Asociacion Pop Wuj - Volunteer Program in Guatemala

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Young guatemalan girl in black and white


Pop Wuj - Spanish School Guatemala is seeking volunteers to fill several positions in its Community Development Projects. These positions all require the commitment of individuals with a working knowledge of Spanish, interest or experience in working with rural communities, and at least a three-month commitment. If you fulfill these qualifications, please read on. The long-term volunteer opportunities range across a variety of different projects and areas of interest, so there is something to suit anyone’s interest.

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Questions & Answers


based on 11 reviews
  • Impact 9
  • Support 9.4
  • Fun 8.9
  • Value 8.7
  • Safety 9.1
Showing 1 - 11 of 11
Yes, I recommend this program

Four Incredible Weeks in the Medical Spanish Program

I did a month at the spectacular Pop-Wuj School in the medical Spanish program. Initially, I had doubts about how much ground I could cover, but four weeks at Pop-Wuj were enough to get my Spanish from beginning-intermediate to pretty proficient. By the end, I could spend 4-5 hours in clinic with patients without batting an eye, and I was able to give off-the-cuff presentations in Spanish about cervical cancer screening and depression stigmatization.

Pop-Wuj is a very special place. In addition to the clinic downstairs, which provides free care and medication to a predominantly indigenous population, they run projects to build stoves to subsistence farmers and also support a school that's populated by children of folks who make their living sorting through the detritus left at the town dump. My teacher, Carlos, was one of the most gifted educators I've ever been around, and 4 hours a day with him flew by like nothing.

Xela is a terrific little city with plenty to do, and it's VERY VERY SAFE. Never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, and neither did any of my classmates.

Pop-Wuj is a 10/10 experience. Can't vouch for it highly enough, and hope to return sometime in the future.

What would you improve about this program?
Can't think of much — the school and the clinic are truly top notch.
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Yes, I recommend this program


I worked at Pop Wuj as an Environmental Projects Coordinator for two months, and I had an absolutely amazing time. First of all, I learnt incredibly much about Guatemalan culture, the issues faced in the areas around Xela, and Pop Wuj's work to support communities. I was able to work with so many different projects and with so many different people, that my learning experience really could not have been any better. What I appreciated a lot, too, was the fact that Pop Wuj staff and exective team really place a lot of importance on giving interns and long-term volunteers cultural competency training appropriate to help them understand the culture they are working in and the very projects they are working with. Finally, I also got to practice my Spanish a lot which helped me improve significantly.
Secondly, Pop Wuj has an incredibly familiar and pleasant atmosphere. Everyone is amazingly friendly and open, and my superiors have always been very supportive and patient. I truly felt appreciated and like a part of the team.
Finally, Xela and Guatemala in general really got to my heart. Xela is a beautiful and amazingly authentic city, which allowed me to connect with Guatemalan culture as well as I possibly could have in the time I spent there. I stayed in a host family which Pop Wuj facilitated, where I always felt at home and welcome.

Yes, I recommend this program

General Projects Coordinator

I had an incredible time volunteering as General Projects Coordinator. I started with the standard 3-month internship mid-September to mid-December 2015 and ended up coming back for another 3 months of volunteering in January to March 2016. That's not unusual here -- I know of 5 other intern alumni who ended up staying in Xela or coming back for at least 3 more months because they had such great experiences. Full disclosure: At the beginning of April I became Student Coordinator, so I'm still at Pop Wuj now, 11 months after first arriving.
For me the coolest part of the internship program was knowing that I could make valuable contributions within a sustainable, Guatemalan-run model. Carmen de Alvarado, the Director of Social Projects, is one of the founders of Pop Wuj and has almost 25 years of experiences now overseeing the projects. Pop Wuj also has decades-long relationships with most of the communities where it works. Although I was encouraged to take on independent projects and leadership roles and to suggest improvements, I also understood from the beginning that everything I did was informed by local staff and project participants. As a result I felt that my work was meaningful and contributed to Pop Wuj's larger mission and goals.

What would you improve about this program?
As an intern I really wanted more constructive feedback about the work I was doing. Carmen, the interns' boss, is diplomatic and reluctant to criticize. She fills out the regular evaluations that interns receive, and these err on the side of generous. She can give you concrete feedback, but to get it you sometimes have to ask specific questions ("People seemed to lose interest when I started talking about infant nutrition. How could I present that material differently?")
One of the Student Coordinator's roles is to support interns, and the Student Coordinator while I was volunteering gave more direct feedback when requested.
From my perspective now, as Student Coordinator myself, I understand that a desire not to be unappreciative of work that volunteers are doing can make criticism tricky. My advice to interns is to ask for feedback clearly and often if it's important to you.
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No, I don't recommend this program


I did not have a good experience here. I do not blame the school, I blame myself for not understanding what I was getting into. The town of Xela is not at all what I was expecting. It was filled with exhaust (like black clouds of fumes so thick you could not breathe walking down the street). There was also a lot of trash. NO green spaces to speak of. Stray dogs in the streets and also an open sewage line on the street where my homestay was. I have lived in the third world before, but this was pretty bad. If you like rural or natural areas, this is NOT it. My homestay was also very dirty. I ended up getting sick and had to return home early.

