If you’re feeling adventurous, consider a volunteer trip to Bolivia, a country with such distinctions as the World’s Most Dangerous Road, the World’s Largest Salt Flat, and the Largest Lake in South America. Toss in sky-scraping Andean Mountains, dense Amazon rainforests, and the Atacama Desert, and you’re in a quandary over what to pack. The climate is as varied as the landscape, so it’s best to start in one locale, and then buy the gear you need for your next quest.
The culture of Bolivia is also a treasure – it is an anthropologist’s dream with the largest population of indigenous people in South America. People here come from many ethnic backgrounds, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians, and Africans. And the country recognizes 36 official languages besides Spanish! The archaeological opportunities are great as well, with Incan ruins to explore and lost sites waiting to be discovered.
Bolivia is a paradise for the naturalist too, with myriad birds, fish, animals, and insects that dazzle the imagination. New species are still being discovered there. Madidi National Park is regarded as the most biologically diverse protected area in the world. Named after a local ant species, the park was created in 1995 to protect the country’s diversity. It’s reckoned that two-thirds of Bolivia’s biodiversity resides here.
With so many exciting adventures awaiting you in Bolivia, why should you volunteer there? The simple answer is this: Bolivia is a country with huge potential, but it’s also one of the poorest nations in South America, and this has a huge impact on families.
In 2014, Bolivia passed a controversial law that allows children as young as 10 years old to work for themselves and their families. Because of this, the government – as well as NGOs and educational organizations – are still struggling with how to protect children from abuse and exploitation. It’s a tradition of poverty that leads many children to work, dropping out of school at a young age. It’s a social problem that’s so prevalent, it’s almost invisible.
Know Before You Go
Despite its poverty, Bolivia is one of the top three safest countries in Latin America. In the last 50 years, the Bolivian population has tripled to about 11 million people. Bolivian culture is influenced by the Quechua, the Aymara, and other popular cultures of Latin America. It divides its cultural development into three periods: pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Republican.
Before the Spanish colonized the area in the 16th century, the Andean region was part of the Inca Empire. Major archaeological ruins in Bolivia are Tiwanaku, El Fuerte de Samaipata, Inkallaqta, and Iskanawaya.
The Spanish introduced their traditions during the Colonial period, which evolved into a distinctive art and architectural style thanks to native and mestizo builders and artisans, known as “Mestizo Baroque.” Bolivia also enjoys a rich folklore tradition, and folk music is vastly popular.
Volunteer Opportunities in Bolivia
Projects Abroad places 10,000 people overseas each year on volunteering programs, internships, high school specials, alternative spring breaks, gap years, language courses, and programs for professionals. Founded in 1992, Projects Abroad invites travelers to be immersed in the language and culture of their chosen host country, while having a meaningful impact on the lives of its residents. Overseas opportunities range from teaching to community development, and much more.
Volunteer Abroad Projects in Bolivia
Projects Abroad offers nearly two dozen volunteer programs in Bolivia for under-18 travelers, professionals, and everyone in between – you’ll have trouble choosing which trip you love best! See the list below for a unique project that interests you.
All participants with Projects Abroad’s volunteer programs receive pre-departure advice and access to a personalized website that includes information about insurance, applying for a visa, packing lists, and cultural advice about the country you are visiting. You’ll also know your placement details, including addresses and numbers for your host family, and details regarding your placement and supervisor.
There are escorted flights for teen volunteers, but many volunteers travel independently to the destination. Full-time staff will meet you at the airport and take you to the local office to meet the rest of the volunteers. You’ll stay with a host family for a fully immersive experience.
Project Abroad volunteers are covered by a comprehensive medical and travel insurance that also includes repatriation, for certain cases.
Program fees include accommodation, three meals per day, travel and medical insurance, airport pickup and drop-off, orientation, transport to placement, equipment and materials for placement, training and workshops, social events, certification upon completion, in-country support, and emergency assistance.
Projects that volunteers of all ages can choose from include canine therapy, teaching English and other subjects, medicine, nursing, nutrition, dentistry, sports, human rights, journalism, social work, and much more. And programs for professionals include social work, special education, dietitian placement, medical care, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.
Equine Therapy & Community in Bolivia
Travel to Cochabamba with Projects Abroad and volunteer with the Equestrian Center for the Equine Therapy & Community project, perfect for any high school student interested in giving back and working with children and horses. Nearly 60 disabled children receive therapy at the center, and more than 100 underprivileged children receive riding lessons there.
