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Volunteer in South America

Volunteer on the fourth-largest continent in the world, South America. Nestled between two oceans, the Pacific and Atlantic, South America houses the world's biggest tropical rainforest, the Amazon. The rainforest stretches across 5,5 million square kilometres, covering large parts of Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other countries in South America.

You might spot animals like bright red, blue, or green poison dart frogs, or hear stealthy jaguars rustling between the trees. Listen to the Amazon pink river dolphins whistling as they swim through the Amazon’s criss-crossing rivers, and try to find the tiny golden lion tamarin hiding in the foliage.
Types of volunteer programs in South America

Our volunteer programs in South America are community-focused. This means we work side-by-side with the local community members. While they teach you about their culture and traditions, you will learn how to interact with diverse people, respect cultures different from your own and become a global citizen.

You can volunteer on a program in South America, Peru, to make a positive impact in the following areas:

Our programs focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and contribute directly towards Goal 4: Quality Education, Goal 5: Gender Equality, Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, and Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Volunteer work in South America will give you the opportunity to make a positive impact by offering support on one of our sustainable development initiatives. Each of our projects is thought-out and planned in collaboration with local community members based on their self-identified needs.

Travel and Volunteer in South America

In your free time from volunteering in South America, you can visit the famous Galapagos Islands, with its myriad fauna and flora, some of which can only be found here. For example, the indigenous marine iguana, which searches for food underwater, is the only species of iguana that can swim in the sea. Go wildlife-viewing and tread in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, who visited the island in 1835, and found inspiration for his theory of evolution from the island’s species.

Or you could learn about a South American civilisation when you visit the remote Chilean volcanic island called Easter Island. Here, you will see approximately 900 colossal statues called moai – carvings of human figures with giant heads – which were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The statues were built by the Rapa Nui people in honour of their tribe leaders. It’s believed that the towering statues were built to keep watch over the island and its people.

But volunteering in South America is so much more than sightseeing. You get to work closely with Peruvian people in local communities, on community-led projects that are committed to ethical practices.

GVI’s badge of ethics is a representation of our commitment to responsible and ethical best practice in all areas. Our projects include a number of volunteer programs aimed at offering support and assistance toward sustainable development in the areas where we work.

Where can I volunteer in South America with GVI?

GVI operates in one location in South America.

Peru

GVI operates in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of South America, Cusco, in southeastern Peru. Cusco is acclaimed for its grand cathedrals, houses with terracotta-tiled roofs, and its narrow cobbled streets.

The city maintains a proud heritage and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In Cusco, you will get to see how history is intertwined into the Peruvian community.

Your role as a volunteer in Cusco will be to offer support and assistance to the local communities, on projects that the community members have identified as important. Work on these projects might include self-empowerment for women and children through education. You will offer support by increasing equal access to education for women and children through educational workshops and English lessons. Learning English will give community children the opportunity to further their education and allows adults in the community to increase their employability.

Since you will be working with children, there are some things to note about how we conduct volunteer and child interactions. GVI supports ChildSafe, a global child protection initiative, and ensures the protection of children we work with on our projects, with our regularly revised, comprehensive Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection policy. For ethical best practice and the safety of children and volunteers, all our staff and participants are required to complete a police background check before arrival on the program.

We also provide on-site child protection training upon arrival in the host country. To protect children from cyber and real-world threats, we ensure that our marketing follows child protection best practice. Please note that GVI does not support orphanage volunteering. For more information, see our stance on orphanage volunteering.

Community leaders have also outlined a few other areas where they may need support, such as agricultural organic farming practices, crop irrigation, and reforestation. GVI volunteers will do this work with community members to encourage their involvement in land preservation and support them in honing the skills they need to carry on with this work without an external organisation.

Why volunteer in South America?

You’ll find, when volunteering, South America has more than significant natural sites. Between its 12 independent countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela – South America is big on its diverse history and culture. You can learn about civilisations that inhabited the continent centuries before and meet people today who still carry storied traditions.

One of the most colourful representations of history meeting the present is Peruvian textile weaving. The finely woven cloths were used by the Paracas people in 600 BC to wrap their mummies. For other cultures like the Nazca and Moche people, these textiles were symbols of nobility and a nobleman could only wear a woven garment once.

