Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
Nicaragua has lots of potential and there are lots of ways to help. If you can commit more than a couple of weeks and have decent Spanish already, you can turn your vacation into something more than just travel by volunteering with one of several organizations that helps travelers make a difference.
Check www.volunteerabroad.com for the most updated listing of available assignments, or inquire about opportunities with the following organizations: Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org), American Jewish World Service (www.ajws.org), Bridges to Community (www.bridgestocommunity.org), or Seeds of Learning (www.seedsoflearning.org). There are also plenty of smaller organizations offering volunteer opportunities in Nicaragua.
Yes, you’ll miss out on some hammock time, but look at what you’ll gain:
Volunteering in Granada
Building New Hope (BNH) (U.S. tel. 412/421-1625, in Granada, call Donna Tabor at tel. 505/8852-0210, www.buildingnewhope.org), based in both Granada and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a nonprofit organization offering a number of ongoing programs and volunteer opportunities.
Start by purchasing a pound (or six) of Fair Trade–certified organic, shade-grown coffee from their website, then mull over these options while sipping some hot Nica joe: BNH manages two neighborhood schools that welcome volunteer teachers’ assistants. They often need mentors for young adult males attempting to enter the mainstream after life on the streets. BNH assists the community library and reading-in-schools program, and operates a veterinary clinic to help control the stray animal population in Granada, which is always looking for visiting veterinarians, vet techs, dog walkers, and vet students.
BNH is also on the lookout for music teachers for their Rhythm in the Barrios project, physical education instructors, and other teachers (intermediate Spanish and one month minimum commitment). BNH assists the Hogar Madre Albertina (from Colegio Padre Misieri, two blocks north, tel. 505/2552-7661), an underfunded home for girls where volunteers are sometimes welcome to read to the girls or play games with them. They’re also looking for Microsoft geeks and English instructors, for both the girls and the sisters in charge.
Empowerment International (tel. 505/2552-1653 or 8678-3341, U.S. tel. 303/823-6495, www.empowermentinternational.org) runs a community-based educational program for impoverished and at-risk youth. Direct work with the families and community is an integral part of their methodology, as are art and photography projects. There are many ways to volunteer for EI both in Nicaragua and from afar.
See their website for a list of needs and ways to help. Currently they serve Villa Esperanza and Santa Ana de Malacos, two outlying communities of Granada. Intermediate Spanish is a must. There is a strong need for computer skills, pyschology, and teaching experience.
Sisters of Madre Teresa de Calcuta in Barrio Sabonetta have a very organized school and residence for girls up to the age of 18. Most have been rescued from precarious conditions in their homes or were at-risk for drug use, prostitution, and other crimes. The school grounds are beautifully manicured and immaculate; the sisters welcome volunteers to teach music (guitar and voice), English, and art; conversational Spanish is a must.
La Harmonía (Carraterra Masaya, two blocks west of La Colonia supermarket, eeap_aman [at] yahoo [dot] com) is an organization for mentally and physically challenged children and young adults. They accept volunteers with basic Spanish who can teach handicrafts, weaving, haircutting, sign language, or have experience in special education.
La Esperanza Granada (Calle Libertad #307, tel. 505/8432-5420, la_esperanza_granada [at] yahoo [dot] com, www.la‑esperanza‑granada.org) focuses on education, especially with very young children. Volunteers work in public schools on the outskirts of Granada; they tutor and teach arts and crafts, sports, English, etc. Volunteer housing in the center of Granada is $20 per week; preferred time frame is eight weeks with intermediate Spanish. No program fees or registration fee. They have experience with groups of international volunteers for short-term projects.
Volunteer on La Isla de Ometepe
There are several projects on La Isla de Ometepe that lend a hand to youth at risk from around Nicaragua; a high level of Spanish is recommended, as this can be frustrating, difficult work (and equally rewarding, of course). In Altagracia is the residential center of ¡Sí a la Vida! (Yes to Life, www.asalv.org), an organization that welcomes international volunteers who can expect to work with ex-street kids in sports, arts, handicrafts and tutoring, as well as specialized services like health care, construction, and agriculture. Volunteers accompany Nicaraguan staff on field trips to the streets and markets of Managua. A commitment of six months or more is usually required, and visitors are usually welcome. To volunteer, contact Tom Mueller (U.S. tel. 619/593-9567, vccmueller [at] hotmail [dot] com). There’s also the Quincho Barrilete chapter in the town of San José del Sur, which sometimes accepts volunteers.
In the community of San Lázaro, just to the east of Punta Jesús María, is the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH, www.nphamigos.org) orphanage, run by Our Little Brothers and Sisters, who provide “a Christian family environment based on unconditional acceptance and love, sharing, working and responsibility.” Adopt a godchild, come for a visit, or visit their website to apply to their volunteer program.
In the community of Santa Cruz, you’ll find the Fundación Entre Volcánes (tel. 505/2569-4118), which runs projects all over Volcán Maderas. Contact Raúl Mayorga or Martín Juarez for details — Raúl works in Moyogalpa (two blocks south and one block east of the Shell station, tel. 505/8882-5562) and Martín is based out of the town of Los Angeles (Ometepe, not California).
