The Caribbean isn’t all palm-fringed beaches and fancy resorts. Outside of the tourist bubble, the Dominican Republic suffers extensively from poverty. The good news is, it's possible to enjoy the ocean vistas and white-sand beaches while doing something meaningful: to volunteer in Dominican Republic is a unique opportunity to contribute a worthwhile cause, while still having the travel experience of a lifetime. Soak up Santiago’s colonial beauty while working with orphans, go wild in the jungle while helping with wildlife conservation, or volunteer in a hospital and have your patients teach you how to merengue like a pro. !Vamos a Santiago!
Volunteering in Santiago
As the second largest city, there is a wide array of projects for international volunteers to join in the Dominican Republic. You can merge your skills, expertise, and interests with a real need: perfecto.
There are several placements in cultural areas. Majority of Santiago’s architectural design is influenced by the Dominican history and culture. Efforts are being made to preserve the historical buildings and the cultural heritage that goes along with them. This is an interesting option for anyone with a passion for history or museum studies.
The jungle around Santiago is teeming with wildlife and native plant species. Conservation programs play an important role in trying to slow the destruction of these forests and their inhabitants. Biology majors and animal lovers will get non-stop thrills from all these programs have to offer.
One of the most important ways foreign volunteers can contribute is through education. There are service learning programs offered by international non-governmental organizations, local schools and universities, and clinics. These service learning programs are offered to college students from all parts of Dominican Republic. Thus, there is a high demand of teachers especially those who teach English.
Health care is an area that always requires dedicated and passionate volunteers. Santiago, despite its progress and safety, is not an exempt from health risks such as Hepatitis A, malaria, and typhoid. International medical non-governmental organizations based in Santiago continually recruit foreign volunteers to be part of the movement to eradicate the health risks.
Life in Santiago
Surrounded by tobacco and sugarcane plantations, life in Santiago is dominated by tropical heat, rum, and cigars. Afro-Caribbean rhythms flow around colonial buildings, and the surrounding valley gives the whole city a lush backdrop and jungly feel.
The town is often bypassed by travelers completely, meaning life here has been largely uninterrupted by the tourism industry. Poorer barrios are haphazard constructions of dirt lanes and corrugated iron roofs. There is a resilient cheer among the people though, with dance and music an integral part of everyday life. Aside from speaking Spanish, the best way to commune with locals is to learn a few steps of merengue.
Go prepared with a swimsuit: there are numerous diving and surfing spots that aren’t far from the city. Take your hiking shoes too. Four of the five highest peaks in the Caribbean rise up in Santiago’s environs, covered in rainforest and waterfalls. Aside from the outdoor activities, foreign volunteers can enjoy many cultural activities. There are historical museums and art galleries, plus opera and theatre plays that depict the history of the Dominican Republic.
Accommodation & Visas
So you’re already read the Lonely Planet guide to the Dominican Republic cover to cover, you’ve stocked up on sunscreen and insect repellant, and you have your heart set on a volunteer program. Next step is to research where you will be staying and how you get into the country.
Program providers arrange accommodation for their volunteers: all you have to do is rock up. Housing is most often in homestays, which is an insightful glimpse into how locals live, and the best way to work on your Spanish. Group living situations are also common, in which case you will be sharing living quarters with other international volunteers. In either scenario, you should be prepared for simple amenities, with a standard of living that is more basic than what you are used to. Hot water and air conditioning are luxuries that most people can’t afford, for example.
You can volunteer in Dominican Republic by entering with a Tourist Card. This can be picked up from an embassy of the DR, or simply purchased on arrival. The cost for the Tourist Card is $10 and it allows the holder to stay in country for 30 days. After the initial 30 day period, you will be able to extend the validity of your Tourist Card, with a fee proportionate to the amount of time you wish to stay. For further details, and to look into getting your hands on a Tourist Card, contact an embassy of the Dominican Republic in your home country.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteers in Santiago will gain more than just a tan. Working with a volunteer program is a great way to garner real-world experience in many fields. Whether it is in teaching or in healthcare, Santiago is an excellent location to develop valuable career skills. Your volunteer placement will look very attractive on your resume and could be instrumental in landing you a full-time job in your related field.
As a volunteer in Santiago de los Caballeros, you will also be able to enjoy a cheap cost of living. Volunteer placements in Santiago are very accessible because of the low prices in comparison to other locations. Traveling to neighboring cities, entertainment, and food are also available at a low cost, meaning volunteers can make the most out of their time abroad by participating in a range of activities and excursions.
Volunteers should be aware of the health risks present in the Dominican Republic. There are mosquito borne diseases in and around Santiago that you may need to be aware of, so do your research before you travel and always stock up on the appropriate medication before traveling.
Hungry to travel and itching to make a difference in the world? Satisfy your wanderlust and altruistic urges by joining a volunteer program in Dominican Republic’s Santiago.