Volunteering is an act of kindness where someone gives their free time to others and/or a certain cause. Although, at times, our kindest actions aren’t the best choices when it involves other people, this act of kindness is human nature.
In a 2009 New York Times article, biologists had recently discovered a distinctive side of humans, besides the common theory that we are vicious and selfish.
After testing very young children, they came to the conclusion that helping others is innate.
But Dr. Tomasello finds that helping is not enhanced by rewards, suggesting that it is not influenced by training. It seems to occur across cultures that have different timetables for teaching social rules. And helping behavior can even be seen in infant chimpanzees under the right experimental conditions. For all these reasons, Dr. Tomasello concludes that helping is a natural inclination, not something imposed by parents or culture.
No wonder we are drawn to helping others when they are most vulnerable. I remember in 2010 when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the humanitarian response was overwhelming. People from all over the world were flocking to the country to lend a hand. The help was so abundant that the Haitian government encouraged people to hold off on coming to the island because the Port au Prince airport and the city itself were not equipped to handle that many people.
While volunteering and serving others is one of the greatest noble acts we can do for each other, scenarios like the one above occur often in volunteerism. We want to help but we hardly think about how our help will impact, in this case, the country and the people.
Writer of The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook, Shannon O’Donnell, puts it well in a guest blog post on NomadicMatt.com:
One of the hardest things for new, eager volunteers to understand is that not all organizations – even nonprofits – are doing good, necessary work that ethically develops the communities and ecosystems where we volunteer our time. For that reason, take a step back from the planning and instead learn more about core problems facing development projects when they bring in Western volunteers and ideas.
It seems to become clearer that part of serving others is knowing how to serve what they need and want, instead of what we want or think they need.
In addition, there are other kinds of volunteer positions travelers can and do participate in such as farming, helping out at a guesthouse or hostel, or teaching someone a new language (of which I will speak later). However, these positions should also be held in high regard by, for example, being respectful of the community and the environment you’re working in, and the host you’re working for.
Here are a few suggested organizations for volunteering in the Caribbean, including websites to find organizations on your own.
Note: Do your research. Along with making sure the organization is working in an ethical manner, make sure you understand and are in line with its mission.
To start off, Pack for a Purpose is a wonderful non-profit organization that works with accommodations and tour companies around the world to give supplies to community projects in need of it.
How does the traveler, like you and me, come into play?
We get to transport those needed supplies to the country we are traveling to! If you have space in your luggage, you can select the project you would like to support, in whichever country you are traveling to. As the website says, what you need is just a small space in your luggage that provides little effort but a big impact. Participate here.
As suspected and confirmed by Fathom Away, volunteerism in Cuba is very difficult to find if you’re looking for an organized place to volunteer. As the above article states, “The volunteer culture in Cuba is not as organized as it is in the United States. One reason holds that the country lacks the infrastructure. Another, which I heard often, is that the Cuban government is unwilling to admit social flaws, which makes it hard to find organized volunteering initiatives outside the church.”
*If you know of any volunteer organizations or opportunities in Cuba, comment below!
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AND HAITI
Kids Alive International is a Christian missionary organization that is dedicated to rescuing orphans and vulnerable children. They offer missionary and internship opportunities in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic for residents of the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Those interested should fill out and submit the form online.
Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos International offers volunteer opportunities to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Volunteers are usually asked to give service for a minimum of one year, however, short-term, two to three-month volunteer opportunities are available for Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the summer. Volunteers must be 21 years old and older. A minimal knowledge of French would be needed to volunteer in Haiti. Creole is easily learned, therefore, volunteers are expected to learn it in the first few weeks. Volunteers need to have a minimum knowledge of Spanish to volunteer in the Dominican Republic.
Volunteers are provided room and board, however, are expected to pay for their travel expenses in and out of the country. A small monthly stipend is given to full-time volunteers. Potential volunteers must fill out the application form online. Learn more here.
