You probably don’t give Nicaragua a ton of thought in you day to day life – it’s not one of the most well-known countries in Central America, and what people do know about it generally has something to do with some leftover reminders of political turmoil from the eighties. But lately Nicaragua has seen something of a resurgence in recent years. Following in the footsteps of Costa Rica and Belize, Nicaragua has a rapidly growing tourism trade, due in large part to the plentiful surf breaks on the Pacific coastline, and the rich, diverse ecosystem that is home to sea turtles, tropical birds, and schools of fish.
It stands to reason that Nicaragua has quite a bit to offer the volunteer traveler. Due to the development of coastal land for hotels and results, much of the natural environment is being compromised, putting wildlife at jeopardy. And apart from the tourism, most of the country is still living in poverty (Nicaragua one of Central America’s poorest communities), and lack access to education, health care, and many other essential services.
What types of volunteer opportunities are there in Nicaragua?
- Health Care
The Roberto Clemente Health Clinic is one of the best known volunteer destinations in Nicaragua, and is always in need of medical volunteers to help carry out its mission of serving Nicaragua’s poorest communities with access to health care. The clinic is located in Limon, which is located close to Lago de Nicaragua south of Managua. People with experience in the health professions (doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants) are in especially great demand.
- Sustainable Development
Cooperative and sustainable living is also very popular in Nicaragua, and volunteers are need to assist with everyday tasks in maintenance and upkeep of the cooperatives. Farmer’s cooperatives are generally made up of a number of local farmers (campesinos), who come together to try to make their farms more sustainable. Anyone with previous farm knowledge will be valuable in a volunteer capacity in a cooperative in Nicaragua, but there are jobs for any one who isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty. You can find out more about sustainable volunteer placements with organizations like The Roberto Clemente Health Clinic Nicaragua and the Foundation for Sustainable Development (US based). FSD also has a number of environmental conservation volunteer jobs in Nicaragua available on some of the nature conservancies along the coastline.
- Youth Development
Countries with a large portion of citizens living in poverty often experience a high number of children living without parents. This makes orphanage volunteering a both necessary and worthwhile activity for volunteers looking for work in countries like Nicaragua. Many orphanage volunteers will simply provide extra support to the children during the day, or for after school activities. Tasks include preparing meals, cleaning up, doing laundry – some manual labor that can go a long way toward making the orphanage a home for the children who live there. AmeriSpan Study Abroad can assist with some placements for volunteers who are currently studying, and are interested in some of the social work aspects of orphanage volunteering in Nicaragua. There are also a number teaching assistant positions available with La Esperanza, which places volunteers in primary schools around Granada.
Do I need to know Spanish?
We’ve discussed language issues a bit both on this blog and over at the JobMonkey Overseas Volunteer Jobs section, and the hard truth is that volunteers generally have an easier time acclimating to their surroundings and beginning the work if they have some familiarity with the language. That said, many of the larger NGOs have grown accustomed to English-speakers, and certainly won’t deny someone the chance to volunteer purely on the basis of his/her language skill level.
But I cannot emphasize enough how much a little goes a long way – even if you just spend a few hours with a language podcast in your ears, or talking to someone in Spanish – even watching some Univision – you will greatly increase your ability to communicate once you are in your home country. And even being comfortable saying hola instead of hello to both the children you are working with and the staff of your community organization will help everyone become more comfortable in you first few days on the job.
When is the best time to volunteer in Nicaragua?
Nicaragua has a tropical climate, which means that while it is warm year-round, they experience a rainy season during the North American winter. There is also the possibility of hurricane’s and tropical storms in the late summer and early fall, so it can be safer not to plan to travel during those times. Early summer you will find a larger population of tourists, and possible higher rates for airfare and accommodations.
So if you haven’t considered Nicaragua before, now is the time! It’s safe, inexpensive, and offers a volunteer job for pretty much everyone!