Volunteering is a big aspect of Ellen’s and my plan for our Latin American adventure. I recently read Lonely Planet’s ebook on the subject (available here), and it led me to delve deeper into my reasons for volunteering. At this stage in my journey, most of my volunteering is for selfish reasons. I want to learn Spanish, I want to know how food production works in this part of the world, and I want to meet fairly average local families wherever I travel. If I find an opportunity that’ll also make a difference in the lives of locals, that’ll be a bonus. A lot of the focus of the Lonely Planet book was on finding authentic ways to help communities. I can’t speak for Ellen, but helping the local community isn’t my driving force in choosing to volunteer. Here, for example, we’re volunteering on a farm, along with nine other volunteers from Scotland, Australia, Canada, Germany, and the USA. I wouldn’t say our work helps the community in any meaningful way. Certainly, if we didn’t volunteer here, the family we’re helping wouldn’t be able to work their land as effectively. Because they’re working toward sustainability, they don’t produce cash crops, and therefore wouldn’t be able to hire locals to help with the work. This farm prospering helps the community indirectly, but it’s not world-changing work.

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This sustainable system uses tanks of gravel to filter water in the fish tanks and also grow seedlings.

On the other hand, I do want to feel that I’m making a difference in the world. I would love to find volunteer work that combines my interests with the needs of the community. Reading the Lonely Planet book made me consider what causes I’m passionate about. For now, Ellen and I are travelling together, but at some point, we’re probably going to find volunteer work that takes us in different directions. Ellen is looking for volunteer opportunities in veterinary medicine – wildlife conservation and rescue, bringing veterinary aid to remote villages, medicinal herbs, and folk remedies. I want to find volunteer opportunities related to food production, writing, and adult education. I would love to find an adult literacy program that needs a teacher with a chance of becoming a coordinator. I could see working on volunteer projects and learning to write grant proposals, marketing the projects, or helping select and support volunteers as they get used to the culture of the host community. Right now, Ellen and I are keeping our eyes and ears open in our travels. We’re talking to other volunteers and tourists, asking locals for advice, and checking the internet for hints as to what kind of places might suit us. We don’t have the budget for organized voluntourism, but we’ll know the right opportunity when it comes up. And if you know a place we might like, let us know!

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