There are hundreds of volunteer opportunities in Peru, involving art and culture, community development, disability and addiction services, ecotourism and the environment, education, health care, and services for children and women. Although these organizations do not pay salaries, they often provide food or accommodation in exchange for your time.
The most common complaint with volunteer work is that the organization is disorganized, there is not enough meaningful work, or that organizations are exploiting eager beavers for their own bottom line. For that reason, do research and try to speak with people who have worked with the organization in the past.
one source for volunteer information in Peru is the Lima office of the South American Explorers Club (Piura 135, Miraflores, tel. 01/445-3306, www.saexplorers.org, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat.). If you’re a member, you can even access the volunteer database online. If you’re not, you can send an email or buy a phone card and talk to someone in person. Another organization in Lima that hooks up volunteers with organizations is Trabajo Voluntario (www.trabajovoluntario.org). A good global resource for finding volunteer organizations is www.idealist.org.
There are many Spanish-language schools that combine teaching with volunteering. If you take morning language lessons, the school will often set you up with volunteer work for a minimal administration fee.
Crooked Trails (U.S. tel. 206/383-9828, www.crookedtrails.com) is a nonprofit, community-based travel organization with excellent 3–4 week volunteer travel programs in communities located in countries such as Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Thailand, Bhutan, and Kenya, creating true cultural exchange bonds that make positive contributions to host countries and achieving lasting effects on their travelers.
Cross-Cultural Solutions Peru (U.S. tel. 800/330-4777, U.K. tel. 01237/66-6392, www.crossculturalsolutions.org) runs highly professional volunteer programs mainly for students from the United Kingdom and the United States in Lima, Trujillo, and Ayacucho. In Lima, the company works in Villa El Salvador, the shantytown that was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for its community organization. The program is quite expensive but recommended for its professional staff. Costs are US$2,489 for two weeks with every additional week costing US$272.
World Leadership School (U.S. tel. 303/679-3412, www.worldleadershipschool.com) helps middle and high schools in the U.S. create global programs with schools in Peru. During the 3–4 week programs, volunteers focus on a single global issue, such as climate change, education, or public health. Volunteers understand and develop competence with each issue by working on solutions at the community level. The programs include a leadership curriculum and mentorship from local leaders, who share their perspective and wisdom.
ProWorld (U.S. tel. 877/429-6753, U.K. tel. 870/750-7202, www.myproworld.org) has locations in Peru, Belize, and Mexico. In Peru, ProWorld is based out of Urubamba, where, since 2000, it has built schools, irrigation systems, and bridges; replanted forests; helped developed sustainable industries like agro-tourism; and sent volunteers to work with countless local nonprofits. They have programs ranging from two weeks to a semester in length and they offer academic credit. Prices begin at US$1,795 for two weeks.
World Youth International (www.worldyouth.org.au) organizes volunteer programs in Cusco such as the Clínica San Juan de Dios, which is a well-organized resident program for children with disabilities.
Kiya Survivors (U.K. tel. 01273/72-1092, www.kiyasurvivors.org) works with special-needs children, abandoned women, and young single mothers. It is run by British citizen Suzy Butler out of Cusco and offers volunteer placements of 2–6 months. A standard six-month placement includes in-country tours, accommodations, and a tax- deductible donation to the organization.
The highly recommended nonprofit Mundo Azul (Lima tel. 01/447-5190, www.mundoazul.org/english) is dedicated to conserving natural biodiversity, and its volunteers play a first-hand role in helping that mission happen. The two-week to month-long volunteer programs take participants to the ocean to research dolphin populations or dive into open water to collect marine species. (Only experienced divers can apply for the latter option.) A rainforest trip to Manu involves researching tapirs, macaws, and giant river otters.
Ania (Lima tel. 01/628-7948, www.mundodeania.org) is an innovative nonprofit founded by Peruvian Joaquín Leguía in 1995. The nonprofit has focused mainly on helping children across Peru, and the world, connect with their love for nature through a creative, grass-roots effort that includes Ania, a cartoon character, and a series of Tierra de Niños natural areas. These “Children’s Lands” are owned, designed, and maintained by children and range from only a few meters squared to a giant nature reserve near Puerto Maldonado. Leguía, who has been awarded the prestigious Ashoka fellowship, plans to begin working with volunteers, so check for available placements.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition