Volunteering your time to an organization and dedicating some of your time to a cause is one of the most noble and meaningful things a person can do. Whether assisting the poor, taking care of abandoned children or helping communities grow, the simple and generous act of participation is a rewarding experience to both the volunteer and the people they help.
Being that our own volunteer program is only months away we thought it a good idea to highlight why volunteering in Peru is such a special and rewarding experience. Right now there are thousands of volunteers preparing to travel to Peru for the Summer and hundreds of organizations taking applications. Whether volunteering in a coastal city, a small Andean village or in the jungle, the same reasons hold true for all who decide to journey to Peru and help make a difference.
10. Behind the Scene Perks
As a volunteer in Peru you will have special access to services that you would never see as a tourist. Depending on your organization this could include backstage passes to events, discounted travel, opportunities to meet celebrities etc. Again this depends on your organization, for example Karikuy offer their volunteers special rates on travel as well as insider information, and writers for the Perupedia project also receive special press consideration to cover events which usually means discounted or free admission.
9. Skills and Experience
Lets face it many jobs will not hire you regardless of what schools you might have went to if you don’t have any relevant experience. Volunteering is a great way to gain this experience in a wide range of skills. Depending on your organization you could see your skills improve in writing, social work, child care, maintenance, computer work and more, the list is really goes on and on. Just make sure you take the most out of your learning experience and enjoy it. Having a positive and enthusiastic attitude will also go a long way in earning you valuable recommendations from your host organization.
Peru is rich in learning experiences just due to the fact that the country is so diverse. In the coast you can choose to volunteer with maritime organizations or in the big coastal cities doing social work. In the Andes you can work with children or agricultural organizations as well as conservation and green organizations. Same goes for the jungle as there are plenty of opportunities to help indigenous populations as well as help save the environment and the Amazon.
8. Recognition and Feedback
Volunteers in Peru are often seen as sort of celebrities in their own right among the local people. Unlike regular tourists, volunteers are held in regard as generous helpers who come from afar to do good deeds in Peru. It will be common for you as a volunteer in Peru to be the center of attention and discussion when meeting a group of locals. Everyone wants to hear your stories and what your doing as a volunteer as well as how you are enjoying Peru. It is this recognition that keeps volunteers coming back to Peru, recognition is an especially important part of being in a volunteer position where the volunteer is not receiving any monetary recognition for their good work.
7. Discover new Tastes
I don’t think I could have written this without mentioning Peruvian food. If you don’t already know, Peruvian cuisine is gaining in popularity and is considered among the best in the world. From Ceviche to Pachamanca you are sure to find a favorite dish while in Peru. As a volunteer you may often feel overwhelmed by the options before you, we do have over 3oo dishes and hold a record for most variety in the world. Volunteering in Lima gives you the opportunity to sample these dishes from all of our influences, after all our cuisine is coveted only because of all the cultures that helped inspire it. So whether going out for Chaufa in El Barrio Chino or Seafood in La Punta your sure to always have a happy stomach.
6. Learn a New Language
Going to Peru gives you the opportunity to learn Castellano as we Peruvians call it. You might be thinking “hey, I thought they speak Spanish in Peru?” and although your right it isn’t exactly Spanish as spoken in Spain, there are subtle differences. How much Castellano you do learn depends on how much effort you put into learning it. You may find yourself volunteering with an organization where the majority of your fellow volunteers speak English, try to make an effort to go out and speak Castellano with the locals, practice makes perfect. If you already know Castellano or Spanish then try learning Quechua, the language of the indigenous population.
5. Personal Growth
Independent travel is a very rewarding experience and can lead to lifelong changes in character. Volunteering in Peru opens a window into how people in developing countries live, our conditions and what we care about. Never will your own lifestyle feel so distant as when you volunteer abroad, your view on the world will change and perhaps what is important to you. As a volunteer you might become more compassionate for people, becoming more emotionally involved to volunteer abroad elsewhere in the future. Volunteers returning home from abroad are usually more independent, courageous and adventurous then before they left.
4. Appreciate Pachamama
Peru is one of the countries in the world that is most vulnerable to Climate Change. Our receding glaciers provide most of the drinking water for the country and they are fast disappearing. As volunteers travel throughout the country you will hear stories and see for yourself the impact that the changing climate is having on communities. Some of the things you may experience may be heartbreaking, couple that with dramatic surroundings in beautiful scenery and it could almost be too much for a person to take. It is this reality that will hit you hard and leave a lasting impression on what until now might have been of minor interest to you.
The Andes of Peru is the front lines of the battle on climate change, it’s here where you will learn from first hand accounts from the farmers and general populace, the stories of fiercely cold winter and disappearing water. In short there may be no other place in the world where you will be able to stare the problem straight in the face as in Peru, and perhaps nowhere else will you learn to appreciate Mother Earth (Pachamama) as much.
3. Absorb a Culture
Spending a prolonged period of time in a new country is one of the highlights of volunteering. You can really get adjusted to a new lifestyle quite quickly and the opportunity takes you beyond the activities of an average tourist. Many volunteer organizations will give you the opportunity to house with a family giving the volunteer the chance to live amongst the local population and experience a traditional lifestyle. New venues will also open to you, locations off the beaten trail, local hot spots not found in the guidebooks. Among other things you will try new foods, meet new people and see incredible places like Machu Picchu.
2. Make Lifelong Friendships
There is a bond that always forms between people when faced with exploring a new culture together. It may be that through common difficulties such as language barriers or a particular project that these bonds form lasting relationships in volunteers. Together groups of volunteers share truly unique experiences with each other as they work together for a common cause. I can’t go into too much detail regarding friendships made as they are unique to everyone. However, as the person running the Karikuy volunteer program, I must put in my two cents and say that one of the most rewarding things about running such a program is the friends I’ve seen made as well the volunteers that I now call friends.
1. Have Fun
Volunteer organizations to check out:
Photos from the Karikuy 2009 Volunteer Program