Once a capital of the Incan Empire and now the capital of tourism for the country of Peru, Cusco is an impressive city. With Incan ruins nearby, centuries of history and stories, and a cuisine that is so unique and delicious, this city is an amazing opportunity for volunteering. Even though everyone seems to come here for that one little stop down the train tracks (Machu Picchu), this city holds so many enchanting avenues and valleys for all who step on its land. With a huge influx every year of tourists and citizens who attend to these tourists, it is no wonder there are so many volunteering options here.
With the need for child assistance services, all backgrounds are welcome to come here. Specifically people with educational backgrounds or child development are highly encouraged to come here. If someone has a medical background or business background, they would find some amazing opportunities here. With the countrywide need for better medical attention, medical students and medical field specialists can engage their studies here. The business minded people can contribute greatly in the community development sector.
In general Cusco has many options directed towards children. Whether it is teaching, medical treatment or outdoor activities, child related opportunities are the strongest here in Cusco. Many volunteer organizations offer a great chance to attend to a wide array of children's needs at schools. Thus volunteers can anticipate working school hours, from 8 am until 4 or 5 pm Monday through Friday. The vast majority of programs include a home stay with a family, with meals included. A few others offer shared dormitories with other volunteers and no meals.
Cusco and its surrounding areas were not developed as quickly as the capital Lima. Thus there are opportunities in community development ranging from NGO support and entrepreneurial development to human rights and policy.
Between the high levels of poverty in the country and the negligence on the part of the government, health needs are always at high levels. A volunteer can look to work in local hospitals or through local schools offering medical services mostly to children, and to the elderly.
Peru is such a diverse and interesting country. Between the food, the landscapes and the history a volunteer's experience is amazing enough. Yet once you have the chance to help the children here a whole new level is reached. Beyond the attraction to see Machu Picchu, Cusco is such a mystical and enchanting city. The positive energy and amazing history of this region makes volunteering here an amazing opportunity on so many levels. There is much help needed in Cusco with social services, and many volunteers will agree, they receive just as much, if not much more, as they offer.
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Cusco
First and foremost, volunteers should realize that Cusco is one of the highest cities in all of South America, at 3200 meters above sea level. This altitude can present serious health problems if not attended to at the beginning of the stay. Locals rely on the use of coca leaves and their teas to combat the effects. Upon arrival utilize the coca leaves to acclimate yourself.
In terms of vaccinations, there are not too many mosquitoes or diseases running rampant at these altitudes. However being a touristic city, theft and assault are common in Cusco. Be aware of your surroundings and learn early on which areas of the city are safe and which are not. Also use good judgment on the time of day, and be more careful at night. Cusco is popular for its night life too, so be wise when going out at night. The surrounding communities do not offer as lively a nightlife scene, however good judgment should be used in these areas as well.
Contributed by Lee O'Brian