Volunteer work in South America will allow you to learn about practices like these, while making an impact with Peruvian communities. You’ll learn about another culture, have the opportunity to increase your knowledge of important historical events in Peru, and reflect on how these influence the country today.

You’ll also get to see some of the world’s oldest sites, including Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World as listed by the New7Wonders foundation.

 

  • Machu Picchu: Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, and is visited by many travellers passing through to see the Incan citadel. The ruins of this Incan citadel are situated high up on the Andes slopes. It is believed to have been built in the 14th century and is a resilient physical confirmation of the greatness of the Inca Empire and its people, who built the archaeological wonder. Today, there are no known living Inca people, but the people of Cusco still carry traditions and customs passed on from generations before them. While working to support local communities, you can immerse yourself in Peruvian culture and learn more about the history of the Inca people.
  • Cusco Cathedral: The cathedral is a representation of colonial influence after the city was colonised by the Spanish in the 16th century. Made from blocks taken from a nearby Inca site, Sacsaywamán, the cathedral is a combination of European-style architecture and indigenous Andean artistry. When you visit this site, you’ll gain a deeper insight into the complex history and culture of the people of Peru.
  • Museo Inca: Learn more about the rich Inca history preserved in Inca art and artifacts held in Museo Inca, which houses a large collection of handmade traditional items like pottery, and hand-woven textiles. This might give you a better understanding of the communities you work with.
  • Huascaran National Park: Covering 340,000 hectares, this glacial national park includes the Cordillera Blanca tropical mountain range, a number of waterfalls, crystal lakes and a lagoon, Laguna 69 Huaraz, snuggled between its mountains. While trekking along the mountain slopes, you’ll forget all about the cold icy environment and be mesmerised by the turquoise scenery instead.

Planning your volunteer trip to South America

Six questions to ask before you volunteer in South America

Q: Which volunteer program should I join?

A: GVI offers volunteer programs that work towards sustainable development. You have the option of joining a teaching program, a business skills development project, or empowerment initiatives for women and young girls, so choose the one you’re most passionate about. And if you’re a teen volunteer, you can join a Machu Picchu trek to promote sustainable tourism while you volunteer. 

Q: Is this organisation ethical? 

A: GVI is committed to adhering to the highest level of ethical best practice throughout all our programs. To do this, we are governed by ten ethical principles and five human empowerment principles. We also hold a badge of ethics, which is a representation of our dedication to continuously reflect on and improve our policies and procedures. The assistance of our ethics officers and external experts helps us achieve this.

Q: How long can I volunteer in South America?

A: Our programs in Cusco range from a minimum of 1 week to a maximum of 12 weeks.

Q: Do I need any specific qualifications?

A: You are required to be able to communicate in basic Spanish, the predominant language of Cusco’s community members. If you’re volunteering in South America with GVI, your enrolment manager can help you to book Spanish lessons when you join a program here. 

All additional training needed by our programs is provided to you on base by qualified staff members. Our adult volunteering programs require you to be 18 years or older and our teen volunteer programs are available for participants aged 15 to 17. 

Q: Where will I live?

A: You will be part of a homestay on base with fellow international volunteers, in the local community of Cusco.

Q: Who will I be volunteering with?

A: As a volunteer in South America, Peru, you will work alongside international GVI volunteers. This is an opportunity to make international friends for a lifetime. Our GVI team will be available for around-the-clock support to guide volunteers throughout their time on our programs. Our community-based projects will also allow volunteers to work closely with local community members and leaders.

GVI South America volunteering programs

Anyone interested in volunteer work in South America will find plenty of opportunities with GVI. Whether you’re looking to take part in a women’s empowerment program, a teaching project, or if you have an interest in business skills development, we have a program just for you. Our list of programs in the region is based on needs that the community identifies.

Volunteer work in South America

Teaching English

Our teaching program aims to assist children in local schools to speak and understand basic English. Volunteers on this program will support local teachers with English lessons. 

Learning to speak and communicate in English is an important skill for community members as it increases their employability in the tourism industry of Cusco. This in turn boosts the economic growth for the whole community.

Since Spanish is the language spoken by the majority of community members in Cusco, participants on this program are required to be able to communicate in Spanish. You can request assistance with booking Spanish lessons when you join a program in Cusco. 

