Also called service travel, volun-tourism or volunteer travel, there’s a reason why volunteering is becoming more popular in Nicaragua every year. Actually there are (at least) 8 reasons.
Lets take a look at them:
1. Helping people
I thought I’d kick off with the most important reason: dedicating time and energy to less privileged individuals. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the western hemisphere (after Haiti) and volunteering with a community organization can make an enormous difference to local lives.
All you need to do is take yourself out of the center and put someone else there instead.
2. Learning something practical
Volunteer with a local community and you’ll learn things you would never be able to from a book, a classroom, or a standard tour. Your learning will be practical and connected to the actual world rather than abstract and disconnected.
Try teaching English with the Casa Llanta Fund in the Carizal or reading books to students at the Mobile Library and I guarantee that you will walk away from the experience knowing Spanish vocabulary words that were not covered in your high school Spanish class. Don’t let your limited grasp of the local language prevent you from serving the community.
Teaching English to kids is a great way to help them with their education and you’ll get to learn “Nicaraguan Spanish” at the same time.
3. Immersing yourself in the local culture
Volunteering in Nicaragua takes you away from well-worn tourist trails and immerses you in a world that the average visitor will never experience.
You’ll get progressively better at understanding the local context and may even be invited to local community events and get to participate in local traditions and rituals.
4. Making new friends
When you are working with a group towards a common goal, friendships come easily. You’ll meet people from all walks of life; people you would never cross paths with by sticking to a normal visitor routine.
As many of the local residents in San Juan del Sur do not frequent the restaurants and bars listed on this website, you’ll need to get out into the community if you really want to make friends with locals.
5. Gaining a deeper understanding of Nicaragua
It’s impossible to understand the local culture and lifestyle without understanding the challenges that residents are faced with in daily life. And there is no better way to gain an understanding, then to devote time to helping individuals overcome their challenges.
6. Broadening your mind
Warning: By exposing you to the unfamiliar, volunteering can be a life-altering experience!
But if it doesn’t quite do that, it will certainly clear your head, help you see things in a new light and perhaps encourage you to re-evaluate what’s important to you in life.
7. Making you feel more at home
It should come as no surprise that “getting involved in the local community” is frequently suggested by expats as a means to feeling more at home abroad.
Building a school and teaching an English class creates a disarming sense of mutual respect between locals and foreigners. You may initially donate your time and money to a cause to help the community, but over time their faces, names and families become more than just familiar, they become dear friends.
A foreign country can transform into a home when you invest your heart into the local community.
8. Making children smile and laugh
There is nothing more rewarding then hearing children’s laughter or witnessing a genuine smile on a child’s face, especially knowing that you are helping to contribute to furthering their education or improving their living conditions.
Living in Nica isn’t always easy. It is not always comfortable. In all honesty, volunteering can take you to some of the least comfortable locations in San Juan del Sur, but it is precisely in these places that smiles are most plentiful.
Over to you. What do you think are the most important reasons for volunteering when you travel overseas? Is it covered by one of these 8 or is it something else completely? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments area.