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How to volunteer in Latin America

Article by GVI


Posted: December 16, 2022

Being an effective and ethical volunteer in Latin America means working to assist communities and habitats, which gaining insight into local cultures. It can also mean life-changing experiences for personal growth and a travel dream come true. 

Looking to be a volunteer in Latin America? Let’s get you prepared!

Volunteer in Latin America: understanding the region

Latin America, South America, North America or Central America: What’s the difference? 

Latin America is a term that refers to the group of countries in the Western Hemisphere that speak Romance languages, which include Spanish, Portuguese and French. 

  • This term is often used to refer to the group of countries in the Americas that were colonised by Spain and Portugal, and which have cultural and historical ties to Europe.
  • Latin America is not a political or economic entity, but rather a cultural concept that refers to the shared history and heritage of the countries in this region.


North America, Central America and South America are the three regions of the Americas, which are located in the Western Hemisphere. 

  • North America is the northernmost region of the Americas and includes the countries of Canada, the United States and Mexico, as well as several territories and island countries. 
  • Central America is the region between North America and South America, and includes the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. 
  • South America is the southernmost continent of the Americas and includes the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.


Volunteer in Latin America: Focus areas

There are many areas in Latin America that could require support from volunteer organisations, including education, healthcare, environmental conservation and community development.

One of the main areas that requires support from volunteers in Latin America is education. A number of schools in the region lack resources, trained teachers and adequate infrastructure necessary to deliver quality education. Volunteer organisations often provide support on educational programs, with tutoring and mentoring students, and building or repairing school facilities.

Another important area where volunteers are needed in Latin America is healthcare. Many communities in the region lack access to basic healthcare services, such as preventive care, maternal and child health services, and access to clean water. Volunteer organisations often work to support the development of sustainable health systems.

Environmental conservation is also a major area where volunteers can make a difference in Latin America. The region is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, but these ecosystems are under threat from deforestation, pollution and climate change. Volunteer organisations often support conservation efforts by working on reforestation and habitat restoration projects, conducting research and hosting workshops about the importance of protecting the environment.

Finally, community development is another area where volunteers can make a significant contribution in Latin America. Many communities in the region face challenges such as poverty, lack of access to basic services, and social inequality. Volunteer organisations often work to support community development by providing education and training programs, supporting small businesses, and promoting sustainable development.

Which countries could you visit?

There are many countries in Latin America where individuals can volunteer, including Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica. These countries offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities, from working with underserved communities and providing healthcare services to supporting environmental conservation and educational programs.

Choose the volunteer organisation wisely

Local communities may not always appreciate volunteer organisations operating in Latin America for a variety of reasons. One reason is that some volunteer organisations, known as voluntourism organisations, do not always prioritise the needs and priorities of the local community. Instead, they may focus on providing short-term volunteer experiences for tourists, without taking the time to understand the community’s needs and challenges. This can lead to a lack of impact and even harm to the community, as volunteers may not have the necessary skills or training to effectively support the community.

Another reason why locals may not always appreciate volunteer organisations is that some volunteers may not have a deep understanding of the local culture, customs and traditions. This can lead to misunderstandings and communication barriers, which can hinder the effectiveness of volunteer programs.

Additionally, some volunteer organisations may not involve the local community in the design and implementation of their programs. This can lead to a lack of ownership and sustainability, as the programs may not be tailored to the needs of the community and may not have the support of the local community.

Choose a locally-led program when you volunteer in Latin America

There are several reasons why it is important for volunteer projects to be run by local organisations.

First, local organisations have a deep understanding of the communities and the challenges they face. They are familiar with the local culture, customs and traditions, and have established relationships with community members. This knowledge and expertise is essential for designing and implementing effective volunteer programs that meet the needs of the community.

Second, working with local organisations helps to empower and support the local community. Local organisations are often led and staffed by members of the community, and working with them helps to build their capacity and skills. This can help to create sustainable solutions to local challenges, and foster long-term development in the community.

Third, local organisations are accountable to the community and are better placed to ensure that the needs of the community are met. They are more likely to have a thorough understanding of the community’s priorities and challenges, and can work closely with community members to address these issues.

Keen on exploring ways to volunteer in Latin America with an ethical organisation? Browse GVI’s programs in Latin America and beyond.

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