“Voluntourism”: The Best of Both Worlds (A Recap of Volunteering in Nicaragua)

When I finally decided not to let finances prevent me from traveling to another country, the first country I chose had sort of been a spontaneous decision. I can recall wandering the university gymnasium about four years ago now during our student organization fair, looking for a new organization to support and get involved with (I was that college student who wanted to be a part of five different clubs, while trying to balance school full time and work on the weekends). When I discovered the university’s “Nicaragua Club”, who fundraises every year to donate to a nonprofit organization, then serve with them on an annual volunteer trip, I fell in love. I had always wanted to volunteer and travel to another country. This gave me the best of both worlds.

After many long months of fundraising (and begging for money), we were all very successful in raising enough money (for both the organization and our plane tickets) to make our journey down to Nicaragua!  During this trip, we worked with the nonprofit “Compas de Nicaragua”, to collaborate with their project “Mujeres en Accion” (Women in Action) in Managua, as well as supporting a sustainable living project in rural La Paz, called “Brothers and Sisters in Reconciliation”. Women in Action, comprised of 40 women who live locally, specifically focuses on promoting and organizing health and education projects in La Primavera, a very poor neighborhood in Managua, while our stay in La Paz included support in working on bio-sustainable projects for families in the community, to improve overall wellness and environmental health.

2012_0531nicaragua0196The Women in Action Center in Managua

In between these projects, we were fortunate enough to do some sigh-seeing of Nicaragua’s west coast, including a lovely day at the beach, zip-lining, exploring a volcano,and going to the local “disco” dance bar. When we weren’t doing “the touristy” activities, we were able to visit the local communities get a glimpse of the life of the locals. Some of these excursions included visiting an elementary school and community health center (which is right up my alley of interest and educational background).

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Being from New England, I was very happy to actually be able to swim in the ocean!

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A local elementary school in Managua. Many children in Nicaragua end up dropping out of school by early high school.

Many people have a misconception of what “volunteering abroad” truly entails. While this was sincerely one of the best experiences I have had in my young life so far, my eyes were truly opened during this service trip. As a group of young college students, we wanted to invest in all of our energy in “making a difference” and completing constructive, concrete projects, seeing a finished project that supports this mission.

But here is the honest truth: they don’t need our help physically. Nicaraguans are some of the hardest working, group of people I have ever met. They do this type of hard work and labor every day. And I’ll be honest, I was no way in the best shape or form to productively help them complete a project (especially long term). They honestly need our support through our donations of both money and supplies.

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Working on constructing a bio-gas pit system, using manure as fuel to prevent the use of hazardous waste.

But equally as important, this service trip (in my opinion) is all about making connections with people of another culture. And while they may live in a third-world, impoverished country, they are some of the happiest people in the world.

2012_0531nicaragua0186Who couldn’t adore these cuties? Hanging out during our tour of the (very polluted) Lake Managua.

I highly recommend that everyone tries a “voluntourism” trip at least once in their lives. Not only is it a great way to travel to another country while “giving back”, it’s a great way to experience some unique adventures and make connections that last a lifetime. I’ve volunteered twice now with this organization and hope to visit again in the near future!

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Hanging out with some of my favorite kiddos in Managua! I was lucky enough to spend time with them during my second trip in 2013.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Compas de Nicaragua, and learning more about their story and projects, you can check them out here: http://www.compas1.org/

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2 thoughts on ““Voluntourism”: The Best of Both Worlds (A Recap of Volunteering in Nicaragua)

  1. PersonalSpaceCamp says:

    Thanks for sharing this article. I like what you wrote about the Nicaraguans not needing the physical help of volunteers. I also believe that a lot of volunteer work mostly benefits the volunteers – which is not a bad thing, but the hard truth is – as you wrote – that financial support is what many of those communities need the most. At the same time volunteerism can be an eye opener for a lot of people and will hopefully make an impact in the long run by bringing people together.
    Here’s an interesting article on that topic: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2015/may/21/western-volunteers-more-harm-than-good

    Like

    • ladyredtravel says:

      Thanks for sharing that article! Interesting read that brings up some food for thought. I feel that while short-term service can be beneficial to these nonprofits, it’s often in alternative ways than most people realize. Some of my colleagues who have participated in these kinds of excursions have admitted feeling useless in terms of trying to help on the actual projects themselves. I think these organizations can use the benefits volunteers get to their advantage, through “word of mouth” of the volunteers sharing their experiences back home. And hopefully that desire to help will be contagious!

      Liked by 1 person

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