North America is a beautiful continent that is home to the USA, Canada, Mexico and 21 other countries in the Caribbean Sea. From the fast paced, technologically advanced countries of the USA and Canada to the beautiful, tropical environments of Cuba, North America offers versatile environments in living styles, weather and governments.
North America’s countries face challenges just like any other continent. There are many programs available to help improve the lives of both humans and animals.
With the increase of human population and its needs, many natural ecosystems have suffered. From loss of space and introduction of non native species, the United States has seen a dramatic decrease in the population of native species. Volunteers are needed for surveying land, tagging animals, park upkeep and educational promotions.To help out with conservation efforts there are many programs available. For example, Mexico's sea turtle conservation efforts include helping to run hatcheries, beach clean up and helping newborn sea turtles to the ocean after hatching.
In the southern parts of North America several countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, are in need of community development volunteers. Members of indigenous tribes and poorer villages are striving to become sustainable communities. Volunteers can help grass-root communities by educating them on agricultural methods, construction and fostering education for the younger generations. The Peace Corps website is a great resource tool to learn about the different areas you can help community development. For volunteers looking for shorter term opportunities, there are several organizations that can help coordinate a volunteer opportunity with local grassroots projects.
Throughout the southern part of North America, there is a growing need for English teachers. By volunteering to teach English at a public school, orphanage or through an exchange program, individuals can help empower young students and adults. The chances for career success and stability are enhanced when citizens become bilingual. This allows them to communicate with people from other countries, attend universities in other countries and build global relationships between other businesses and foundations.
Many volunteer opportunities do not require a TEFL certificate. There are programs available with fees that include the cost of housing and daily needs during the duration. Otherwise, perhaps you will find an opportunity during your travels.
The USA's wide landscape offers volunteers the ability to choose from volunteering with land or sea mammals. While your volunteer efforts might take place in the great wilderness, you could also find yourself in a city to help present data to a foundation. The USA is home to a diverse ethnic population in large cities. The southern states have been influenced by the Spanish and French cultures and you can enjoy hearing the Creole language in New Orleans.
Mexico is the most populated Spanish speaking country in the world. It is known for its traditional songs and dances, such as the Jarabe Tapatio. With Mexico’s beautiful beaches you can enjoy the ocean and the beauty of Mexico that helped to establish many of its resorts. Mexican food is popular and can be found in several other countries at established restaurants. Holy Week takes place between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and schools and government offices close. The most famous Passion play during this week takes place in Iztapalapa in the east of Mexico City. Arriving before this major religious event will take preparation as many hotels quickly fill up.
With the new travel bans recently lifted, Cuba has become a huge country of interest. With it's rich culture and delicious food, it's clear why people are excited to visit. Also, because it's borders have been shut for so long, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities that people can become involved in, including teaching English and community development.
Planning Your Trip
The cost to volunteer in North America varies greatly between countries. The United States and Canada are expensive countries to live in comparison to Costa Rica or Guatemala. Costs for living in the USA or Canada can be kept to a minimum by adequately packing proper clothing, finding shared housing and learning to shop for items on sale.
Other countries might offer hostels, cheap hotels and careful preparation may include finding an apartment share. If you truly want to embrace a cheaper lifestyle and the culture, live life a local. The differences in costs of living between your home country and your volunteer destination should be researched before making a final decision.
Vaccinations and travel alerts will be different between the USA/Canada and other parts of North America. You can generally find recommended vaccinations and alerts on government websites.
Contributed by Heidi Cruz
Volunteer Programs in North America
New Programs in North America
Looking for something new? Check out these new volunteer programs being offered in North America
Rustic Pathways Scholarships
Every year, travel company Rustic Pathways give away $250,000 to students from across the world. Scholarships are varied and it's worth checking back in after they've been awarded as late-season scholarship redistribution -- where uncollected grants are reallocated to new applicants -- takes place a few months later. Among their scholarships, the most relevant to prospective volunteers are the following:
United Planet Service Scholarships
Several scholarships are available for those looking to volunteer for a short or long-term period abroad with the non-profit organization United Planet, who work with communities in over 35 countries around the world.
High Mountain Institute Award
If you’re looking at one of the four High Mountain Institute programs to Patagonia, consider applying for financial aid. Your application must include tax forms from the last two years and will be awarded based on SSS (school and student services calculator) used by National Association of Independent Schools, which HMI is apart of. In addition to tuition and other travel costs, High Mountain Institute also provides discounted gear rentals to financial aid recipients.