One of the benefits of this program is that while you teach Spanish-speaking learners to communicate in English, you’ll be able to practise your Spanish skills with them at the same time. Learning to communicate in one another’s languages will strengthen relationships between volunteers and community members, and make the overall working environment more comfortable for everyone involved.

On this program, you will contribute towards quality education, gain valuable teaching experience and practical hours for your future teaching career, and gain skills like intercultural communication and leadership skills. You’ll also learn first-hand about local Peruvian cultures and traditions. 

Micro-enterprise and business skills development

If you have a keen interest in business, doing this type of volunteer work in South America is perfect for you. You can use your business knowledge and interests to offer support to local entrepreneurs and small business owners, contributing to economic growth in the city.

Volunteers on this program will work on initiatives to assist community members to sustain themselves. We offer support to local professionals as they learn English, which will increase their employability in the booming tourism sector. Learning English makes a positive impact on their businesses by making it easier for them to communicate with English-speaking international clients.

We support local business owners as they empower themselves, by providing platforms for them to learn professional skills, and access business resources. 

Volunteers might be involved in identifying trends in the business market, pinpointing challenges for local businesses and assisting with finding solutions to overcome them. For example, you might be required to contribute to sales and marketing strategies to help local businesses attract clients. We offer businesses support with developing local brands. We do this by assisting businesses to set up online marketing platforms and tools like professional websites and social media accounts.

Doing work on this program will also give you the opportunity to gain practical skills to display on your resume. You will also gain personal development skills like leadership, intercultural communication, and problem-solving. 

Prior knowledge and experience in the business sector is an advantage but not a requirement to join this program. We will provide all the necessary training on base, and you will be guided by our trained professionals. So, if you don’t have these skills before you join a program, you will definitely have them once you leave.

We aren’t strictly business-only on this program. You will also have the opportunity to participate in environmental projects like seasonal reforestation, lake clean-ups, and environmental education workshops at local schools. This will allow you a chance to step out of the office mindset and rejuvenate your business-savvy mind in nature. 

Women’s empowerment

You can contribute directly to Goal 5: Gender Equality, which is part of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) by joining a GVI program. But our women’s empowerment programs go a step further by contributing towards Goal 4: Quality Education, Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities. 

Volunteer work on this program is done in collaboration with community members on locally-led initiatives. The goal of this program is to support young girls and women in the local communities in their journey of self-empowerment. This might include getting involved in conversational English workshops, and facilitating English lessons in schools. 

Participants on this program will therefore work closely with participants in our teaching programs. The program focuses on supporting women and young girls with individualised skills training, equal opportunities and access to quality education, all of which improve their employability. Women have historically been marginalised in societies all over the world and programs like this one aim to make a contribution towards gender equality. 

Teen volunteering

If you’re on a holiday break, or taking a gap year after high school, and looking to do something meaningful with your time by volunteering, South America is a great choice. You can join teens from all around the world who come together on our programs to do volunteer work in South America. 

On our Machu Picchu trek and teen volunteering program in Peru, you will get to step foot in this citadel where Incan people lived and thrived over 600 years ago. Since no known Incan people are around today, you can come close to their heritage by working side-by-side with their descendants, the members of the local Quechua community.

Because of the historical significance and natural scenery, people all around the world have taken a keen interest in Machu Picchu. The site receives millions of tourists every year, with thousands of feet from all around the world treading on its historically rich grounds. 

This means the natural environment also undergoes a lot of pressure, along with its resources like the local lake, natural springs, grazing spots and forests. On this program, we aim to promote responsible tourism in this area to help protect the natural environment of Cusco. 

As a volunteer on this project, you will assist the community to protect the natural environment, and its resources, by doing valuable work on projects like reforestation, recovering original Inca land and irrigation troughs, and building greenhouses. You can also assist members of the rural community to make sellable handicrafts like Peruvian weaving and get the chance to make your own traditional keepsake to take back home. 

GVI has successfully been operating ethical and responsible best practice on our programs for teens since 2012. Health and safety is our number one priority and we take extra measures to uphold these regulations on our teen programs. 

Our teen program’s health and safety is compliant with British Standards 8848 and is also accredited with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). To ensure support and safety of our teens from the moment they arrive in the host country, our staff is present upon arrival, and we also offer flight chaperoning services should it be requested through one of our enrolment managers.

Download our program brochures

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Our Programs in South America