Response from Asociación Pop Wuj

Hi Anonymous! I'm sorry to hear that you had a bad experience as a student at Pop Wuj. We try our best to prepare students and long-term volunteers for their travels, and I would be grateful for any specific feedback about what we could have done to help you get ready for Xela.

As for homestay, all families are expected to maintain clean, welcoming spaces for their guests. Our policy at Pop Wuj is to ask students to tell me ASAP about any problems in their home so that I can work with them and their families to figure out a solution. If we can't resolve the problem promptly, we change placements. A dirty homestay is unacceptable.

It sounds like the city of Xela itself was a bad fit, and I'm afraid we couldn't do anything about that. But if you chose to come to Pop Wuj again, we would certainly do our best improve your homestay and general experience.

Elizabeth Barnes
Student Coordinator
[email protected]

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Yes, I recommend this program

An Amazing Internship Opportunity

I interned with Asociacion Pop Wuj for 10 weeks during the summer of 2013 to complete the internship requirement for my graduate school program. I found the experience deeply rewarding on multiple levels, particularly regarding the opportunity to work directly in communities surrounding the beautiful city of Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala.

While I could write pages worth of information about what sets this organization and its internship program apart from the pack, I will focus on two things: Bang for your buck, and breadth of experience.

First, this internship experience was extremely cheap when compared to other international internship programs. I paid only $25 per week for the internship fee (which was split between Pop Wuj and its affiliate 'mother organization', Entremundos - both local to Guatemala, a HUGE positive in terms of impact on the local culture and economy). In addition to that, I paid an extraordinarily low price of $45 per week for a homestay, which included three meals per day seven days a week, and was also one of the highlights of my stay, as it helped to fully immerse me in the local culture and get plenty of practice speaking Spanish. All in all, including the plane ticket (which was roughly $500), I spent roughly $1,500 over 10 weeks, an incredible value for any cash-strapped college student in need (or want) of international experience.

Even more important than the low price tag, this internship experience provided an incredible breadth of experience and exposure to an array of profoundly impactful projects and initiatives. Where one day I may be building a safe stove, another would find me lending a hand at the medical clinic, distributing scholarships to local families to allow their children to stay in school, playing games or helping with homework at the Family Support Center, or trudging into the mountains to help plant trees.

One final note: Any internship or volunteer experience abroad (or locally for that matter) boils down to building relationships, and that is something that I truly took away from this experience. While I don't often talk to most of the people I met at Pop Wuj and in the surrounding areas, there are some memories that I will never forget, and they begin and end with the amazing people I got to know in my time there. For that reason and countless others, I hope and plan to return.

What would you improve about this program?
I honestly can't think of a single thing I would change.
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Yes, I recommend this program

General Projects Coordinator

My time at Pop Wuj as a General Projects Coordinator illustrated what it would be like to work in the field of development. Not only was I was exposed to a variety of projects in the sectors of health, environment and education but I also witnessed the positive change occurring among the indigenous communities as a result of the Pop Wuj's hard work and the importance placed on ensuring ownership and sustainability. My main goal was to positively impact the lives of project beneficiaries, something that I can say I successfully did! My day to day activities ranged anywhere from helping children with homework, translating medical consultations, presenting skits on family planning, interviewing project beneficiaries and leading volunteers for the construction of safe stoves. I would recommend this internship to anyone in a heartbeat. It's a great way to give back to the local community and learn about Guatemalan political, social and cultural life. Moreover, you have the opportunity to improve spanish speaking skills and learn the ins and out of working in the non-profit sector.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Projects Coordinator with Asociación Pop Wuj

As the Projects Coordinator, I worked closely with the organization's social worker on several development or capacity building projects. From leading groups to construct safe stoves (replacing household open fires) in rural communities to fundraising for scholarship recipients and a family support center, this internship gave me experience in every facet of non-profit work.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Safe Stove Project

I worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Safe Stove Project at Pop Wuj. As I spoke Spanish already I didn't study at the school. The volunteers I work with were mainly student at the school so I heard a lot of talk about the staff, the learning experience and the after school activities. I have to say almost all of these were positive. On the odd occasion were students weren't having a great time it was due to personality clashes which is bound to happen from time to time.
Pop Wuj offers a great medical Spanish program and what ever program you do there are lots of opportunities to get involved in the schools various projects. And, if you're keen to do a project that the school doesn't do they're happy to hear what it is an help out if it's appropriate.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Great Volunteer Experience

I worked closely with the volunteer program for several months, and in fact ended up staying longer to remain involved in the projects at Pop Wuj! This organization has an incredible impact on the community, and is contantly open to finding new ways to reach out to the community, as well as to utilize the unique skills of students and volunteers. The program is run by incredibly compassionate and dedicated staff, who are truly devoted to the projects, and work to create a positive impact for the community as well as a positive experience for volunteers. I was very impressed with the cultural competency training provided, as well as staff's ability to work and communicate with volunteers of all levels of Spanish ability.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Centro de Apoyo Familiar (La Guarderia)

I have been volunteering at Pop Wuj's Centro de Apoyo Familiar (Family Support Center aka La Guarderia) in Llanos del Pinal off and on for several years. Llanos del Pinal is a rural village outside of Xela--near the Santa Maria volcano. I have been both a regular volunteer and the coordinator.

Pop Wuj students are invited to volunteer any day of the week, but the school's official visit is Thursday afternoon. Non-Pop Wuj volunteers are welcome, but a minimum time commitment of 1 month is required.

The Center serves approximately 40 children and youth (ages 2-18), providing a hot lunch, snack, and educational support Monday-Friday. Most children arrive around 1pm (after school) for lunch and then settle in for homework and other activities. Volunteers can help with homework or coordinate other activities. Reading activities, puzzles, and handicrafts/arts are popular as well as playing outside. The site is open from 9-5pm with the busiest hours being 1-5pm.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Small Villages Make Big Leaps Towards Economic Development and Enviromental Safety

The Safe Stove Project is a collaboration between Asociación Pop Wuj and rural K'iche villages in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala, and is offered as a volunteer option to students of Pop Wuj and visitors alike.

There are many organizations that work with rural communities to build safe stoves, and I chose to join Pop Wuj, a Spanish school in Quetzaltenango that contributes tuition proceeds to several community development projects. This particular initiative was developed to combat the dangers that result from cooking indoors over an open fire.

Every Wednesday morning we met at Pop Wuj and gathered tools, met other participants and our teachers. Instead of the traditional daily 5-hour class, teachers join their students to conduct informal, practical language classes on-site. I found this real-life practice of language instruction with locals and other students extremely effective.

The school's housekeeper and community liaison, Lety, heads up the outing each week. Lety is a bilingual K'iche woman who communicates the value of the program to families in the rural communities surrounding her own village. She organizes transport via local bus service and also gets down and dirty with volunteers, distributing materials and delegating tasks. She also organizes the purchase and delivery of materials, which is partially funded by Pop Wuj and the participating family.

The on-site work varies from mixing and applying concrete to installing aluminum chimneys to hacking bricks with a machete. No special skills are needed except the willingness and ability to do some strenuous physical labor and acceptance of non-existent safety standards. Although I never personally felt unsafe and was never expected to do anything I was uncomfortable with or unable to do, there is a huge difference from developed countries in general approaches to safety, which, in my opinion, only enriches the experience.

During my service, I helped build stoves for four different families and found the entire program incredibly rewarding. My favorite days were when Lety would bring her children, who happily and impressively pitched in, often directing volunteers on what to do next.

The Safe Stove Project directly improves the health, safety and financial positions of families in the most poverty-stricken areas throughout rural Guatemala by reducing smoke inhalation, accidents and expenses for firewood. It also gives interested volunteers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of Guatemalan culture, politics and language while making meaningful connections with the beautiful people that make up this complex, rural landscape.


Guatemalan Quetzal
90 F / 36 F
91 F / 43 F
91 F / 46 F
88 F / 37 F
La Aurora International Airport
( GUA )
Mundo Maya International
( FRS )

If you want to spend a trip chasing waterfalls, meandering through lush jungles, and seeing world heritage sites; Guatemala should be high on your list. Guatemala can be easy to overlook when there are more travelled destinations in the area, but don't be fooled, this country is filled with incredible landscapes and culture, all at a great price.


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About Asociación Pop Wuj

Pop Wuj - Spanish School Guatemala (pronounced "pope woo"), set in the Highlands of Guatemala, is a collectively owned and operated Spanish language school that has been serving an international crowd of students since our immersion program began in...