- Study Abroad
- Volunteer Abroad
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- Intern Abroad
- High School
- Gap Year
In comparison to many other Western economies, Central America (comprising of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama), is still a largely impoverished region. With recent civil wars, continuing political instabilities, crippling foreign debt and much lower standards of education, conservation, social and medical care than many developed economies, much of the wealth relies on either profit from tourism or the migration of multi-nationals to cheaper Central American locations, (such as Intel Corporation, Microsoft, HP, Proctor & Gamble and many more, to Costa Rica).
Because of these economic and social factors there is a wealth of areas for volunteers to get involved in. These run the gamut from working with orphaned children, helping improve land and sea conservation efforts, to helping construct better community facilities. In fact, any area of volunteering you might be interested in, you can probably find in Central America!
The most popular types of volunteer programs centre around conservation, child welfare/education and community development.
Conservation: Many volunteers head to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, to help protect the sea turtles. The turtles are in danger because of egg and turtle poaching, fishing net use and pollution. The volunteers work to educate and provide the local people with an alternate source of income, aside from poaching. Volunteers also work in egg hatcheries and turtle rescue and rehabilitation centres. There are many organisations offering turtle protection programs, and this is one of the most popular conservation projects for volunteers, in Central America.
Programs run year round, and your working schedule will vary. For example, you might be patrolling the beaches at night looking for adult nesting turtles, manning the hatchery or taking care of sick turtles. You will be working irregular hours and no 2 days are ever the same!
Child Welfare/Education: There are opportunities to work with disadvantaged children in many Central American countries, and need for volunteers is especially high in the poorer Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Your duties could include volunteering in an orphanage and organizing the children's recreational and educational activities, or assisting with English classes at local schools.
For the many orphans and abandoned children in Central America life on the streets can be dangerous, miserable and short-lived. Even if they are lucky enough to be taken into a refuge, the often limited resources and staffing means they can still lack basic childhood rights, like a good education and being shown affection. You can make a difference!
And for many other children in community schools, the chance to be taught by a native speaker will really motivate them to improve their English, and therefore boost their future work prospects. So, you could also help shape a child's future by teaching!
Your working day may vary, depending on which type of organisation (school, orphanage or community centre) and what your role is; but might typically be from 8.30am-3pm, Monday to Friday (for example) in a school.
Community Development: Volunteers can work for a variety of programs, such as in construction and renovation; to help with home-building and school and orphanage renovation. These programs help to (literally!) re-build and empower local communities in impoverished areas. You don't need previous construction experience but you do need to be fit, be willing to work hard, and to work sometimes long and irregular hours. It is possible to undertake community development projects in all the countries, especially the poorer ones.
Central America is a varied and fascinating region: from its Caribbean and Pacific coastlines; ancient, architectural ruins; indigenous communities, and inland jungle regions. You will experience humility, enduring appreciation, and one of the most amazing cultural experiences of your life in any one of the seven countries. Whatever sector you chose to volunteer in, you will not only be personally enriched, but you will also have various life skills to add to your resume such as: resourcefulness, working to tight deadlines and extensive communication skills. Plus some pretty crazy (possibly censored!) stories to tell in an interview! Wherever and however you chose to volunteer this will be an experience you will never forget!
Lynette is a Presenter for Student Finance England in colleges throughout South West England. She holds a BA from the University of Hertfordshire in Journalism, Media, English Literature and Spanish, a Tefl certificate from Madrid, and is a fully qualified Veterinary Nurse in England. She grew up in Southampton, England and has travelled extensively around Australia, New Zealand, Asia and North, Central and South America. Find Lynette on Google+. And see more examples of Lynette's published work on her online Journalism Portfolio.
Do you think there is something missing in our guide to volunteering in Central America? Contact us and let us know! We want to make sure our information is relevant and up to date.