Animal Organizations: Animal abuse, especially of dogs, is very present in the Caribbean. Many travelers are not aware of the serious issues of the killing and abandonment of dogs in both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
One common volunteer option among animal organizations is ‘Travel with Pets.” An organization such as Dogs and Cats of the DR, rescues dogs and cats from the island where they are then medically treated and then put up for adoption to adopters in the United States and Canada. But since the animals are in the Dominican Republic, it would cost a lot of money to always transport them.
This is where the volunteer comes in. If you are traveling to and from the Dominican Republic, for example, you can sign up to help a pet get transported back to the States with you, at no cost to you (of course).
Rescatame is a nonprofit organization that neuters and feeds dogs and cats in the Punta Cana area. Every Saturday there is a food run where volunteers distribute about 80lbs of food to the street dogs and cats. Get in touch.
Peace Corps has become one of the most acclaimed volunteer programs initiated in 1961 by late Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy whose goal was to promote world peace and friendship. Peace Corps is currently present in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica since its initiation in 1962. Because of its notability, Peace Corps provides volunteers prestige after completing the 27-month program. The educational benefits offered and professional and career benefits are incomparable.
Potential volunteers must apply online. The website suggests applying nine months to a year in advance of your desired departure date. Learn more here.
PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation offers a range of volunteer positions that support the protection of the sustainable development of the Dominican Republic. Interested volunteers can contact, email@example.com, for current opportunities.
The Haitian Project, Inc: Each year they send 8-12 volunteers to Haiti to teach at its tuition-free, Catholic boarding school (grades 7-13) for a 10-month commitment from mid-August to mid-June. In addition to teaching, Volunteers work to continue to strengthen their school’s community service and empowerment programs.
Qualifications include a BA/BS and a commitment to Catholic Social Teaching.
They include a one-round trip ticket to Haiti from your home city, shared living quarters at the school, a monthly stipend and health insurance reimbursement, and resettlement assistance upon completion of service. Learn more here.
There are also many animal rescue organizations in and out of Puerto Rico that are doing commendable work.
The Sato Project based in Brooklyn, New York is doing extraordinary work by saving dogs from Dead Dog Beach in Yabucoa, a common area in Puerto Rico where locals abandon their pets. Here are some ways you can help.
El Faro de los Animales is a nonprofit organization in Humacao, Puerto Rico that has been rescuing dogs from that area since 2001. They are working on building a new shelter and partnering up with PetSmart and Petco. Here are the many ways you can help.
For more info on animal welfare, check out The Humane Society.
Other volunteer organizations:
United Nations Volunteers promotes volunteerism to support peace and development worldwide. About 7,500 volunteers in over 160 nations every year serve as UN volunteers in about 130 countries. If traveling abroad is not convenient, the UN also offers an online volunteering service that connects volunteers who can provide services and advice over the Internet with thousands of organizations around the world. Learn more here.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is one of those exciting, educational, and useful organizations that I’m so happy to exist. It is a U.S.-based non-profit that gives volunteers the opportunity to learn about the organic movement and sustainable agriculture while receiving free room and board. Puerto Rico is the only Caribbean country listed within WWOOF USA. Some countries in Latin America are listed here. Each region is a separate $40 membership fee.
The length of time for the volunteer on the farm will need to be discussed with the host. Volunteers generally spend half a day on the farm and receive meals, accommodations, and education on organic activities.
Websites to find volunteer opportunities:
Facebook Group: Latin American and Caribbean Host and Volunteers Network would be good to join to stay updated on volunteer positions especially since we’re always on Facebook!
idealist.org is a great resource to find volunteer, jobs, and internships locally and internationally
Workaway.info and HelpX are two great sites specifically tailored to connect volunteers and hosts around the world providing positions such as guesthouse work, language exchange, and farming. Both require a membership fee.
Share with us other options for volunteering in the Caribbean! What other Caribbean volunteer organizations are you familiar with?