There are numerous possibilities for anyone who wants to volunteer in South America. While there are similarities between all 12 South American countries, each is distinct in its own way.

With a mix of ancient indigenous ruins and Spanish influences, South America is a great place to find a combination of old and new as well as Incan/European cultures. Indigenous cultures and people remain a strong presence in South America, making up about half of the population of some countries such as Brazil and Peru.

Depending on your goals and skills, you could volunteer in South America while learning Spanish, or mentor urban youth. Run a soccer camp or work in environmental conservation. Still in school? Consider a service learning trip in South America to compliment your studies.

From fighting poverty and economic disparities, to supporting gender equality and community development, to educating about sustainable environmental practices, there is something for every type of volunteer. Popular fields to volunteer in include: health care and medicine, orphanage work, teaching and education, construction, and conservation.

Community Development

Many areas of social work contribute to fighting economic gaps in South America. Community development volunteers can focus on numerous concerns including economic inequalities and human rights issues.

Working with indigenous communities is a great way to help foster respect and equality. Although indigenous peoples have been fighting to sustain their ways of life since the invasion of the Spanish in 1492, they are still one of “the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world” according to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNFPII). Most South American countries still have a strong indigenous culture. For example, in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, indigenous Quechua peoples make up a majority of the population.

Education

There are many opportunities for volunteers to improve and support education in South America for all. Although attendance and access to schools has increased among children and teens, millions of children are outside of the scope of the formal education system. It is especially hard for children in rural areas to receive a formal education. Volunteers can work with children of all ages to motivate and support them – from tutoring in after school centers to teaching English to mentoring.

Small Business Development

As a visitor to South America, you will notice many locals with small businesses trying to support large families. In addition to agriculture, selling handmade crafts and food on the street is a very common way to make money.

Many overseas volunteer organizations have micro-finance and small business development programs. These organizations give loans and financial advice to those in need. For volunteers interested in business, finance, and supporting new business ventures there is plenty of work to do.

Working with Children

Unfortunately, numerous South American countries have high rates of homeless children. Street children face incredible hardships, from abuse and neglect to a lack of education and basic human needs. In Brazil, the Statute for Children and Adolescents (ECA) reported almost 24,000 young people living in the streets.

Other ways to support the children of South America include orphanage work, teaching, assisting at day care, advocating for family and children’s rights, and more.

Conservation

No matter what type of conservation you’re interested in – wildlife, marine life, environmental – South America is a great place to volunteer. Conservation is popular in South America because of the large number of natural resources, biodiversity and wildlife – which make up 40% of the world’s plant and animal species.

The Galapagos Islands, Patagonia and the Amazon rain forest are especially great places for volunteers who are looking to get outdoors and work with wildlife and the environment.

South American Lifestyle and Culture

While it’s hard to classify such a large and diverse country, one thing remains consistent: the emphasis on family life. Families are close-knit, emphasized over work life, and large in size. This is an especially great reason to consider a homestay option in South America.

South America is largely influenced by Spanish and Portuguese culture, as well as immigrants from Africa, India, Asia and other parts of Europe. These influences can be seen in all areas of life: food, dance, language, music, literature, architecture, religion, and more.

Languages in South America

Spanish is spoken almost everywhere in South America. Although Spanish is the official language in most South American countries, Portuguese is a close second. In Brazil, Portuguese is the official language.

A few other exceptions to the Spanish standard are Guyana (where English is the official language), and Suriname (where Dutch is the official language). A large number of South Americans also speak indigenous languages and dialects. In more rural areas, it’s hard to find anyone who speaks English and sometimes Spanish too.

Questions to Ask

What country is right for me? Do I want to live in a rural area or a city, in the mountains or on a beach? What are my volunteering motivations? What field/sector do I want to volunteer in? What language do I want to speak? What kind of accommodations would I like – homestay, apartment, living with other volunteers? Answering these questions will be essential to planning the best trip imaginable.

While the cost of living will vary throughout the continent, volunteers in South America live cheaply. South America is generally thought of as a continent of developing nations. There are large economic gaps, leaving many rich (and sometimes corrupt) people who can easily ignore the suffering of others. Generally, bigger cities and popular tourist destinations will be more expensive while small, rural, indigenous areas will be cheaper.

