Search Search guidebooks
  • Volunteer

Indigenous Community Volunteering: Andean Immersion, Maasai Culture & More

Nick Callos
Written By
By Nick Callos
Writer
VolunteerForever
Edited By
By Munira Maricar
Travel Writer
Volunteer abroad with indigenous communities

“Indigenous peoples are culturally distinct societies and communities. The land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being.”

-The World Bank

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people. They live across 90 countries, represent 5,000 unique cultures, and speak the majority of the world’s 7,000 languages.

To ensure indigenous peoples can not only preserve their traditions and lifestyle, but also create sustainable futures, the world must pay greater attention to them. You can play a positive role as a volunteer.

As the United Nations notes, indigenous communities throughout the world share common problems “related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.” They suffer from human rights abuses, unjust land laws, and are forced to deal with inadequate and unequal access to healthcare, education, and employment. These problems can be seen in some alarming statistics:

  1. Poverty rates among indigenous peoples in Paraguay are 7.9 times higher than the rest of the population.
  2. Aboriginal Australians have a life expectancy of around 10 years less than non-native Australians.
  3. The Batwa ‘Pygmy’ people of the Great Lakes region of Africa co-exist with the forest. Today, of the estimated 70,000-87,000 Batwa living there, only 7,000 have regular access to the forest due to commercial deforestation and insecure land tenure.

Though the situation for indigenous communities may seem bad, many organizations and people are doing a lot to turn the tides. As a volunteer, you can join the cause and do good.

What You Can Do

If you want to volunteer abroad with indigenous communities, know the main types of programs:

Education

Indigenous peoples have disproportionately high levels of poverty. They account for 5% of the global population, but make up 15% of the poorest. Better access to education is a solution. Teach English, host skills training workshops (like sewing), promote digital literacy, teach music, and more.

For instance, Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)’s Samraong, Cambodia project involves teaching English in rural primary schools, enhancing conversational skills, reading, and writing, while engaging students in creative activities.

Land and environmental preservation

Indigenous peoples have a deep and ancient connection to their land and environment. Maintaining ecological integrity, biodiversity, and  environmental health is vital to their cultural survival and preserving all the knowledge they possess.

For example, commercial operations such as logging and mining destroy the environments of indigenous societies. Programs like African Impact’s Reforestation project work to preserve these natural areas through cleanups, awareness campaigns, and promotion and protection of indigenous rights.

Community development

What many indigenous communities need is a more sustainable development strategy. This way, they can protect their lifestyle and make a living—without having to sacrifice their culture or environment.

Community development programs within indigenous societies typically focus on education, healthcare, construction, and establishing eco-friendly businesses across many areas, from tourism to farming to the arts.

Cultural immersion

Awareness and understanding of indigenous cultures are absolutely essential if their futures are to be secured. Cultural immersion experiences will have you returning home with more motivation to help indigenous communities.

IVHQ offers a Mayan Cultural Immersion in Guatemala. This program is based in a village near Antigua, where you will live with the family and participate in their daily activities, offering a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Mayan culture.

Keep In Mind!

Doing your research, including reading this article, gives you an idea of what volunteering with indigenous groups is like. However, still come with a completely open mind.

After all, volunteering with indigenous communities may take you outside your comfort zone. That’s a good thing. This is how you grow as a person.

You may encounter lifestyles and beliefs that are very different from your own. Respect their way of life and be ready to learn and listen. This will increase your understanding of the people and help you figure out how you can best benefit the community.

Now, let’s take a look at some recommended organizations and the volunteer programs they offer with indigenous communities.

Featured Organizations And Programs

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

volunteer to plant trees with IVHQ

Established in 2007, International Volunteer HQ has become one of the most reputable names in volunteering abroad. Featured in publications like National Geographic and The New York Times, IVHQ offers high-quality volunteer abroad programs across more than 40 destinations. In their first 12 years, they placed nearly 100,000 volunteers and interns overseas.

