Although the towering skyscrapers, modern malls, and trendy, bar-lined avenues of Santiago’s hottest barrios might hint at a prospering nation, Chile remains in desperate need of altruistic visitors and volunteers – and remains a great fit for anyone interested in volunteering in South America. It may have been invited to join the OECD in 2010, but inequality and national poverty prevails; consequently, there are a range of worthy volunteer programs in Chile, especially in education, health, and community development, that require your assistance.
Spanning seven different climates and bordered on the east by the mountainous spine of the Andes, Chile also has an enviable diversity of pristine nature and ecosystems. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that a good amount of volunteer opportunities in Chile are focused on sustainable conservation projects. If you’re green thumbed or see yourself as the next Dr Doolittle, Chile’s epic wealth of national parks, farms, and rolling countryside should keep you occupied. But, even if you pick a volunteer program in Chile’s capital, it’s hard not to be tempted to combine altruism with adventure – each weekend is an opportunity to escape the city and explore this country’s staggering yet accessible landscapes.
As beautiful a location as you’ll find, volunteer work in Chile can be complicated by the modismos (slang words) that slip so easily off the local people’s tongues. For both veteran and Spanish newbies, Chile’s unique take on the language is guaranteed to keep you on your linguistic toes, but if you can work out what the locals are saying, you’ll find a friendly openness and curiosity toward foreigners. Although Chileans have a reputation amongst other South American countries for being aloof, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Expect to be welcomed with open arms and more than you fair share of asados.
If volunteering in Chile sounds like your cup of tea (well, they drink mate here actually), then be inspired by the following list of volunteer opportunities in the land of buenas ondas (good vibes).
The Chilean government has been fast in recognizing that, in our global society, English is the key to success for young people. As a result, there’s a real appetite for native English speakers who can provide an extra pair of hands, ears, and a mouth, in the all-important English language classes in both middle and high schools (aka. English teachers they need YOU!).
Apply through the Chilean Ministry of Education’s English language teaching program, and commit to between four months and a whole academic year of volunteering in Chile as an English language assistant. You’ll be guaranteed to have the ideal context for polishing your Spanish, while helping Chilean students get the grip of your native tongue. What’s more, volunteer teachers are placed nationwide, so you might find yourself relaxing on the white-sand beaches of Viña del Mar after class or exploring the treasures of the national parks in the secretive Magallanes Region of Southern Patagonia.
With the nation’s population disproportionately centered in Santiago, this is where you can take part in cultural exchange and teach English to your host family or work as an English teaching assistant in a local school. However, if you’re not struck by the bright lights of the capital, find volunteer work in Chile further up the coast in La Serena. This small city is a relaxed hub of colonial churches and inviting beaches. La Serena is also home to a daycare center and kindergarten for children from impoverished families, and will provide a wake up call for anyone fooled by the prosperity of the modern high-rises of the capital.
Those who volunteer in education in Chile will work alongside local people and learn about the daily struggles they face, while seeing the positive impact of their volunteering efforts on children and their families.
2. Health Care
If you want to feel warm and fuzzy inside, working with community-focused organizations should be top of your list, but there’s no shame in choosing volunteer programs in Chile that are mutually beneficial and allow you to enhance your own skillset while helping other people.
With its high-quality health care system, Chile is just the ticket for anyone looking to gain hospital experience for their med-school applications. As a medical volunteer shadowing health care professionals in Chile, budding doctors can gain valuable, resume boosting experience as well as a reality check about what it actually means to work in a hospital (nope, it won’t be exactly like Grey’s Anatomy). It’s also an excellent opportunity to pick up a new language – another useful string to your bow when working in the medical system.
If you’re already a qualified health professional, think about expanding your knowledge of healthcare around the world by volunteering to promote health initiatives and outreach programs in a Santiago-based clinic. Like any healthcare system at home or abroad, there are distinct challenges to be faced, but self-starting volunteers keen to work in a Spanish-speaking environment can gain a new perspective on educating the public about the importance of prevention and treatment. Not only will a new language be of use in your career, but the lessons you learn can be applied to your health care career back at home.
