Volunteer in Bolivia
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America with high poverty rates especially in rural areas. You can give service and get a life changing experience by applying to help local volunteer organisations and NGO's throughout the country. Placements can include working to help communities and improve living standards, helping vulnerable street children or joining conservation projects with wildlife. There are short and long term placements available including structured, free and low cost volunteer programs in places like La Paz, Sucre and Santa Cruz.
Volunteer Programs in Bolivia
Guide to Volunteering in Bolivia
Bolivia is an up and coming destination and attracts visitors from all over the world and you can do more than just sightseeing by signing up to work as a volunteer. Bolivia has a struggling economy and lacks the natural resources of nearby countries like Chile, but this is a culturally rich destination and the people make this country special. A lot choose to volunteer in Peru or volunteer in Brazil - both neighbouring countries which means Bolivia is less touristy meaning you will get an authentic experience. Bolivia is also a very safe to visit though and crime against tourists is very rare.
The population of Bolivia stands at around 11 million people and over a million are thought to be living in poverty, the government does not have the money nor the infrastructure to be able to help solve all the issues which is where international charities and volunteer organisations help. Once you have experienced Bolivia you won't forget it in a hurry. Thousands of people have volunteered in Bolivia over the past decade and there is a need for even more numbers on the ground so what are you waiting for, apply through our website today.
Location of Projects
Programs are located in places like Santa Cruz, La Paz, Cochabamba and the Amazon. Cochabamba is located in Central Bolivia and it is over 2500m above sea level, this is our top recommendation as it is a lively university town with a great atmosphere. La Paz is a huge sprawling city which is great to explore but if you are looking for a more tranquil experience apply for a placement in a more remote region of the country. Bolivia has long been on the established backpacker trail and in your spare time you might want to visit the Uyuni salt flats, Lake Titicaca or Sucre.
Types of Volunteer Programs in Bolivia
Community Development Programs in Bolivia
Work to improve infrastructure and housing, you can find poorly constructed building that are like shanty towns throughout the country. You could help in an office taking care of admin work or helping on the ground getting your hands dirty. There are also medical and healthcare placements available where you can work as a nurse, doctor, general assistant or in dentistry, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.
Related Page: Childcare Volunteer Work in Bolivia
Educational Projects in Bolivia
Teaching and coaching sports like football and volleyball is very popular, there are placements at schools throughout the country. Native English speakers are in big demand and joining volunteer teaching programs in Bolivia is a very worthwhile way to spend time in this country, you will be working alongside local staff and experienced international volunteers at kinder gardens, primary schools, secondary schools and community centers. Bolivia is a very safe country to visit and a popular gap year destination.
If you are planning a trip and would like to do a structure and meaningful volunteer program think about teaching English in Bolivia. Although no previous experience is required, it is important you can be a good team player and be open / flexible to new challenges. Learning Spanish is also recommended as not everyone in South America understands and can speak English. Volunteers must be 18 years or older at the beginning of the program. Volunteers need to have an open mind and flexible attitude for working in a new and different environment. The volunteer should bring energy and enthusiasm to make a difference. Beginner Spanish knowledge is recommended.
Human Rights Programs in Bolivia
There are programs where you can work to help and protect Bolivias' indigenous population, around 60% of people in the culture can track their history back to a tribe and this makes Bolivian society a very diverse country. These people and their land needs to be protected.
Volunteer with Animals in Bolivia
Bolivia is a destination which has a large part of the Amazon rainforest in it's borders, here you can work to rescue, help and protect indigenous wildlife. There are also zoos and animal rescue centres which need help, as a participant you might get to be a general assistant cleaning enclosures, feeding animals, proving water, caring and also raising awareness within local communities. You could apply to work at an animal shelter, there are also skilled veterinary positions available.
You can apply to join programs every month throughout the year and spaces can also be booked in advance. Most organisations require you to stay for at least 2 weeks.
- Shared room (hostel, guesthouse)
- Private room (hotel)
- Home stay (local family)
How to Apply
Some organisations charge a fee to participate, this can vary depending on where and what you do. Usually this includes a guaranteed placement, accommodation and meals for the duration of your stay, 24 hour emergency service and support, 7 days per week, orientation and training, Spanish phrasebook and also social and cultural activities (some with additional cost).
How to Volunteer in Bolivia for Free
To volunteer for free in Bolivia you will need to apply with a local NGO, sometimes you will still need to cover your accommodation and food though. The following organisations offer free and low cost volunteer opportunities in Bolivia:
- Madidi Travel offer a free volunteering placement where you can help jungle conservation in La Paz and in Rurrenabaque. You will need to cover accommodation and meals yourself
- Intiwarayassi - Low cost project where you can help wildlife
- Proyecto Horizonte
Help / Advice
If you need any help arranging a volunteer placement in Bolivia please get in touch.
