Make Volunteering in Latin America the Best Experience
Travel is one of the most effective ways to enrich your life and broaden your mind. Travelling the world, with a bag on your back, opens up new experiences at every turn.
Regardless of whether you are on a budget backpacking trip, or enjoying more upmarket travel, with a larger budget, travel is something that should be enjoyed. And in this article, I take a look at how people who intend to spend some time volunteering in Latin America; can make sure they have the best experience possible. Below you will find 7 tips for volunteering in Latin America.
Latin America has a lot to offer volunteers. Few other regions in the world can serve up such a stunning combination of natural scenery and exotic wildlife. Nobody who spots a jaguar in the Pantanal or the rainforest will ever forget it. But of course, having exceptional wildlife experiences comes with a price tag attached. Volunteering helps you to keep the cost of your travel in Latin America down. There are volunteer programs in Latin America that allow you to see magnificent animals, such as giant river otters and sloths, for free or very little cost. So here are some tips to make sure you have a great time.
1. Learn Before You Go
The internet is a great research tool. One you should leverage if you are considering spending time as a volunteer in Latin America. Once you have tracked down what you think is a good volunteer program that suits you, the you should perform some background checks. If the volunteer program is operated by an NGO or even a profit-making company, you need to check that is reputable and trustworthy. Nothing could ruin your enjoyment of volunteering in Latin America more than feeling you have been ripped off by an untrustworthy organizer. Furthermore, you need to ensure that the actual work you will be doing as a volunteer is something you are comfortable with. There are many options here, from working with wildlife through to assisting a small local community as an English teacher. Research is the key here, read reviews, check out the experience of other volunteers, learn before you go. There is some great tips on choosing the best volunteer abroad programs project on this blog.
2. Think About What You Pack
Pack wisely and lightly. Lugging an oversized backpack around in the in stifling heat is a fool’s game. Alongside all the usual paraphernalia we would take with us on an extended travel expedition, there are a few essential items that every volunteer in Latin will almost definitely need. These are:
- Comfortable footwear and appropriate clothing - hard wearing shoes or boots which will protect your feet and keep them cool. Clothing will vary according to the nature of the project, local culture and the season
- Basic first aid kit and essential medication - including band-aids and painkillers
- Vitamins - a daily vitamin supplement will make up for any nutritional shortcomings in the local diet
- Toiletries - including a toothbrush and hygiene products
- Electrical goods - including flashlight and suitable adapter
3. Try to Assimilate
Latin America isn’t all about exotic wildlife and stunning natural scenery. It has a vibrant and unique culture. The culture of Latin America today stems from a diverse set of cultural traditions, dating back to those of pre-Columbian civilisations and indigenous tribes, which have blended with African slaves and immigrants from Spain and elsewhere. Whilst you are volunteering in Latin America, you have a wonderful chance to learn about and experience local cultures. Learn about local customs and traditions so you wear culturally appropriate clothes and can interact with local people without causing offence.
4. Get Your Tongue Around the Language
The benefits of learning new language are undeniable. Learning a new language with your boots on the ground as a volunteer, amongst a local community, is even more rewarding. While you are volunteering in Latin America, do try and learn a little of the language from the local people. They will appreciate you making the effort, and it will form bonds between you. And of course, it will also make your life as a volunteer so much easier if you can speak even a little of the language.
5. Don’t Rush Things
Volunteering in Latin America is something best appreciated over a good amount of time. The longer you stay, the more you will see the impact you are having. Many people only choose to stay a couple of weeks or a month. However, for a much better experience consider staying for significantly longer. For example, if you are teaching English, then a few weeks is not long enough for you and the students to get to know each other. Staying longer, lets you build a proper pupil/teacher bond.
6. Aim to Make a Difference
As a volunteer in Latin America, you are a small cog in a large machine. However, don’t go into this experience thinking that you don’t matter. Everything you do will help. Think about the work you are doing, and how best you can ensure that it makes a difference. Don’t be afraid to come forward with new ideas, or ways to do things better. You are there to help. You should also make an effort to live in a fashion that is synergistic with your time volunteering in Latin America. For example, if you are working on a project that deals with wildlife preservation, or some other type of ecological project, this is a good time to ponder things like what impact your lifestyle has on other animals and the environment.
7. Enjoy Yourself!
In many ways, this should have been number one on the list. There is no point doing something if you are not having fun doing it right? Setting off for a trip volunteering in Latin America for the first time is quite a challenge. You will no doubt be a little scared, or worried about what volunteering is actually like. Once you have settled into your new temporary life, make sure to free up some time to enjoy Latin America. Soak up the scenery, capture some of the incredible wildlife in pictures, and enjoy the vibrant local cultures. Volunteering needs to be fun, but whether it is or not, is almost entirely up to you!