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Nicaragua is a country that is sure to amaze any visitor, even the most adventurous of volunteers. Sometimes called the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, this tropical country is becoming increasingly popular as an international tourist destination for many reasons. Ethnically diverse, with cultural leftovers from the Spanish rule hundreds of years ago, Nicaragua offers a variety of attractions. As one of the poorest Latin American nations, volunteering in Nicaragua is a great way to make a difference while experiencing an exciting new culture!
Health Care: The maternal and birth mortality rate is especially high in Nicaragua. Another large problem for Nicaraguans when it comes to health is lack of access. Whether it's because of remote locations or high prices, many local Nicaraguans never receive the health care they need and only 6% of the population is insured (according to WHO). Volunteers with a background in medicine and health care are encouraged to use their skills and expertise to help the situation in Nicaragua.
Teaching: Education is free in Nicaragua but that doesn't mean that it's readily available or accessible to everyone. The Nicaraguan government has also created campaigns to promote literacy. Volunteers can make a difference just by spending time with vulnerable young students. Whether you want to teach English, coach sports, or assist with extracurricular activities, there are plenty of opportunities to teach students in Nicaragua.
Community Development: From building projects to supporting small businesses, there is plenty of work to be done to support Nicaraguan communities, especially with such a high rate of poverty.
According to the Worldwide Association of NGOs (WANGO), there are 20 nonprofits based in Nicaragua. Each NGO has a specific focus and works to better the community - from fair trade to economics to education, there are all kinds of NGOs to volunteer with in Nicaragua. You will also find large, international nonprofits working in Nicaragua that you can help out with, like Habitat for Humanity for example.
It's a good idea to know enough Spanish to get around before spending time in Nicaragua. Unless you're in an overly touristy or expensive area, no English will be spoken. In many areas of Nicaragua, Creole, Spanish, and indigenous languages can be heard.
Cost of living is pretty affordable in Nicaragua, especially for someone coming from a more developed nation. Although rent is relatively low in Nicaragua, many volunteers go through an organization that finds them accommodations like home-stays. If you are paying for accommodation through a volunteer provider, there are other ways to save money - one of the best and easiest being to skip the restaurants. Food will most likely be your biggest expense to stick to small, locally-owned and operated joints as well as the popular markets. Not only will this save you money, but give you a more authentic Nicaraguan diet.
Leon is a great destination for volunteers interested in Nicaragua's cultural history. Full of the nation's most magnificent churches and museums, Leon is also a great place to explore local nightlife. Much of Nicaragua also offers beaches, reefs, jungles, and volcanoes for the adventurous and outdoors-y volunteer.
Crime is low in Nicaragua, but of course foreigners should use caution, especially in crowded areas. Always be aware of your surroundings. Tap water is safe in certain areas of the country but your best bet is always filtered, bottled water.
Any Central American country, especially Nicaragua, is a good bet for someone looking to get away from big cities without breaking the bank. Unfortunately, this tropical destination is still one of the poorest around and its economy is mostly supported by agriculture. Visit Nicaragua and see what a difference you can make - as well as what kind of change Nicaragua will inspire in you!
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