Volunteer work, like taking tours, is more expensive the further away it is arranged. As with Volunteering in Central America the southern American continent offers backpackers plenty of opportunities to hook up with worthwhile grassroots organisations.
The following suggestions will get new volunteers started cheaply and once in the region it will be easier to find more opportunities with NGOs that have neither the money nor skills to advertise their presence on the internet.
Whether it’s teaching English, organic gardening or leading mountain treks, most organisations given here ask for few skills. Enthusiasm and a willingness to pitch in where help is most wanted can go a long way in keeping you a long way from home for longer.
Colombia Sin Fronteras: A small charity with the aim of improving reading and writing in Santa Marta. Passion, determination, commitment and basic Spanish are all that is needed for volunteers to help out by teaching a class of four to 12 year olds. There is no fee to join in and CSF helps with finding low cost accommodation in the area.
Jakera Spanish School Venezuela: Should you be thinking of learning Spanish in Venezuela then this school can also help in arranging volunteer work at a local school, with street kids or at a zoo. Though the Spanish lessons cost $345 per week there is no extra cost involved when combined with volunteering. Accommodation is included in the program fee.
Fronteering: By no means a locally based NGO, most volunteer placements made by Fronteering are of the more costly variety. One exception is this 24 week Amazon internship where volunteers will find themselves working with local Amerindian tribes and ex UK Special Forces. No fee is required to participate but volunteers pay around $300 per month to rent a room near the project’s base of operations and sleep in a hammock when in the field.
Sacred Suenos: A two hour hike from Vilcabamba, volunteers have helped to regenerate 90 hectares of degraded mountainside land into gardens and orchards. Up to 14 volunteers at a time are able to learn how to live sustainably off the land in return for six hours work a day, five days a week. Accommodation is free (in dorms, cabins or a yurt bedroom – all built by former volunteers) and food from the gardens or carried in by Bonita the donkey is provided for $25 per week. There is also a one off $10 payment.
Pisco Sin Fronteras: A year after 80 per cent of Pisco was levelled by an earthquake, PSF was formed to help with rebuilding. Volunteers need to commit to a minimum of two weeks and could be taking on a variety of jobs including bricklaying, demolition, foundation digging, painting murals or teaching English. $45 per week covers food and accommodation.
Condortrekkers: Volunteer tour guides are hired to assist local guides taking tourists on treks. There are no fees to be paid but volunteers must pay their own way and for their first trek (around $65). Guiding and tourism experience is desirable but not required but basic Spanish is needed to communicate with the Bolivian guide. Profits from Condortrekkers go towards community and development projects in Sucre and the local area. When not hiking tasks include promotion and teaching English to the guides.
English Open Doors Program: A programme to improve English language education throughout the Chilean public school system, the English Open Doors Program places native (or near native) English speaking graduates, aged 21 to 35, in schools throughout Chile. There is no fee to participate and volunteers receive board and accommodation with a host family. Compulsory health insurance costs are balanced out with a CLP60,000 (around $120) per month completion bonus.
Estancia La Margarita: Set in gaucho countryside, 280 kilometres from Buenos Aires this ranch often takes on a volunteer to help out with non-Spanish speaking guests. Other tasks that may need tackling include wood chopping, general maintenance and helping out in the kitchen. Volunteers should speak Spanish and English and be a competent horse rider. In return volunteers are fed and accommodated and afforded time to go horse riding.
Proyecto Karumbe: This research and conservation project needs help to capture and care for sick Green Turtles. Other tasks include cooking and cleaning. Volunteers pay a small daily fee to cover food and accommodation.
Filomena Language Center: Paraguay doesn’t have the same wealth of inexpensive volunteer work options that can be found across much of the rest of the continent. Projects here typically cost at least $800 per month, including food and accommodation. I’ve chosen to highlight this Spanish school because profits go towards helping underprivileged girls gain a university education. Spanish lessons cost €275 per week, which includes accommodation and food, and volunteer work can be organised in the afternoons and weekends. The school has also indicated on our job boards that they will provide cheap accommodation to volunteer English and Spanish teachers.
Oiyakaha: Covering 140 hectares of virgin rainforest, rivers and hills, this remote Amazonian centre for art and ecology aims to practice healthy and sustainable living. Volunteers who help out by planting trees and doing the washing up can stay in basic accommodation for free but must pay for their own food. Oiyakaha will next be accepting volunteers in summer 2012.