If you want to volunteer abroad with indigenous communities, IVHQ has you covered. See the programs here:

Hill Tribes in Chiang Rai, Thailand

As a volunteer in northern Thailand, you can help indigenous communities gain access to better education by teaching English at a school or assisting at a childcare center. You can also help with outdoor community development work, such as building water tanks, maintaining a vegetable garden, and repairing homes and roads.

This program is a great way to immerse yourself in the community of Thailand’s hill tribes and do some good. Interested? Know program fees begin at just $370 for one week. Sign up here!

Andean Immersion Project in Peru

As a volunteer, you’ll head to a rural village in the Andes Mountains outside Cusco. There, you’ll live with your host family and contribute to the community by doing construction and agricultural work, as well as assisting with textile production (goods are sold at a local market). You can even learn some traditional weaving skills. This is a program where your work will have a positive tangible impact and you’ll learn a lot about how people in the village live.

During free time, enjoy sites in and around nearby Cusco, including Machu Picchu. Want to learn more? Fees begin at $465 for one week. Register here!

Mayan Cultural Immersion in Guatemala

The Mayan Cultural Immersion volunteer project offers a unique opportunity to join an indigenous Kaqchikel family in rural Guatemala. Volunteers will assist with business enterprises, domestic tasks, and community responsibilities, helping the family maintain their authentic way of life. You’ll work in the fields, learn to cook traditional Mayan food, and engage in meaningful cultural exchanges. This program is based in a village near Antigua, where you will live with the family and participate in their daily activities.

Programs start every Monday, with fees beginning at $465 for one week, including accommodation, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support. Ready to immerse yourself in Mayan culture? Find out more here!

GoEco

VolunteerForever

GoEco is a leading voluntourism company that offers more than 150 programs across the world. Established in 2006, GoEco sent more than 15,000 volunteers abroad in their first 12 years of operation. They were recognized at the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2015 by GoAbroad.

GoEco has volunteer projects in a variety of areas, including opportunities to help indigenous communities (see below).

Healthcare and Community Outreach in Zambia

Make an impact on the lives of Zambians through a variety of outreach projects in Livingstone. Volunteers support local clinics, assist with adult literacy clubs, and participate in vital community education to encourage healthy lifestyle choices. This project allows you to immerse yourself in traditional Zambian life, living only 7km away from Victoria Falls. Adventure activities, such as helicopter rides and bungee jumping off the famous bridge, are available during your free time.

Teaching and Community Involvement in Tanzania

Experience village life in Monduli, northern Tanzania, while making a tangible difference in the community. Volunteers teach English, organize educational games, and engage in fun activities for school children. During your time off, explore some of the world’s most beautiful places and hike around Mount Kilimanjaro.

Empowering Women in Kathmandu, Nepal

Have a positive impact on the lives of Nepalese women by helping them learn new skills. Volunteers teach English, mathematics, environmental awareness, and health, helping women build confidence and self-esteem. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayas and explore areas like Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, during your time in Nepal.

Community Outreach in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Contribute to several projects in a local village in Zanzibar, including teaching English, providing child care, and promoting women’s empowerment. Volunteers stay in a volunteer house near the beach, waking up to the sounds of the sea and ending the day with beautiful sunsets. Snorkeling in the coral reefs is available during free weekends.

Maximo Nivel

VolunteerForever

Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel has become a top destination for volunteer opportunities in Latin America, including education, community development, and conservation programs. Their programs are internationally accredited, which means you may be able to obtain university credit (inquire with your school before going).

Known for their ethical commitment, affordability, and excellent in-country support, Maximo Nivel has earned high praise from past volunteers, like this participant:

“Fabulous summarizes my experience with Máximo Nivel in Costa Rica. It’s an organization that meets absolutely all conditions required for a volunteer to do their jobs optimally.”

If you to volunteer abroad with indigenous communities, Maximo Nivel has some great programs (see details below).

Andean Immersion Project in Peru

Venture high in the Andes Mountains and experience how an indigenous, Quechua-speaking community lives. Located one hour from Cusco, your responsibilities mainly consist of supporting everyday life. That could mean herding animals, doing light construction, teaching children at a school, and raising corn and potatoes. So you can use your skills to benefit the community in a wide variety of ways.