In 2007, the folks at Hacienda Mérida founded the Ometepe Bilingual School (tel. 505/8868-8973, contact Alvaro Molina, alvaronica [at] gmail [dot] com, www.hmerida.com), a free English-language school in the rural community of Mérida, on the southwestern side of the island. It is a before- and after-school program which children attend on their own initiative, in addition to their five-hour days at the public school. The school also provides oatmeal and granola porridge for all of the kids after classes. Methods of teaching include bilingual card games, movies, text and grammar book activities, singing, and field trips. The school hosts international volunteers and student groups and individuals come from around the world. You can teach English to local elementary and high school students. There is a two-week minimum commitment, a $150 fee, and accommodations with a local family, or in the dormitories at Hacienda Mérida.
The Maderas Rainforest Conservancy (formerly the Ometepe Biological Field Station, Miami tel. 305-666-9932, info [at] maderasrfc [dot] org, www.maderasrfc.org) is located near Merida, on the slopes of Volcán Maderas. They manage numerous forward-thinking conservation projects in surrounding communities, including a botanical garden on the lake shore to serve as a refuge for endangered Blue Morpho butterflies and they operate a field school for birding groups and research students. Tourists are welcome to sample the restaurant or stay at the station for a small fee.
Volunteering in San Juan del Sur
Comunidad Connect (tel. 505/8853-8242, www.comunidadconnect.org) is a local nonprofit with a bilingual, multicultural staff, dedicated to supporting sustainable economic and community development in the area; they run the Sports Park by the beach, started a municipal recycling program in cooperation with the mayor’s office, work with real estate agencies and developers to facilitate private sector donations to community projects, run a small business development initiative, and invite voluntourists like yourself to help with their projects. CC can arrange an all-inclusive homestay with a local family, volunteer projects, Spanish lessons, and excursions to their organic coffee farm. Contact director and long-time San Juan resident Jon Thompson (jon [at] comunidadconnect [dot] org) to find out how to get involved — physically or financially.
The local book-lending project has been a smashing success in a country largely devoid of libraries that lend out books. The San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil (www.sjdsbiblioteca.com), located across the street from the park, is the first lending library in Nicaragua and serves as the town library.
Besides offering books and reading space to San Juaneños, it brings books to young and old in 31 outlying communities. The project was founded by Jane Mirandette (janem101 [at] aol [dot] com), the proprietress of Hotel Villa Isabella and is supported by a nonprofit, the Hester J. Hodgdon Libraries for All Program (www.librariesforall.org). Their Library in a Box program has helped initiate 30 other libraries in Nicaragua. Besides helping monetarily, tourists can volunteer by teaching English, organizing books, and reading to youngsters, or joining the staff on a visit to one of the rural schools. There is a formal volunteer program for librarians, library school students, and others held twice a year. Book donations are always welcome. Bring them with you or send Spanish-language books to the HJH Office at 1716 Del Norte Blvd., Loveland, CO 80538 (visiting Coloradans who bring a suitcase of books from Loveland get a free night at the Hotel Villa Isabella).
There are several opportunities to teach English in San Juan del Sur. At the Newton Montegri preschool, near the entrance to Pelican Eyes, track down the director Maria Luisa to work with four- and five-year-olds. Contact Heidy Herrera Obando (tel. 505/2568-2041 or 505/8924-6220, heidyho23 [at] yahoo [dot] com) to find out about opportunities to teach English at the library, which can provide teaching materials for other projects too. At the instituto (high school), you can teach English on Saturdays. Contact Director Rosa Elena Bello by calling 505/2568-2402 or 505/8858-0326. Finally, those wishing to arrange a longer-term experience in a rural setting, possibly staying with a family in the campo, can contact Mara Jacobsohn (tel. 505/8853-2767).
Fundación A. Jean Brugger (tel. 505/2563-7000 ext. 861, www.fundacionalbrugger.org), founded in 1999, provides scholarships, uniforms, school supplies, and job training for promising local students. It also supports recycling and antilitter campaigns and a community art gallery, which hosts daily workshops for young and not-so-young artists. In addition, the foundation runs baseball camps for area youths, and hosts a popular monthly luncheon for senior citizens. Financial contributions are always needed and materials, such as school supplies, are appreciated as well.
San Juan del Sur has no fewer than five sister cities around the world: two in Germany, one in Spain, one in Norway, and one in Massachusetts. The Newton–San Juan del Sur Sister City Project (www.newtonsanjuan.org) sends brigades down twice a year (medical, dental, optical, construction, English instruction, etc.) and directly supports the library project. They also have an appropriate technologies workshop in which volunteers can help build and install improved stoves, latrines, and water filters. To make a tax-deductible contribution, send a check to Treasurer Don Ross, 211 Winslow Road, Waban, MA 02460. The local contact in San Juan is Rosa Elena Bello (rosaebel [at] ibw [dot] com [dot] ni).
Volunteering in Matagalpa
At least 16 Matagalpan organizations accept volunteer help from time to time if you’d like to make this your home for a few months or more. The Movimiento Comunal (tel. 505/772-3200) deals with indigenous rights issues and fights against water privatization. La Casa de la Mujer Nora Hawkins (tel. 505/772-3047) promotes social programs that benefit women. The Comunidad Indígena (tel. 505/772-2692) is rather disorganized but well intentioned and could certainly use your assistance if you can find a way to be useful.
Habitat for Humanity (located two blocks east and half a block north of the Deportiva Brigadista, tel. 505/772-6121) has built several housing settlements in the area and continues to be active. Ask about volunteer opportunities at Matagalpa Tours or Centro Girasol.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition