There are many opportunities for voluntourists to get their feet wet in the world of international development and resource conservation work throughout Belize. Some regional chapters throughout this travel guide offer local volunteer opportunities or ways to help the community. For those interested in spending some time lending a hand, sharing their expertise, or supporting community efforts, there’s plenty to choose from.
Some of these programs cost money and some don’t; be sure you know exactly what you’re getting into when you sign up. Also, be clear on what kind of work your position will entail, as well as your host organization’s expectations and Belizean legal requirements. Speaking of which, Belizean immigration officially requires long-term volunteers to apply for special visas, a process that takes months and is not cheap. Some NGOs get around this (for short-term assignments, anyway) by calling their volunteers “interns.”
The Belize Audubon Society (BAS, www.belizeaudubon.org) accepts qualified volunteers and interns for a variety of land and marine projects, with a three-month minimum (less for marine). Past skilled BAS volunteers have worked in community education; helped create trail signs, brochures, and management guidelines for protected areas and wardens; and analyzed the effectiveness of BAS gift shops.
Habitat for Humanity Belize (tel. 501/227-6818), a world leader in providing low-income housing, operates in Belize City and beyond and accepts qualified volunteers and church groups to help erect home projects.
Cayo-based Pro-Belize (tel. 501/601-9121, www.myproworld.org) is part of ProWorld, an international placement organization that offers study and volunteer abroad experiences from two weeks to six months or longer. Your weekly tuition covers room, board, work placement, donation, and weekend excursions. The work in Belize can be in health, environment, micro-business, youth sports, fine arts, journalism, or women’s issues. Semester-length courses are available.
In San Pedro, Green Reef (100 Coconut Dr., San Pedro Town, tel. 501/226-2833, www.greenreefbelize.org) is a nonprofit conservation organization that works to protect Belize’s barrier reef and associated environment; they’re always interested in hearing from potential volunteers, especially those who have skills in web design, photography, fund-raising, community outreach, and environmental education.
Itzamna Society (tel. 501/820-4023, www.epnp.org) is based in San Antonio, Cayo District, and was set up “for the protection and conservation of the environment and cultural patrimony” of the local Maya community and national park.
The Cornerstone Foundation (tel. 501/824-2373, www.peacecorner.org/cornerstone.htm) is a humanitarian NGO based in the Cayo District, whose volunteer opportunities include HIV/AIDS education and awareness, special education, adult literacy, working with youth or women, and teaching business skills.
Teachers for a Better Belize (TFABB, www.tfabb.org) is a partnership of educators from North America and Belize who volunteer their time to improve the training of Belizean teachers and the education of children in rural Toledo villages. During summers, TFABB invites 5–10 experienced North American K–8 teachers to Belize for 1–2 weeks to partner with Belizean teachers in presenting lessons at a teacher-training workshop in Punta Gorda. Every few years, they also need construction volunteers (no experience necessary). TFABB accepts donations of children’s storybooks to ship to Belize.
Trekforce Belize (8 Saint Mark St., Belize City, tel. 501/223-1442, www.trekforce.org.uk) offers challenging conservation, community, and research trips from two weeks to five months long, including “jungle survival,” Spanish school in Guatemala, and a teaching assignment in a rural Belizean school.
Aspiring organic farmers will want to check up on the few Belize listings for the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) network, which at last check had five independent host opportunities in Belize. You can often work on the farm in exchange for room and board, but conditions vary from site to site. Barton Creek Outpost in Cayo (http://bartoncreekoutpost.com) offers other kinds of work/trade opportunities to stay in this backpacker’s paradise.
Sustainable Harvest International’s Smaller World Program (U.S. tel. 207/669-8254, shi [at] sustainableharvest [dot] org, www.sustainableharvest.org) has an office in Punta Gorda, where they coordinate sustainable agriculture projects with 100 area farmers. SHI offers service trips for groups, staying in rustic homestays or the relatively upscale Cotton Tree Lodge. Typical service trips for volunteers are 10 days long and include side trips to natural and cultural sites. Some projects they’ve done include organic gardens, multistory cacao and coffee plots, composting latrines, organic fertilizers and pesticides, biodigestors, and wood-conserving stoves. In Belize, the trips include sustainable chocolate tours and family voluntourism trips.
U.S. Peace Corps
The Peace Corps (www.peacecorps.gov) is a U.S. government program created by John F. Kennedy in 1961, whose original goal was to improve America’s image in the Third World by sending volunteers deep into the countryside of developing countries. Fifty years later, some 8,000 volunteers are serving in more than 70 countries around the world. Accepted participants serve a two-year tour preceded by three months of intensive language and cultural training in the host country; they receive a bare-bones living allowance and earn a nominal “readjustment allowance” at the completion of their service.
The first group of Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Belize in 1962. Since that time, more than 1,700 volunteers have worked in Belize in a variety of projects. Currently, there are about 70 volunteers providing assistance in education, youth development, rural community development, environmental education, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Pre-service training is conducted in rural Creole and mestizo villages and includes Spanish, Q’eqchi’, and Garifuna language classes, depending on where the volunteer is being sent. Volunteers are placed throughout the country’s six districts to work with government agencies and NGOs.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition