth has made her mark in life and has even established a living legacy would be an understatement!

What few realize however is that what she considers her crowning achievement and true passion is a school founded in a simple and impoverished mountain village while she was working as a Peace Corps volunteer during the years of 1964 through 1966.

Long before she could be considered as one of the “who-is-who” before any of her current notoriety or fame. Before anyone really knew who Maureen Orth was, she was silently, humbly making her presence felt in and around Medellin as a simple but effective Peace Corp Volunteer. “Escuela Marina Orth” began when Orth was approached by the villagers of Aguas Frias, a small Andean mountain community near Medellin, to assist them in building a school. The fact that the school was named after Orth confirms the “presence” and influence that she had on this community. This influence remains strong even today and it was with the success of this one rudimentary school that the vision began … the vision of one.


What was initially a school of two classrooms for 35 students built from materials donated by the National Federation of Coffee Growers, has now grown into three schools equipped and serving over 1,000 students, with plans for many more schools in Medellin and across the country. In 2004, the Secretary of Education, Dr. Horacio Arango, requested that Escuela Marina Orth be Medellin’s first public bilingual school. In 2006, the non-profit Marina Orth Foundation was formally incorporated. Since that time, Escuela Marina Orth in Medellin has also become the first school in Colombia to become a member and recipient of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program.

It is with that belief in mind that the Marina Orth Foundation has committed itself to developing an education template that can be duplicated at primary and secondary schools across the country and beyond, proving that regardless of economic status, race, or gender, students can become globally competitive and make an unquestionable impact on their world. Today, visited by delegations from around the world, Marina Orth Foundation schools do indeed serve as shining examples of what can be accomplished in poor communities with public and private sector involvement and a bit of vision … the vision of one.

“We believe success in the 21st Century depends on several fundamental skills: technological expertise, fluency in English, and the self-confidence to assert oneself as an individual and as a member of a team. We emphasize programs in technology and language that lead either to further study at the university level or technological training schools so that our graduates can be gainfully employed at the forefront of a new vibrant economy. Their expertise will also attract new businesses to the area and expand already existing industries,” states the foundation.

Using the One Laptop Per Child program for grades 1-5 and Intel Classmate computers and conventional computers for the higher grade levels, the Orth Foundation has developed a cutting-edge curriculum. Emphasis is in English language skills and the use of computer technology for everyday tasks and research. Kindergartner’s are given computers to use in class, take home, take apart and learn from. Computers are utilized to teach English, Spanish and Mathematics and also in creating 3D graphics, composing music, and taking pictures. Teachers and students are encouraged to use computers to facilitate their research skills and to develop critical thinking and leadership skills.

In short, a changed community and a changing country – all of this from the vision of one simple Peace Corp volunteer – and the willingness to act on that vision.

With this in mind, we at ESCAPE ARTIST COLOMBIA humbly remind you and encourage you, never doubt your ability to change someone’s life or make an impact on this world for the better. Whether humanitarian or environmental, the needs and opportunities to serve are almost endless, limited only by your imagination…limited only by your vision. Through your efforts and with your vision, the world can be changed for the better, even if it is only by one person or one cause at a time. The vision of one CAN be the inspiration for many…and the inspiration of many brought about by that singular vision of one CAN indeed change a community, a city, a country…even the world … all because of the vision of one.  Maureen Orth has Made a Difference in Medellin, Colombia !

This article by Phyllis Davis can be viewed in its entirety at :

Influential Women in Colombia