When it comes to attracting medical volunteers, Chile is a stud. Another volunteer program in Chile that provides indispensable professional development for health care professionals is working with one of Chile’s fascinating equine therapy programs. Volunteers can support therapists and exceptionally well-trained horses to promote physical and emotional growth in young people with a wide-range of disabilities, including paralysis, down-syndrome, and autism, amongst others. Although it dates back to the ancient Greeks, this form of therapy has only more recently become widely used, and students studying physiotherapy or just those with a keen interest in children or horses, are guaranteed a unique experience in this field.
Community development volunteer programs in Chile come in all shapes and sizes, if you’re wanting to live in a smaller town or rural location, these are the best volunteer opportunities in Chile for you.
You’ve likely got your own fond memories of summer camp, and for good reason – the experience is a formative part of growing up for many young people across the world. Ensure that others get the same chances you did. Disadvantaged youth in Chile need energetic volunteers to help as camp counselors and support bilingual program staff. Who wouldn’t want to double their volunteering in South America as a whimsical return to the dirty fingernails, canoe races, and loudly-sung-songs of their camp days?! Camp volunteers are responsible for running adventure activities in Chile’s great outdoors, including hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Bring a smile and bags of energy!
For a truly unique volunteer program in Chile, consider working in the far north, where the country’s small Aymaran population is based. Although fewer in number than in neighboring Bolivia, these indigenous communities continue to preserve their unique traditions and maintain a real sense of pride in their origins. So if you want to get further under the skin of locals than a casual visitor, considered volunteering in Chile in December, when these communities prepare for a significant date on their agricultural calendar: the summer solstice. This will allow you to have an experience like no other in a country that often faces criticism for having lost much of its indigenous cultural identity.
With the world’s driest non-polar desert in the north, miles of shimmering lakes in the central region, and remote, barely-explored channels and fjords in the south, it’s fair to say that Chile is a nature-lover’s paradise. In the region just south of the capital, where most industry is devoted to farming, farm stays and opportunities to learn about organic farming practices abound, giving those with their eye on environmental sustainability and a desire to learn about new farming methods the perfect placement in Chile.
The real highlight of conservation volunteer programs in Chile are in Patagonia. Get ready to slap yourself around the face to check that you’re not dreaming; yes, it is possible to volunteer in one of the world’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty: Torres del Paine National Park. Considered by some as one of the top ten wonders of the world, few volunteer opportunities in Chile come close to granting this level of access to Patagonia’s epic landscapes. If you’re a keen hiker and willing to get your hands dirty, the opportunity to volunteer in Patagonia in conservation is probably right up your windswept, craggy-mountain-alley. Just bring a waterproof jacket; the weather in Torres del Paine is notoriously changeable, but the sublime beauty of the rugged granite peaks of the Paine massif and the winding paths through unkempt steppe and sparkling, otherworldly glacial lakes remains constant.
Ready to lend a hand through volunteer work in Chile?
You’ve asked yourself some important questions, really dug deep and soul searched, and now you’re decided and ready to volunteer in Chile. As you’ve seen, a whole range of volunteer programs in Chile are available and suited to different skillsets. Previous experience in Spanish can be very useful, but not a prerequisite. English isn’t widely spoken outside the capital of Santiago, so expect more than your fair share of opportunities to learn Spanish as you provide a much needed helping hand.
Ultimately, the biggest difficulty with selecting a volunteer program in Chile is deciding where you want to be based. Most volunteer opportunities are found in and around Santiago, but with a bit of digging (and the help of the excellent MyGoAbroad tool to compare opportunities) should throw up some incredible rural gems if a bustling, modern capital city isn’t really your scene.
Wherever you choose, prepare to experience Chile’s legendary buenas ondas as you work alongside the local people in South America’s friendliest country.