Grid Alternatives’ International Program is a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged communities install solar electric systems on community buildings such as schools, libraries, health clinics, and orphanages. Grid Alternatives works closely with the communities it serves to ensure that in addition to need, there is a community desire to have the project and the ability to actively participate in its preparation, installation, and maintenance. While the organization is based out of California, it works in rural communities across Nicaragua.
Grid Alternatives offers several nine-day service trips per year where volunteers travel with the organization to install solar panels. Trip dates are set well in advance and are available online.With guidance from a professional solar company, volunteers work side by side with local community members to install the solar panels.With guidance from a professional solar company, volunteers work side by side with local community members to install the solar panels. Specific installation tasks may include: installing the solar modules and the racking on the roof, mounting the battery rack and hooking up the batteries, hanging and wiring the inverter and charge controller on the wall, and installing and wiring all of the light sockets, outlets, and switches inside the building. Other tasks may include training community members, moving equipment, entertaining the kids in the community, organizing components, drilling holes in the wall, pulling wires, hanging conduit, and measuring the battery voltage. Volunteers usually work from morning to evening for 2-3 days to complete the installation.
Due to the remote locations of Grid Alternatives projects, there may not be many opportunities for traditional tourism while at the project site. However, trips always include a couple of days of sightseeing before and after installiation, including activities such as a visit to a crafts market or one of Nicaragua’s colonial towns, a lake tour by boat, nature hikes to a waterfall or on one of Nicaragua’s volcanoes, dinner out, a music performance, and a trip to a coffee plantation or a cigar factory.
Boaco, Granada, Matagalpa, and Rivas, Nicaragua
Application Process: To apply, fill out their on-site form, followed by a 50 percent deposit if you wish to reserve a spot. There is no minimum age to volunteer, just the ability to walk long distances and tolerate the heat. Former volunteers have ranged in age from 9 to 65, and families are welcome.
Cost: Usually US$1,600, covering all in-country expenses. Grid Alternatives has facilitated fundraising through their Crowdrise page.
Placement Length: Nine days.
Language Requirements: None.
Housing: Accommodations vary, from a high-end hotel in Managua to a very basic homestay (without electricity or running water) in the rural community where the project is located. After installation, volunteers move to a modest hotel for a couple of days of guided sightseeing. Meals range from restaurant fare to basic meals with rice, beans, and tortillas in the rural community.
Operating Since: 2008
Number of Volunteers: 44 in 2012.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.