Volunteer Your Skills Abroad in South America

The complete guide to making a real impact

Traveling through South America is easy. But you’ll have to invest more than money if you really want to adventure through the beautiful scenery, have the best meals, and get to know the locals in a meaningful way.

South America is full of heartwarming adventures and opportunities and social impact organizations in this region are actively looking for professionals that want to volunteer their skills. An exchange like this is commonly referred to as skills-based volunteering or Experteering.

But before jumping at the first volunteering project you see, here are some tips to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime.

Finding the Right Volunteer Project in South America

There is incredible opportunity across South America as its own social entrepreneurs and changemakers are finding ways to compete globally. Skills-based volunteering can help to jump start more growth by filling the talent gap and enabling South Americans to enrich their own economy, and there is no shortage of opportunities.

When you begin searching for a project in this region it is important to make sure that the opportunity is safe, legitimate, and creates a real impact. To assure that an volunteering has these traits, ask yourself:

  1. Does this project use my real skills?
  2. Is this something that a local could be doing? Is it possible that I’m taking a local job?
  3. Will the tasks I will be completing leave a lasting impact on the organization and the surrounding community?
  4. Are the goals and objectives I am being asked to complete locally driven?
  5. Is the host organization reputable?

There are many organizations that make sure the volunteering opportunities they post are through organizations that operate in an ethical and sustainable manner. Some

include: VSO International (Voluntary Service Overseas), MovingWorlds, Cuso International, and Peace Corps.

Check out more tips for finding the right volunteering project abroad.

Examples of Volunteering Projects in South America

South America, led by hubs in Medellin, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Buenos Aires, is an exciting landscape with innovation and social entrepreneurship. However, many of the challenges related to growth are a lack of access to certain types of expertise. As such, there are many opportunities for skilled volunteers to make an impact. The right volunteer at the right time can help organizations develop sustainable business plans, support startups to increase manufacturing efficiency, and empower nonprofits to raise capital, just to name a few... Here are a couple actual projects:

Educated children about the environment in Peru by using your multimedia, photo, and/or video skills. Teach children english in Chile by using your teaching skills. Use your business strategy skills to empower the Upcycling movement in Argentina. Fight to alleviate poverty in Peru using you marketing and communication skills. Support the environment by using your agricultural skills in Colombia.

Best Practices While Volunteering in South America

When you get to your destination, there is a right (and wrong) way to volunteer in a way that truly makes an impact. First, you should outline clearly defined goals that are created in partnership with your hosting organization. Then, you should follow these rules to create a positive outcomes for all parties:

  1. Support locally initiated projects, to make sure that the work will continue after you leave.
  2. Train local staff to take over your work so that the transition after you leave will be seamless.
  3. Spend more time teaching than doing.
  4. Do what’s best for the host organization, not what’s most interesting to you.
  5. Embrace cultural differences and discuss with your host the differences you might have, and how you can use those to your advantage.
  6. Check in with your team consistently to make sure everyone is on the same page about tasks and timelines for projects.

Take this free training for international volunteering best practices through Udemy, and review this complete guide to volunteering your skills overseas.

Cultural and Communication Tips to be an Effective Volunteer in South America

South America has large cultural differences in comparison to the rest of the world. It is important to understand these differences so you can work and communicate effectively with your partners.

globe+smart+south+america This chart shows the cultural differences between someone from Colombia and Denmark, and where a typical Experteer might be. Image from GlobeSmart® provided by Aperian Global

As an example, people in South America are high-context, indirect, and collectivistic, whereas people from America and Europe tend to be low-context, direct, and individualistic. When working with people from South America, a common hiccup in communication occurs when the volunteer receives verbal confirmation about next steps, only to realize that the confirmation was actually false. This is largely because, in high-context societies, people value the context of a situation more so than the words. To combat this kind of miscommunication, volunteer should note if there is any vagueness it should be a red flag to a volunteer when things are left intentionally vague, as this may be a sign of a false confirmation.

Use Kwintessential and country-specific travel guides to learn about customs and social norms.

Finishing Your Project and Recapping Your Story

Here at MovingWorlds we measure success by what happens after you leave. For this reason, it is essential that when you return from your trip you keep in contact with your host organization so that if they have any further questions about the projects and/or training that you performed while abroad.

You should also take time to reflect on your own experience. Reflection is not only proven to enhance learning but also to improve happiness. There are several reflection strategies during and after your overseas experience that you can try. In addition, when you get back, be sure to spread the word about your volunteering experience with as many people as you can - inspire others to follow in your footsteps and do good!

Additional Tips While Volunteering in South America

Here are some additional resources to help you plan, fund, and prepare for your trip, if you do decide to travel and volunteer in South America:

  1. Guide to funding your trip
  2. Gear, resources, and tools for your volunteering adventure
  3. Books to read while volunteering in South America

In Summary

We hope this guide will help you find the right projects, communicate effectively while abroad, and ensure the work you do is sustainable. Since you can volunteer anywhere from 1 week to several years there is no excuse to not give it a shot! Especially considering that a lot of the opportunities posted through movingworlds.org offer free accommodation to Experteers.

So get out there, and let us know when you find that immersive, life-changing experience you’ve been searching for!