Volunteering Abroad Shouldn't Cost the Earth

Volunteer English Teaching Paraguay

 

Description

We are a UK registered small charity founded in 2001 dedicated to the education of the poor people of the rural area where it is based in Paraguay. We have four main programmes: university scholarships, a tertiary education Institute, music classes and English classes. We are looking for volunteers to teach our English course. Our English course is made up of students selected for their aptitude and who pay nothing for their classes. We have a thriving children's course (8-12 years old), as well as adults' classes (13 to around 30, though there is no upper age limit). We have classes daily from Monday to Friday in the morning and in the late afternoon, to fit around our students' school and university schedules. Students work towards the Cambridge English exams, and our students have amassed 298 such certificates to date. Volunteers are free to pursue other activities in the early afternoons, late evenings and weekends. Past volunteers have taught music or another language, ridden with the caballeria, danced the samba in the carnival, played the harp, taken Guarani; lessons, embroidered with the sewing workshop, helped the craftswomen with their marketing, and interpreted for the Santa Maria Hotel. Paraguay is one of the poorest countries of Latin America, and its development is much impeded by the very low level of English of its citizens. Santa Maria is a small rural municipality encompassing a small town and a number of more remote country areas where subsistence farming is the rule. It has massive unemployment and is economically disadvantaged compared to its neighbouring towns, but it is now acquiring a reputation for growing educational excellence due to the work of SMEF. Many of our students have used their English to gain jobs as teachers, hotels and in business. More information, previous volunteers'; experiences, FAQs and how to apply can be found on our website.


Details

Organisation:
Santa Maria Education Fund

Location:
Santa Maria de Fe

Qualifications/Skills:
We are looking for people with excellent Spanish. Most of our volunteers have university level Spanish. An A at A-level is an absolute minimum, and we would check level at the interview stage. An interest in working with the poor. The job satisfaction comes from seeing life opportunities open up for young people who would otherwise have no opportunity to study English Natural teaching ability. (Imagination, rapport with students, clear speech and an aptitude for grammar are key qualities. If you have training or experience that is a bonus.) Willingness to come for several months. The longer you stay the more everyone benefits, both the students and the volunteer. Financial independence. While you pay us nothing and living here is cheap, you must cover your own expenses.

Dates of program:
Year round

Duration of program:
3 months minimum, 6+ months preferred

Age requirement:
Adults of both sexes 18+

Cost:
Free but volunteers cover their own expenses (i.e. flights, insurance, accommodation, food, etc).

Other information:
None


Reviews

Highly recommended
"I loved volunteering with SMEF and have very fond memories of my time in Santa Maria. The students are welcoming and eager to learn, the institute really did everything to help me settle in, and my host family were just wonderful. My Spanish improved hugely while I was in Santa Maria, and I also had an incredible experience getting to know the students, developing my teaching, exploring Paraguay and going on some travel trips further afield. Definitely the most rewarding placement I did during my year abroad learning Spanish."- Elsa Maishman
Rewarding experience in a beautiful country
"I am still in touch with the friends I made in Santa Maria de Fe, which speaks for the warmth of the community. It was a rewarding experience, teaching eager and energetic students. Everyone makes an effort to make you feel at home, and when we were not off for weekends exploring different parts of Paraguay, we went for strolls in the countryside, chilled out drinking tereré with friends, went to football games and soaked up the vibrant and eye-opening culture, which taught me so much. I would whole-heartedly recommend taking the jump and joining the Santa Maria de Fe community."- Iona Brandt
Unbelievable, exciting, character-building experience
"I thoroughly enjoyed my time working in Paraguay. The Institute makes a huge difference to peoples' lives in the village, and there is a strong sense of community that you feel from the very first day. I found the Institute very flexible with regard to to taking some time off for some fun trips away (including visiting Iguazú Falls) and the classes are a wide range of ages and abilities which keeps the day interesting. The village itself is gorgeous and there is a fairly active social life - people are extremely friendly and will not hesitate to ask you to social gatherings, football matches, music festivals, or anything else. Of course, there are challenges to living in such a different environment, but that is part of the journey. My time in Paraguay was fantastic and I couldn't recommend it highly enough."- Connor Rowlett
An incredible experience!
"I taught English in Santa María for four months during the year abroad of my languages degree and returned for a second stay two years later because I loved it so much there. I would recommend this volunteer placement in a heartbeat! Santa María is a truly special place: the local community is so welcoming that you never feel alone and it's easy to make friends and build lasting relationships. When I arrived, people rushed to get to know me and make me feel at ease. My local hosts went above and beyond to make me feel like one more member of the family. Even when, during my second stay, I wasn't living in their house, I was invited to lunch with them every single day and was included in every family gathering. It still feels like a home away from home. The town itself is quiet (there's not much in the way of cinemas etc.) but your afternoons and weekends quickly fill up drinking tereré with friends, exploring the nearby towns and cities, attending local events and family gatherings. This volunteer placement is also perfect for improving your Spanish as you will be completely immersed in your host family's lifestyle! The teaching experience with SMEF is unique, too, because of the level of responsibility you're given and range of ages and abilities you teach (for me, ages 8 to 30; complete beginners to near-fluent speakers). You work hard, teaching every weekday, but it's genuinely stimulating work and you always have a nice long break in middle of the day. And the more you get to know your students, the more motivated you feel to help them progress; it's a great feeling seeing them develop over the course of your stay. I now work as a teacher in the UK and the experience I gained working alongside Sarah and the other volunteers in Santa María was a key stepping stone in my career."- Laura Day
Loved it! Highly recommended experience.
"I spent 14 months volunteering with SMEF when I graduated college in 2016 and returned for another month about a year later to work on my graduate thesis and catch up with family and friends that I missed dearly when I left. Everything about Santa Maria is absolutely lovely - the people, the town, the work. It's a small town so most everyone knows each other, which means your neighbors greet you as I walk to the Institute, the church, the grocery shop, or anywhere else, and people will invite you in to chat, share a merienda, or drink terere. People are SO welcoming that even as someone who is shy at first I quickly felt at home. Additionally, you host family and your students provide quick ways to integrate into the community and begin practicing your Spanish. I formed so many meaningful relationships while I was there, especially with my older students. All of the volunteers teach a wide range of classes varying from beginners to near-fluent speakers and from children to adults. I loved all of my classes for different reasons- the kids are fun, energetic, and learn quickly, while the adults are a joy to teach because they become your friends as well. They're also incredibly patient when you first begin and help you to feel comfortable in front of the class. You're given both a lot of guidance and a lot of freedom in how you teach your classes. There are structured books and planned activities, and the SMEF staff are always around to support you, but you are welcome to adapt the materials in any way you'd like or add additional content, games, and activities as you see fit. If you have any additional talents to offer, SMEF is really great about letting you share your other passions through institute classes as well. I helped teach some music classes and aided with Biology class and lab at the Food Technology school that SMEF also supports. Since you teach in the morning and in the evening, there's lots of free time mid-day to go to the plaza and see the monkeys, spend time with friends, go for a swim in the river during the summer, or any number of other things. On the weekends I took harp lessons (and in the end bought a harp to bring home) and sang in the church choir. Plus, If you ever need a break from small town life or just want to explore, you can also take weekend trips to amazing places like Iguazu falls just across the border in Argentina/Brazil, or any number of natural wonders in Paraguay that aren't super touristy, which is nice; there are tons of rivers, waterfalls, forests, etc. to explore if you're an outdoorsy person! I ended up not travelling as often as I'd planned before arriving because I never wanted to leave Santa Maria and miss out on weekend activities like soccer games, friend's graduation parties or other events. If you're around for the fiesta patronal in September celebrating the virgin Mary or in the spring for Holy Week, there are also all kinds of local festivities and events that draw in people from all around the region. I could go on all day about the amazing time I had in Santa Maria. I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to learn about another culture, practice their Spanish, and form meaningful lifelong friendships."- Jennifer Beckner

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Web links / Other ways to help

If you visit and apply via the website please mention that you saw this project on volunteerlatinamerica.com.