1) If I wanted to bring any gifts from home, what would be recommended?

Bringing some small gifts is always a generous and thoughtful idea. Sometimes though, it is better to wait until you have actually arrived in the country you are volunteering in to purchases gifts or necessities for a specific project. By doing this, you can avoid having problems in customs and will find that the costs of items are less expensive in South America. You can always contact the project you will be working at, ahead of time, to see if they have any specific recommendations. Usually lightweight items, such as clothes, school supplies, or some small toys.

2) I am interested in doing some fundraising before I leave for my volunteer work. What are some suggestions for doing this?

It is always great to speak to friends, families and different local organizations or churches who would be interested in supporting the work that you are doing. Many schools also have programs, grants, and funding for international volunteer projects. Doing some research online is a good way to see what options are available. Another idea is to be creative and think of ways to fundraise on your own! You can organize a carwash, have a bake sale, or plan an activity (a marathon walk, a bike race, etc. ) to raise money. Once you have the amount that you intend to give, it is always advised to use some caution, especially when dealing with your project. Never give money directly to a project as there are no guarantees that it will get used appropriately, or in the manner in which it was agreed upon. Instead, speak to a project about possibly constructing a bathroom, repainting the project, ordering books and new school supplies, purchasing school uniforms for the children, or organizing a day activity for the children with the director of the project.

3) I do not speak very much Spanish. Will this be a problem when communicating with the people in the project or my fellow local colleagues?

If you are unable to speak the local language at a decent level, it will definitely make things more difficult. Do the best that you can to learn as much of the local language as possible. It will help you communicate better with the people in the project and they will respect you more for it as well.

4) Politically speaking, is it wrong to do volunteer work and take a job opportunity away from a local person in need of paid work?

No. The type of work that you will be doing is more assistance work as opposed to a structured job position. For this reason, you are helping out and giving your services! You will not however, be taking opportunities away from locals who would be qualified for this type of work.

5) What type of attitude or conduct should a volunteer have while working?

An attitude of service and cooperation along with a desire to share your skills and your talents can go a long way in helping others. Setting realistic goals per day in the work you will be doing will help you during your time in the project. Volunteer work is not about changing the world, or accomplishing the impossible, but rather, bringing some joy, comfort and education into another persons´ life. Each project has different goals and objectives so it is important to remember that compromise and patience is necessary, especially when working in a foreign culture and environment.

6) What should you do to stay healthy and avoid illness during your volunteer work?

Before arriving in South America, make sure that you have all of your necessary vaccinations done in order to prevent certain illnesses here. If you have certain medications that you are accustomed to using, bring it with you and make sure that you have enough to last you during your time in South America. While working in projects, take whatever precautions that you need to in order to stay well. Avoid food or drinks that you feel may not be good for you. Should you find yourself in a project where you are surrounded by those with an illness (in one of the clinics or hospitals for example), talk to the project to find out if they have any specific suggestions or precautions that they feel you should be made aware. In the majority of cases, however, it is the personal responsibility of the volunteer should he or she become ill.

7) What kind of things will I be expected to do during my volunteer work?

  • If you are working with children or with groups of people, always try to organize activities for everyone! It is important that each person is included. Eventually, you can ask children or adults to sign up beforehand for certain organized workshops, etc. but group work is always encouraged. Try not to have favorites with the people or children, therefore excluding others. Keep yourself available to each person in the project, equally to the next.
  • Be able to keep some emotional distance if possible. Volunteer work is about organizing an activity or adding to the project, more so that being liked by everyone more. Children can become attached to volunteers quickly which makes it hard for them when a volunteer leaves.
  • When working in labored volunteer work, always make sure that you are clear on the assignment or what it is you are being asked to do. With language barriers, certain directions or instructions can be difficult to understand. If you are unsure, ask someone in the project or find an interpreter to explain things to you so that there are no questions. This can help avoid mistakes in project building.
  • If you are working with children, keep the activities very simple! Some things are much more difficult children who have not have certain exposure to what the western world may be accustomed to.
  • Learning to work together and creating a positive atmosphere is often more important than the activity itself. This is true, not only for projects that involve working with children, but also for projects that involve research or physical labor etc. A positive attitude goes a very long way, not only with the people in the project but with the ones that you work with.