As one of the few landlocked countries in South America, Paraguay is centrally located and bordered by Brazil to the west, Bolivia to the north, and Argentina to the south. Historically, there has been less colonization in Paraguay and the native Guarani people are highly influential. The land is full of national parks, Jesuit ruins, and home to the breathtaking Chaco region, which extends into Argentina. The Paraguay river also runs through the center of the country, and the river style of life is an essential component of the culture. If you’re thinking about volunteering abroad in Paraguay, rest assured it is a great destination in need of workers and easy on the pocketbook.
Why Volunteer Abroad in Paraguay
Unfortunately, Paraguay is one of the most poverty stricken locations on the continent, with half the population suffering from lack and living in substandard homes. Many of the individuals who volunteer in Paraguay come from global companies like the Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity, but there are several other independent opportunities for volunteers to get involved with community service projects, education, research and conservation, eco-tourism, or even basic sanitation and recycling programs. Volunteers are needed to help offset the economic conditions, which have improved only slightly in the last few decades.
Due to harsh terrain, about a third of Paraguay’s 6.5 million people live in the capital of Asuncion. This is where you’ll find the majority of volunteer programs in Paraguay too, although other volunteer opportunities are located in rural areas, such as San Pedro, Laguna Blanco, the Atlantic Forest, and Santa Maria de Fe.
Asuncion. Officially Our Lady Santa Maria de la Asuncion, this city is one of the oldest on the continent, and the economic and cultural hub of Paraguay. With over two million inhabitants, it’s a great location for volunteering in Paraguay in urban projects like community development, healthcare, teaching English, and construction or renovation. Asuncion is one of the most inexpensive cities in Paraguay to live in, and the population is decidedly young, with over 65 percent under the age of 30.
Rural Paraguay. As most of the population lives in or around the capital, the rest are spread across Paraguay in rural areas, where living conditions are quite basic. For these areas, the most popular volunteer projects include biological research and conservation for the rapidly diminishing Atlantic Forest and animal species, such as the mane-wolf, jaguar, White Winged NightJar, and the Paraguayan tufted Capuchin. Reforestation and trail building are common activities for conservation volunteering in Paraguay. Another option for volunteer work is organic farming and sustainability programs to help rural residents manage a dependable food source.
Volunteering in Paraguay
Community Development. There are several types of projects that fall under the umbrella of community development. You can choose to work in daycares or orphanages helping impoverished or disabled children. Community outreach and working with troubled teens is another option too. Help is needed to bring greater awareness to food and nutrition, such as putting on workshops for the locals and helping families maintain their own gardens.
Research & Conservation. Paraguay has a high level of biodiversity threatened by one of the most rapidly diminishing habitats in the world, the Atlantic Forest. Biologists and conservationists are working around the clock to observe and record animal behavior and plant life before they disappear, and do what they can to preserve the current ecosystem. Volunteers can work directly in the field, learning new techniques to track animals, gathering and analyzing data, using GPS and map-making to their advantage, or simply trail cutting and trail maintenance. The more scientific minded volunteers can work in the labs to study genetics and breeding, improve their writing skills, and even receive support for publishing articles in scientific journals.
Teaching English. While community development and conservation are more widely available, there are still some opportunities to volunteer in Paraguay with both children and adults teaching basic English skills. Volunteers can work in schools, or more commonly, live with host families and teach members of the household. If working in schools, especially in rural areas, teachers should be prepared for poor conditions and lack of materials and other resources.
Costs & Affordability
Many volunteer programs in Paraguay require a program fee, however, because Paraguay is so inexpensive, these tend to be cheaper than programs in neighboring Brazil or Argentina. Program fees may include accommodation, food, local transport, orientation, language instruction, medical insurance, visa assistance, materials, and sometimes even round trip airfare. There are also some free programs, wherein volunteers must pay their own expenses for food and housing.
It should be noted that the American dollar is widely accepted in Paraguay, however credit cards are not. You can expect prices to be very affordable when it comes to lodging, meals, and entertainment. A typical meal is less than five dollars, and a one-way bus ticket is about fifty cents. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center is a little above $300, and outside the city that number drops to less than $200.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation will vary depending on where you volunteer in Paraguay and what program you join. The most common option is group living, either in apartments, dormitories, or another type of volunteer housing, with shared rooms and bathrooms that include hot showers, laundry, and other amenities like wi-fi. There is also the option to live with a host family, which is especially beneficial for those who want to improve their Spanish or learn the native Guarani language. Ninety-eight percent of the population speaks both Spanish and the native language. Otherwise, participants may choose to live independently and find an apartment on their own or with other volunteers.
Most individuals can volunteer in Paraguay on a regular Tourist Visa for up to 90 days. Participants must have a passport with at least six months validity and the cost is approximately $160 for the visa. For volunteer programs in Paraguay lasting longer than three months, volunteers should consult the local consulate and may need to apply for a different type of visa. The process for obtaining a tourist visa is relatively quick and easy. Keep in mind that some vaccinations are encouraged, such as yellow fever, typhoid, and dengue.
Benefits & Challenges
- Environment. Volunteers may need to adjust to the level of poverty and the new environment, which may not have all the standard Western amenities they are used to, like clean drinking water and sanitary food conditions. On the other hand, being so close to the forest, national parks, freshwater lakes, the Gran Chaco region, and the Andes can make for some pretty amazing and economical adventures while volunteering in Paraguay.
- Vaccinations. If travelers are coming from areas infected with yellow fever, they are required to get vaccinated. Additionally, other vaccinations are also encouraged for diseases like malaria, typhoid, and dengue fever. It is also recommended that volunteers bring a first aid kit with them, especially those destined for rural areas, as the medical industry in Paraguay is less developed. Travel and health insurance is also highly recommended in case you need to evacuate to a country with better medical treatment. Please note that most in-country doctors expect to paid in cash.