Bolivia Volunteer Reviews
If you have ever volunteered in Bolivia and would like to review an organisation/project, share your experience or give any advice for future participants write an article for us. Below you can read past participant testimonials:
Volunteering Independently in Bolivia
Mindful traveling sounds like a great idea to more and more travelers around the world, and volunteering was my initial goal when I stepped on the land of Bolivia. I had no clue where to start, driven by the willingness to contribute into the education of the country, and my Spanish was actually at a zero level, but all I needed was love. And Love helped me make it through.
Now looking back after three months of volunteering in Sucre, I came up with the top tips of independent volunteering for those who follow the empirical path in everything they do. Before you start your volunteering, pick up some basic Spanish. Bolivians do not speak English at all, and Spanish is absolutely essential to get by in the country. In Sucre, for example, you can take Spanish language lessons in numerous language schools. They offer both group and individual classes. The approximate price for an hour varies from 20 to 35 Bolivianos in the group, and individual class will cost you from 35 to 50 Bolivianos. Most of language schools offer information on voluntary work options. So you can kill two birds with one stone.
Think about what you want to help with - what you are best at and what will bring you joy and a feeling of fulfilment. Especially if you plan to commit yourself for a longer period. First of all, it will help you target the specific area, and secondly, keep your fire burning. Once you figured out your so called unique volunteering proposition, search for a right place. Check workaway.org for various options in bigger cities like Cochabamba or Santa Cruz. I intentionally chose to be in Sucre once I our vibes resonated, but I did not find anything suitable in Sucre via workaway. But checking it was first thing I did.
There is a non-profit organization called Condor trekkers. They support a number of social projects such as kindergarten for the lower-income families, where you can help babysit children or assist in the kitchen. You may also work as a translator by joining the trekking tours if mountains are your element - that is how you help the organization raise money and as a reward you enjoy wonderful sights around for free. You will be asked to pay for the first tour, but it is refundable.
I spent couple of days in the kindergarten supported by Condor. It is located outside of the city. Sucre is really miniature. All distances are walkable and there are plenty of buses, circulating around. So getting there is not a problem at all. Since I am not good at interacting with small children, most of the time I stayed in the kitchen peeling off potatoes and washing up. A friend of mine helped there for two months, babysitting and playing with kids. Her zero Spanish, by the way, did not prevent her from getting along well with both children and stuff. She totally belonged there.
I prefer bigger kids with higher level of consciousness, so I decided to apply my skills at the university. There is one of the oldest universities in the city in Sucre with the long name The Royal and Pontificial Major University of Saint Francis Xavier of Chuquisaca (Universidad Mayor, Real y Pontificia de San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca or USFX). It has lots of faculties, including the faculty of languages. So I called at the faculty which is located at Nicolaz Ortiz street and asked if they needed my help at English classes, and they happily welcomed me. According to the programme, they have practice and theory. So practice was where I stepped in. Teachers follow the textbook, which I was also encouraged to follow from time to time. But in general I was given carte blanche in teaching.
During my part the local teacher assisted me in translation. I also ran extra meeting on Saturdays - we watched movies with the students and discussed various topics. The level of the students differs - some of them were comparatively good, but most of them were beginners. Even the senior students had a huge language barrier as they learn a textbook English rather than real one. So I focused on speaking and listening comprehension. If you let me generalize, students here are immature with a weak self-discipline. Be ready, that they will sabotage homework and tend to escape from the class. It is also uneasy to pull them into active participation as they feel shy and unconfident. But it will get better in time as you make friends with them. Perhaps, authoritative methods would work better but after all sharing knowledge has little to do with enforcement. By the way, higher education in Bolivia is almost free of charge - there is a symbolic annual fee to cover administrative costs. Partly that is the reason that students are not much motivated. And somehow German is more popular than English among learners. Do you want to figure out why?
Since I was self-employed volunteer, I had to cut my daily expenses as much as possible. So there are couple of options to accommodate yourself for free in the city. One is to work in the hostel at the reception or as a leaflet giver at the bus terminal for a free bed. For instance, 7 patas hostel takes volunteers for minimum 1 month to work as receptionists. If they do not have vacancies available, you can check other hostels around. I stayed at the guys place whom I met at couchsurfing. He offered to stay at his house for two months and share the bills for the electricity, water and gas, which was around 50 USD per month. So I was utterly lucky. Why not try your luck as well?
After I travelled on a gap year around South America, I can say that Bolivia is not only the poorest country in the region but also the most reserved and conservative. Bolivians appear even hostile against widely smiling Argentinians, talkative Brazilians, genial Chileans and helpful Peruvians. And they have their historical arguments for those walls. But when I reminisce my students slowly looking outside their shells, I know my stay was worthy. The tips I have described are applicable everywhere you go - do not fear to offer your help and explore the world on your own. Your heart is the only guide that will bring you where you belong. And always remember that by helping others you help yourself.
By Irina Yugai
- Free volunteering in South America
- Guide to teaching English in Bolivia
- Gap year in Bolivia
- Bolivia tours