Are you ready to go off-the-grid and help an indigenous community in the gorgeous Andes Mountains? Get all the details here (from $685 for one week).

Mayan Cultural Immersion Program in Guatemala

Journey to rural Guatemala, where you’ll stay with a Mayan Kaqchikel-speaking family about 30 minutes from Antigua, Guatemala. As a volunteer, expect to do everything from help in the fields to cook meals to make textiles and crafts. During your time, you can communicate by teaching English and learning Kaqchikel.

This program is incredibly immersive and you can do some real good (while learning a lot yourself!). Already thinking about Guatemala? Sign up here (from $685 for one week).

Projects Abroad

VolunteerForever

Established in 1992, Projects Abroad sends more than 10,000 volunteers abroad per year. Featured in publications like CNN and BBC, Projects Abroad receives high ratings for their excellent in-country support and meaningful programs. They’ve been able to catalyze real change through their service efforts.

For volunteer abroad programs with indigenous communities, Projects Abroad has some unique options (read below!)

Human Rights Internship in Cordoba, Argentina

Have a strong passion for human rights? Then this intern abroad program suits you. Tackle key issues in Cordoba, such as poverty, difficulty accessing reproductive services, poor prison conditions, and ongoing discrimination against indigenous people. You’ll assist with legal cases, host education workshops, run legal clinics, and organize outreach events. As an intern, you’ll help raise awareness about human rights issues and empower Argentina’s most marginalized people, including the indigenous communities in and around Cordoba.

When you’re not fighting for equality, explore Cordoba, Argentina’s second-biggest city. The city is an eclectic blend of cultures, with various indigenous tribes, Spanish-Argentines, Italian-Argentines, and immigrant groups calling Cordoba home. Wish to get more details? Click here! Fees begin at $2,550 for one week.

Archaeology in Peru as a Group

Discover ancient civilizations in Peru with professional archaeologists. You’ll explore archaeological sites around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, learning about Incan and Pre-Incan history. Help with mapping, artifact classification, and site preservation.

When you’re not working, enjoy cultural activities and weekend trips to Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo. Live with a host family in Cusco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and immerse yourself in Peruvian culture. Try local dishes like ceviche and lomo saltado!

Perfect for history enthusiasts, this project adds valuable experience to your CV. No prior experience needed; the team will guide you. Sound like a great adventure? Register on the site!

African Impact

VolunteerForever

African Impact provides a broad spectrum of volunteer opportunities that cater to various interests. With years of experience, African Impact provides exceptional support and safety measures for all volunteers. This peace of mind is invaluable and allows you to immerse yourself fully in your volunteer experience. 

Medical Volunteering Project in Kenya

In Limuru, Kenya, you’ll provide essential medical support in local clinics and hospitals, gaining hands-on experience in a diverse healthcare environment. You’ll assist with patient care, community home-based care, and health education workshops. This project allows you to immerse yourself in Kenyan culture, understand the healthcare challenges faced by Indigenous communities, and contribute to improving their health outcomes. Enjoy the serene highlands and explore the Maasai Mara on weekends. Fees start at $1,075 per week.

Reforestation Volunteer Project in Kenya

Join the reforestation efforts in the Kenyan highlands to conserve indigenous forests. You’ll work with local women, farm workers, and youth groups, remove alien species, and propagate native seeds. This project emphasizes environmental education and sustainable living, engaging local schools and communities. Experience the rich culture of the Maasai tribe and explore world-class safari parks. Fees start at $1,075 per week.

Waste Reduction Volunteer Program in Zambia

In Livingstone, Zambia, you’ll join an award-winning eco-bricking project, turning plastic waste into building materials. Participate in workshops, community initiatives, and environmental clean-ups to combat plastic pollution. Engage with local communities to promote sustainable practices and improve their living conditions. Enjoy adventure activities like bungee jumping and exploring Victoria Falls. Fees start at $1,075 per week.

Female Empowerment Volunteer Project in Zambia

Empower women and girls in Livingstone, Zambia, through the Girl Impact initiative. Conduct workshops on education, health, self-confidence, and income generation. Work with local boys and men to foster gender equality. This project allows you to mentor and support young women, helping them become agents of change in their communities. Experience the vibrant culture and breathtaking landscapes of Zambia. Fees start at $1,075 per week.

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI)

VolunteerForever

Involvement Volunteers International (IVI) offers exceptional programs for those interested in volunteering with Indigenous communities, including a one-week Maasai Maara experience that doesn’t require volunteer work. With over 35 years of experience, IVI provides authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences, supported by an incredible local team and excellent safety records. Here are four programs that immerse volunteers in Indigenous cultures while making a meaningful impact.

Indigenous Community Immersion Peru

IVI’s Andean Immersion project in Peru places volunteers in a Quechua-speaking community high in the Andes mountains, approximately one hour from Cusco. Volunteers live and work alongside traditional Andean families, assisting with agricultural tasks such as raising corn and potatoes, herding animals, and helping with minor construction projects. This off-the-grid, full-immersion experience is ideal for those interested in anthropology, gender roles, and indigenous cultures. Volunteers promote cross-cultural understanding while adapting to a basic lifestyle, making it a truly unique and rewarding experience.

Cultural Immersion Guatemala

IVI’s Cultural Immersion project in Guatemala allows volunteers to experience the traditional Mayan way of life in a rural community near Antigua. Volunteers live with a local Mayan family, assisting with daily tasks such as farming, cooking, and caring for animals. They also participate in local construction projects and learn traditional weaving techniques. This project provides a deep understanding of Mayan culture, customs, and language, making it perfect for those who wish to immerse themselves fully in a different way of life. Knowledge of Spanish is beneficial as English is not commonly spoken. 

Ancient Temples Restoration Project Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, IVI’s Temple Restoration project in Kandy involves volunteers in the renovation and restoration of ancient temples and community centers. Volunteers help with basic renovation tasks, painting, and restoring artwork, contributing to the preservation of Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. This project offers a unique opportunity to engage with local communities in rural parts of Sri Lanka, experiencing their way of life while making a significant impact on preserving historical sites. Volunteers stay in shared accommodation and enjoy meals with other volunteers.

Sustainable Farming & Agriculture Costa Rica

IVI’s Sustainable Farming & Agriculture project in Costa Rica places volunteers in the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Brunca region, working on organic and sustainable farms. Volunteers assist with growing, harvesting, and processing crops, as well as educating the community on sustainable farming practices. This hands-on project involves working on coffee, tea, macadamia nut, and permaculture farms. Volunteers live with local farming families, gaining insight into traditional agricultural methods while contributing to environmental conservation. This project is ideal for those passionate about sustainability and community development.

Woman & Children Commune Fiji

IVI’s Woman & Children Commune project in Lautoka, Fiji, supports a community predominantly made up of single mothers and their children. Volunteers assist with childcare, teaching, construction, and various community support activities. This project aims to empower women, provide educational opportunities for children, and improve the community’s overall living conditions. Volunteers live with local families, experiencing Fijian culture firsthand while making a positive impact. This project is suitable for those with a caring nature and a willingness to help those in need.

Volunteering Solutions (VolSol)

VolunteerForever

Established in 2006, VolSol has facilitated life-changing experiences for over 21,000 volunteers in more than 25 countries. These programs provide meaningful opportunities to support community development while engaging deeply with Indigenous cultures.

Community Development Project in Ghana

VolSol’s Community Development Project in Ghana involves working in village communities outside Tamale. Volunteers engage in various activities such as teaching in local schools, assisting with construction projects, and participating in health awareness programs. By working closely with local villagers, volunteers gain a deep understanding of the community’s needs and contribute to sustainable development efforts. This project offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Ghanaian culture and make a tangible impact. Volunteers stay with host families, experiencing local customs and traditions. Fees include accommodation and meals, with weekends free for exploration.

