Country: United States of America


Volunteering In South America

December 06, 2012

South America is a popular volunteer abroad destination for a variety of reasons. Recent political stability and a surge in development programs coupled with beautiful scenery, diverse cultures, and an increasing number of volunteer programs available make South America a perfect volunteer destination. Improving your Spanish speaking capabilities is also a bonus, as many organizations do not require Spanish, but encourage it and provide lessons!

If you’re deciding whether or not to volunteer in South America, take a look at the different opportunities you have available to you, by region and by project type!


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Rainforest: Many volunteer organizations in South America offer participants unique opportunities in the dense rainforests that encompass the continent. Volunteers can work on a number of projects, such as reforestation, animal habitat conservation, animal rehabilitation, mapping, trail building, and more! Some organizations also offer volunteers work with communities within the rainforest, granting a complete cultural experience while serving the locals; generally teaching children but also assisting community members.

Notable programs featured on VG: Iracambi Atlantic Rainforest Research Center, Merazonia, and Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi.

Mountain: Although less common than rainforest volunteering, volunteering in mountainous regions provides volunteers with a variety of opportunities and projects as well. Most organizations provide support for the preservation of indigenous cultures, empowerment of women and young children, education support, recreation building, access to health care and environmental conservation.

Notable programs featured on VG include Aldeas de Paz and Paramedics for Children.

Urban: Most urban volunteer opportunities provided by organizations will include work with improving the quality of life for city dwellers, particularly those living in extreme poverty and in slums, focusing specifically on projects such as sanitation, health care access and education for children. Other organizations focus on providing human and financial resources for ongoing projects created by the local community members themselves. Most organizations that work with children focus on keeping children off the streets and integrating them into the school system, offering them a brighter future.

Notable programs featured on VG include Sustainable Bolivia, El Centro de la Niña Trabajadora, and Native of Peru.

Rural: Rural volunteering offers volunteers various opportunities no less unique than urban volunteering. Some projects provided include reforestation and sustainable rural development, technical training, agricultural development and restructuring, environmental education, resource management, education, ecotourism, small business development, public health and community development.

Notable programs featured on VG include Nexos Voluntarios, Hampy—Volunteer and Academic Programs, Fundación Brethren y Unida and CRACYP Progreso Verde.

Types of Volunteer Projects Available

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Wildlife & Conservation: Whether volunteering in the rainforest or in the mountains, wildlife and biodiversity conservation stand out as two of the most popular types of projects volunteers can work on in South America. Whether aiding research being conducted on a specific species, providing local communities with an environmental education course or rehabilitating animals, you will make a great contribution to the preservation of the beauty and diversity of the South American country you are serving.

Education/Children: Global volunteers are able to find a variety of opportunities in which they can work with children and education, and South America is no exception. Volunteers are needed in all areas of the continent—rural and urban, rainforest and mountainous. Through teaching children volunteers gain a unique perspective of the culture of the area in which they serve and have the potential to play a significant, vital role in the lives of their students, especially if volunteering long term. However, children are not the only students that can be taught. Many adult community members look for programs to improve their literacy or seek English lessons as a means of escaping poverty as well.

Health Care: Providing assistance in the arena of heath care is a notable volunteer experience. Whether assisting in clerical tasks, seeking funding for clinics from NGO’s and international aid organizations, planning for provided transportation to clinics, speaking to communities about HIV prevention or any other project, health care volunteers play crucial roles in the communities they serve.

Agriculture: As in other areas of the world, volunteers are always needed in the agricultural sector and there are a variety of different projects volunteers can work on. From engineering irrigation systems to farming and planning for future harvesting cycles or removing invasive species and developing new farming techniques, volunteers can expect a mixture of physical and mental work in the beautiful countries of South America.

Indigenous Culture Preservation: What could be better than protecting a culture that is unique, beautiful, centuries old, and in danger of being overtaken by modernity? Volunteers who seek opportunities in culture preservation will find exciting projects in South America, such as indigenous language rehabilitation, creating cooperatives to sell traditional goods (domestically or globally) and preserving ancient structures and other items such as art and pottery.

Have you volunteered in South America? Do you have recommendations? Post them below!