Things to know when you volunteer in Latin-America

There are some things that you can always keep in mind when you choose to volunteer abroad. However, when it comes to volunteering abroad, you cannot expect the same thing for every country. Therefore, there are a couple of things you might want to keep in mind if you choose to volunteer for Caritas Smile or another organization which services communities in Latin-America. Here, we have assembled a list of things you might want to keep in mind if you want to volunteer in Latin-America!

Keep an eye on the visa requirements.

Visa requirements vary greatly from country to country, even in Latin-America. Thus, it’s a good idea to research the visa requirements of the country you’ll be volunteering in. For example, the two countries we service, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, have visa exceptions for the US, Canada, and countries in the EU among many others. This means that you’re allowed to stay in the country without a visa for up to 90 days. However, Brazil requires electronic visa application for people with American or Canadian passports, while Bolivia has a USD $25 departure tax.

Language differences.

The predominant languages in Latin-American countries are Spanish, French, and Portuguese. You can also run into many different indigenous languages or Creole, so, while plenty of people in Latin-America can speak some English, you should not expect everyone to speak it. Moreover, most of the people who speak some English don’t do so fluently, so you must be mindful of not speaking too fast and be willing to explain things further. You can always ask the organization that you volunteer for if they offer language classes or if you’ll have an interpreter on hand.

Nevertheless, you also have to keep in mind that this will give you the chance to brush up on your language skills! By being immersed in a completely different language, you’ll be able to speed up your language learning and help your mental abilities in the process. Even if each country has some regional differences in the language they speak, you’ll catch up quickly and learn new ways to use your vocabulary.

Stay healthy!

Adapting to a new environment can be a bit rough on the body, so you need to keep your own health in mind while visiting a new country. Things to keep in mind while visiting Latin-America are:

  • In many countries you shouldn’t drink tap water. To stay on the safe side, it’s best to simply buy bottled water even if you’re assured that tap water is safe to drink.
  • Talk to your doctor about stalking up on prescription medication before you travel because your prescription most likely won’t be valid in the country you arrive to.
  • Don’t eat street food straight away! Ease into it and take plenty of probiotics while your stomach adjusts.
  • Visit a travel clinic before your volunteering trip. This way you can get any necessary vaccinations and tips that you might require.
  • Ask about dengue and malaria. This is particularly important as they both are mosquito-transmitted diseases, so, depending on where you go, you might be prescribed preventive medication.
  • Ask the organization that you will be volunteering for about on-site medical access. You might also want to consider travel insurance if it’s not part of the program.

Time can be different.

Remember that cultural norms can vary vastly from country to country, so don’t expect people to necessarily be on time or strictly adhere to deadlines. Remain flexible, and if you encounter this attitude, try to relax and enjoy the change of pace.

Not all Latin-American countries are the same.

Latin-America is the umbrella term to describe a very large portion of the Western Hemisphere. Thus, while there can be similarities in language and culture, you shouldn’t expect all these countries to be the same. Because of this, your experience will vary greatly if you volunteer in Mexico or Nicaragua. Do your research and ask your organization as many questions as you need to.

Most importantly: choose right.

Regardless of the country you go to, you also need to do your homework, so you choose the right organization. At Caritas Smile we’ll gladly help you in your volunteering process and answer all your questions. We’ll provide you with on-site help and coordination from our team, but we’ll also help you with booking your ticket and giving you any information you might need. If this sounds interesting, then contact us and start asking questions! We’re here for you as much as we’re here for the communities which we help.

Talia Velez is a Growth Impact Officer at Caritas Smile, a non-profit service travel program dedicated to making positive impacts and sustainable changes for women and children in developing countries. Having grown up in Mexico, Talia is keenly aware of the day-to-day issues faced by women and children in countries with more economic vulnerability. Visit our site to learn more about Caritas Smile and join us in our mission to help those in need.

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