If you have any interest in the medical field, or working with children with special needs, but you don’t quite have the experience for a full-time, paid opportunity abroad, you should consider volunteering with Greenheart Travel.
A division of Center for Cultural Interchange, Greenhart travel has been around since 1985. The focus of the trips is definitely more travel and cultural exchange than work, but offers some interesting (and probably pretty fulfilling!) opportunities to give a little back while you hike around Peru, Cambodia, Argentina and Thailand (among others!).
Volunteer projects generally fall into one of the following categories: Environmental/Wildlife Conservation, Women’s Empowerment, Community Development, Childcare/Mentorship Medical/Public Health. This means that this organization probably has something that interests you, and you can feel free to use the links to find about more about the specific project-offerings in each category.
I do love an organization that has variety. But what I was really drawn to about Greenheart Travel is the opportunities for medical and public health work, which is not only necessary but not always easy to come by if you are not a doctor or a nurse, or another medically-trained professional. In Peru, you can actually spend some time south of Lima, working with doctors to assist with patient care for local people. And in Cumbaya, Ecuador, you can work with medical professionals to launch public campaigns about health hazards, and let people know about access to health services in the area.
If you are interested in Greenheart Travel but not as taken with the medical projects, you might consider women’s empowerment work at some of the remote sites available for travel. Those with any interest in social work or community development will find that these placements – generally within community centers in poor areas – give you the opportunity to really dig into some of the programs that provide area women with capacity-building skills that can help them to manage money, and even start businesses.
The cost of the program is about on par with similar organizations like Cross Cultural Solutions, and they offer similar benefits in exchange for plunking down your cash to volunteer. A four-week trip might cost you as much as $2,000, for which you’ll get airport pick-up and drop-off, meals and accommodations with a host family. But most of all, you’ll get training! One of the reasons many organizations do not accept medical volunteers is because they lack training, so this is one circumstance where I fully support paying a little extra so that you can be more secure in the knowledge that you aren’t walking in to a situation that is above your skill level. From what I’ve gathered on the website, the medical placements through Greenheart Travel are familiar with volunteers, and they have systems in place for integrating them into the day-to-day work and giving them useful tasks.
You must be at least 18 years old to volunteer with Greenheart Travel, and projects are available year round. The application is available online, and they will require a deposit to hold your place. Most projects require at least a two-week commitment (some are longer), with an option to extend if you are really enjoying yourself!
Through CCI, you can also find some longer term opportunities to teach abroad, participate in a language program, or complete a semester abroad. So if you are interested in opportunities that last more than just a few weeks, be sure to check out all of the sections of the CCI website for more information. And if you have any first-hand information about CCI, please feel free to leave some information about your experience in the comments!