According to FinFacts, the most expensive cities in South America are Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Havana, Cuba; Bogota, Colombia; followed by Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

Since a number of the more expensive cities are in Brazil, the Brazilian Real currency has strengthened. Overall, Buenos Aires, Argentina ranks somewhere in the middle. Managua, Nicaragua; La Paz, Bolivia; and Asuncion, Paraguay are the cheapest cities in South America.

Contributed by Katie Boyer

Volunteer Programs in South America

Displaying 31 - 45 of 510 programs
Plan My Gap Year
Plan My Gap Year - Volunteer in Peru from $300
Peru
10 •1 review

PMGY offers 1-week to 3-month volunteering opportunities in the...

Volunteering Solutions
Disabled Care Programs with Volunteering Solutions
South America
9 •1 review

This is an opportunity to spend time with differently-able children...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Ecuador Santa Elena from $365
Ecuador

Trusted by 110,000+ volunteers, IVHQ offers the most popular volunteer...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Homeless Support Projects with IVHQ
Multiple Countries

Are you interested in providing support to help combat community...

Projects Abroad
Projects Abroad Volunteer Programs in the Galapagos
Ecuador
8.92 •12 reviews

Projects Abroad has been providing volunteer placements in the...

Pacific Discovery
Pacific Discovery | Peru Summer Program
Peru
9.71 •7 reviews

Follow in the footprints of great explorers on this incredible 4-week...

ISA (International Studies Abroad)
ISA Service-Learning in Cusco, Peru
Peru
8.5 •6 reviews

Cusco is a city in southeastern Peru, in the Andes Mountains. Cusco is...

ISA (International Studies Abroad)
ISA Service-Learning in Lima, Peru
Peru
8 •5 reviews

Lima, the capital of Peru, is located on the west coast of the Pacific...

Pacific Discovery
Pacific Discovery | Ecuador & Galapagos Summer Program
Multiple Countries
10 •4 reviews

Be prepared to fall in love with Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands on...

Operation Groundswell
Exploring Food Justice in Ecuador
Ecuador
9.8 •5 reviews

Ecuador may be the smallest country in South America but boy does it...

Amigos de las Americas
Amigos de las Americas - Ecuador: Chimborazo
Ecuador
9.36 •14 reviews

High in the Andes mountains, immerse yourself in the life of rural...

Cross-Cultural Solutions
Cross-Cultural Solutions: Volunteer Abroad in Peru
Peru
9.63 •16 reviews

Peru has historically been one of the poorest and most unequal...

Carpe Diem Education
Carpe Diem Education | South America Semester: Spanish Immersion & Conservation
Multiple Countries
9.8 •10 reviews

Trek to the sprawling Incan ruins at Machu Picchu and try your hand at...

ISA (International Studies Abroad)
ISA Service-Learning in Valparaiso, Chile
Chile
8 •2 reviews

Valparaíso and Viña del Mar are coastal sister cities 68 miles...

Love Volunteers
Make a REAL difference in Ecuador - From just US$369!
Ecuador
10 •3 reviews

Join Love Volunteers in Ecuador for the volunteer experience of a...

New Programs in South America

Looking for something new? Check out these new volunteer programs being offered in South America
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    Have you got what it takes to be a firefighter? We are proud to offer...

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    This program is dedicated to true nature lovers who want to experience...

  • Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)
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    Peru

    IVI has over 30 years of experience of volunteering overseas and has...

  • Local Dreamers
    Teach English to Ecuadorians at Local Dreamers!
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    Join our volunteering program at our office building in Quito, where...

  • RAREC
    Wildlife Caretaker in the Amazon
    Peru
    9.84 •19 reviews

    We need people who love animals and want to support us in rescues...

  • AMAUTA Spanish School
    Volunteer in Peru from $ 435!
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    Volunteer in the beautiful city of Cusco! You can start volunteering...

  • Amigos de las Americas
    Amigos de las Americas - Peru: Cuzco
    Peru

    Live in the Cuzco region near the Urubamba Valley, situated in the...

What People Are Saying

if you want to get action, help people, and get out of your normal comfort zone I strongly recommend go stay with Hatzalah Colombia! these guys are not for the faith hearted, they work day and night...

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Hola a todos! My name is Andreas, from Denmark. I joined Hatzalah Colombia to learn how to save a life! i work in a big telemarketing office, and many times someone get injured, sometimes bad, and i...

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I wanted to be a nurse since I was a kid, did apply last year but had more than 2000 people applying and the school only accept 145 students, so unfortunately I did not get in. The student advise told...

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