Construction & Community Development in Uganda

In Uganda, VolSol’s Construction & Community Development project focuses on improving local infrastructure and supporting community initiatives in the Mukono region. Volunteers participate in construction tasks, assist local Self Help Groups, and contribute to environmental conservation efforts. This program allows volunteers to work closely with local communities, addressing everyday challenges and fostering sustainable development. Volunteers stay in a shared volunteer house, with all necessary facilities provided. This project is ideal for those who enjoy fieldwork and community interaction, offering a comprehensive experience in community development.

Community Development in Madagascar

VolSol’s Community Development Program in Madagascar aims to improve living conditions in Nosy Komba. Volunteers work on building and renovating community infrastructure, spreading health and sanitation awareness, and assisting with fundraising efforts. This project is perfect for those who want to make a significant impact while living in a close-knit community. Volunteers stay in eco-friendly accommodations with shared facilities, enjoying meals prepared from fresh, local produce. The program includes a comprehensive orientation and the opportunity to explore the beautiful islands of Madagascar.

Global Vision International (GVI)

VolunteerForever

Global Vision International (GVI) programs focus on community development, sustainability, and conservation, providing hands-on experience and fostering connections with local cultures, including indigenous communities.

Rainwater Harvesting and Water Security in Fiji

GVI’s Rainwater Harvesting and Water Security program in Dawasamu, Fiji, addresses critical water scarcity issues in coastal villages. Volunteers install rainwater harvesting systems and hand washing stations and promote hygiene practices. This program is ideal for those interested in sustainable community development, as it empowers local initiatives and enhances water security. Surrounded by Fiji’s stunning landscapes, volunteers immerse themselves in the local culture while contributing to long-term environmental sustainability.

Women’s Empowerment Program in Costa Rica

The Women’s Empowerment Program in Cartago, Costa Rica, focuses on supporting gender equality initiatives. Volunteers assist local women in enhancing their employability skills through English language instruction and leadership workshops. This program offers a unique opportunity to engage with the local community, contributing to gender equality and quality education. Volunteers experience the rich Afro-Caribbean culture of Costa Rica, making a lasting impact on women’s empowerment.

Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Volunteering in Ghana

GVI’s JEDI program in Ghana promotes fairness and equality in education. Volunteers work with local schools to support diversity and inclusion initiatives, helping to ensure that all children, regardless of socio-economic background, have access to quality education. This program provides volunteers with a deep understanding of the educational challenges faced by Indigenous communities, allowing them to make a significant impact on promoting equity in the classroom.

Lemur and Wildlife Conservation Expedition in Madagascar

The Lemur and Wildlife Conservation program in Nosy Be, Madagascar, focuses on protecting critically endangered lemur species. Volunteers conduct biodiversity surveys, track lemur populations, and engage in environmental education initiatives. This program offers a unique opportunity to work in one of the world’s oldest rainforests, contributing to the conservation of rare species and the preservation of Madagascar’s unique biodiversity.

Sustainable Fishing Volunteering in Fiji

GVI’s Sustainable Fishing program in Fiji involves promoting sustainable fishing practices and marine conservation. Volunteers collect data on fish populations, educate local communities on sustainable fishing methods, and support marine protected areas. This program is perfect for those passionate about marine conservation and sustainable development, as it addresses critical issues affecting the marine environment and local livelihoods.

Ready To Volunteer Abroad With Indigenous Communities?

Choosing the right volunteer or intern abroad program for working with indigenous peoples should depend not only on your interests and budget, but also where you can have the most positive impact and learn the most. As long as you come with a willingness to listen, learn, and help in constructive ways, you’ll have an incredibly powerful experience.

In addition to reading this article, check out the resources below. See how you can volunteer abroad with indigenous communities in a manner that’s ethically responsible, promotes their rights as native peoples, conserves their culture and environment, and creates sustainable development.

How to Volunteer Abroad Ethically

How to Pick a Program and Fundraise for Your Trip

Other Opportunities to Volunteer with Indigenous and Aboriginal Communities