Volunteer in Spain: Bienvenidos!

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Volunteering in Spain represents a tremendous opportunity to gain insight into a unique and historic country. Although the Spanish are known for their strong sense of culture and their fierce pride in their history, they are also said to be some of the most open and welcoming people in the world. Warm and friendly towards all foreigners, Spain provides both a fascinating and fun place to volunteer abroad.

The demand for volunteers is varied, as one glance at the programs below will show the variety of volunteer opportunities that are currently available. Whether you would like to research dolphins and whales in the Mediterranean, help restore a medieval castle, or turn your attention to the environment and monitor coastal fauna, Spain provides one of the more diverse lists of volunteer abroad programs.

  • Popular Destinations: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Ibiza
  • Avg. cost of living: 800-1300 Euros per month, depending on location (Spain Expat)
  • Poverty Level: 19.8% (CIA World Factbook)
  • Work/Tourist Visa: not required for stays less than 90 days for U.S. citizens

In Spain, the most popular volunteer opportunities are related to environmental and marine conservation. The country also welcomes voluntary English teachers and au pairs, as well as those who seek to help out at youth and women's shelters. If you're interested in archeological restoration, Spain is also a great place to go. Here is a round-up of volunteering opportunities offered throughout the country:

Health: Standards of living in Spain have improved significantly over the last decades. However, there is still plenty of room for potential volunteers interested in the medical field to make a difference. Examples of volunteer opportunities include working at an organization for rare diseases or at a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. Experience in social work is beneficial, but not always required. If you do have any medical qualifications, be sure to highlight them in your applications.

Gender Equality: Although conditions have improved over the last years, it is still evident that women occupy a lower position than men in the Spanish society. Volunteers interested in gender equality issues should consider volunteering at a women's shelter. Before you start, educate yourself about domestic violence. Also, if you have particularly relevant qualifications, such as counseling, nursing or paralegal skills, mention them in your application.

Youth Development and Education: Volunteers in Barcelona can help to prevent school desertion by assisting kids with their homework so that they finish their education. There are also numerous opportunities to volunteer teaching English in Spain. In addition, consider taking on a full-time role such as an au pair or as part of another similar childcare program. Rural areas and the poorer areas of major cities are in particular need of youth support volunteers.

Community Development: Spain is home to many immigrants, including those originating from Africa (especially Morocco) and Romania. Immigrant communities and other disadvantages minorities welcome the help of international volunteers. Common tasks include educating children as well as adults. If you're planning to work with Moroccan immigrants, speaking French will help. Spanish language skills always come in handy, too. Apart from helping immigrants, further community development projects to consider include archeological work, such as restoring the medieval castle in Algerri.

Environmental Conservation: Spain is ideal for those interested in environmental and marine conservation projects. Spanish beaches experience heavy damage due to tourism. You could find yourself volunteering at a working farm created to demonstrate sustainable ecological development in Ibiza, assisting at a dolphin and whale research project in the Strait of Gibraltar, or monitoring the state of the coastal fauna at Creus Cape. Environmental conservation is more than just beach cleaning; it goes hand in hand with research (such as sea based surveys as well as data entry back on land) and education. If you have previous experience, either in environmental work or as a teaching assistant, highlight that in your application. These skills aren't required but will make you stand out from the other volunteers.

  • Volunteer Support: If you volunteer abroad in Spain with an established program, they should have a support system, including advisors, so make sure to utilize it. Should you be volunteering during a study abroad program, you can also consult Apune, a cultural, non-profit organization that services American study abroad programs. For expat resources, consult general websites such as Spain Expat.
  • NGO/Nonprofit/Volunteer History in Spain: In the past, NGOs used to receive significant support from governmental and other official organizations. Due to the recent economic crisis, however, such support has been reduced drastically. Click here for a complete list of NGOs in Spain.
  • Know Before You Go: Speaking Spanish is not required by all volunteer programs, but it certainly comes in handy. Communicating with the locals, whether during your volunteer work or in your free time, can significantly enhance your experience in Spain. Check out online learning tools such as Livemocha to brush up on your skills before you go.
  • How Volunteering in Spain Will Help Your Future: Practical experience as a volunteer is essential if you want to pursue a career in international relations or social work. Also, learning Spanish can be extremely useful when you return home. Employers will value your work experience as well as your foreign language skills.
  • How to Save Money While Volunteering: The big cities in Spain can get especially expensive. However, if you plan ahead, there are many things you can do for free. Consider sharing an apartment and taking advantage of affordable menus del dia if you plan on eating out. For further tips on how to save, check out city-specific guides such as Madrid Free or MADbudget.
  • Best Places to Volunteer: The best place to volunteer will depend on what kind of volunteer work you want to do. For youth and community development, the less privileged areas of big cities are ideal. If you're interested in marine and environmental conservation, head to the coast or one of the islands.
  • Questions to Ask: Do I need to speak Spanish or have any other qualifications? Where will I be living? How will I get to the location where I am volunteering? What kind of support network is included in the program cost? What other amenities are available? Will I be able to interact with locals while I am in Spain?
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Spain:

Generally speaking, you don't need any special vaccinations or medications for traveling to Spain. Recommended vaccinations include Hepatitis B for all travelers and Hepatitis A for extended travel to rural areas where food hygiene might be questionable. Travelers born after 1956 should also consider getting two doses of MMR immunizations. Tetanus-diphtheria vaccinations are recommended every 10 years and those coming from November through April could also consider getting the Flu shot. Check out MD Travel Health for more information.

Contributed by Isabel Eva Bohrer

Photo Credit: david martyn / BigStockPhoto.com and Isavel Eva Bohrer / Flickr

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