Your assistance is needed since the Equestrian Center is understaffed and under-resourced. A pair of hands makes a huge impact when it comes to helping children with disabilities improve their motor and cognitive skills. The goal of therapy is to quicken rehabilitation and improve quality of life.
You’ll work up to eight hours per day at the center, and tasks include building horse fences out of boards, building stable floors and repairing the roof, interacting with children in therapy classes, organizing small parties for children, and riding horses to keep them trained. Program fees start at $2,770 for two weeks. Learn more and apply!
Medicine in Bolivia for Teens
If you’re between the ages of 15 and 18, consider a medical volunteer project, where you’ll get to observe firsthand how doctors treat patients at health centers and hospitals in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This Projects Abroad opportunity lets you get involved in meaningful outreach work in a rural community and childcare center. You’ll also receive some Spanish lessons and medical workshops during your placement, so bring your notebook and be ready to learn!
Some of the tasks you may be involved with include dental outreach and caring for children. You’ll have a chance to travel to a rural village, assisting with volunteers who treat children and the elderly, checking vital signs like blood pressures, pulse rates, and temperature. Weekends allow you a chance to travel with staff and the other volunteers to Lake Titicaca and visit the Tiwanaku ruins and Sun Island. Fees start at $2,570 for two weeks. Click here to sign up!
Medical and Spanish High School Special
The Medical and Spanish High School special in Bolivia gives you an introduction to health care in a different country, and the opportunity to improve your Spanish language skills while living and working in a Spanish-speaking environment.
With this Projects Abroad program, you’ll observe doctors and nurses during consultations with patients, and in various hospital departments. You can participate in outreach programs to people who have limited access to health care. The medical staff there will teach you about traditional medicine and host workshops on performing first aid, making stitches, and giving injections. Expand your knowledge of medicine, take notes, ask questions, and learn about illnesses and treatments.
One outreach visit takes you to a veterinary clinic, observing treatment and surgery on animals. You’ll have valuable exposure to surgical practices and techniques as the vet talks you through an operation and explains everything step-by-step.
You’ll attend 10 hours of Spanish class during your placement, taught by a professional teacher. You’ll be separated by your level, and have an opportunity to practice with doctors, nurses, and even your host family.
On weekends, you’ll have time to visit famous Bolivian landmarks such as the Tiwanaku Ruins, Sun Island, and Lake Titicaca. Program costs begin at $2,570 for two weeks. Click here to read more and to register!
Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers has placed more than 20,000 people on meaningful, low-cost programs around the world. Love Volunteers works in 34 countries and offers more than 120 different projects, many starting at only $280. The organization audits each program for safety, social responsibility, and impact, and its dedicated in-country teams offer 24/7 support. This nonprofit organization sends 90% of its program fees to the charities and organizations hosting volunteers.
Volunteer with Community Development in Bolivia
You’ll have a huge impact on impoverished children in Cochabamba, Bolivia, when you volunteer on a community development program with Love Volunteers. Experience the culture of an important South American community, and improve your Spanish speaking skills with full immersion.
You’ll help underprivileged children through educational and recreational activities designed to improve their lives in a meaningful way. This program has several goals that boost the confidence and aspirations of marginalized children. This is accomplished by teaching them skills and improving their educational prospects. Cultural exchange with the youth of Bolivia will benefit both, as you provide support to the development programs in the community.
You’ll be placed where the need is the greatest or your skills are best suited. Work between three and six hours per day, starting at midday at the offices of the volunteer house, preparing your lesson plans and gathering resources. There are several programs you can choose from, including:
- Pre-School Education: provide a safe and relaxing space for children under the age of 6 to learn through creative and social games
- Teaching English: build self-confidence and improve communication skills as you encourage children to speak English
- After-School Care: help students with homework and study, with supervision from a local, qualified teacher
- Football School: use football to teach valuable skills and life lessons, build self-esteem, and instill the values of discipline, responsibility, and teamwork through the sport
No experience is needed for this interactive project, but you must be 18 years or older to apply. This program is best for volunteers with educational qualifications and experience, but even if you don’t have a background in the program area, you’re still welcome to join. Show drive and initiative, bring a “can-do” attitude, and you’ll be a great member of the team!
Arrive at the Jorge Wilstermann International Airport (CBB), where you’ll be picked up by a Love Volunteers staff member and escorted to your housing, where you’ll receive an orientation and introduction to fellow volunteers. Your welcome pack includes local maps, a guide, and a local SIM card.
The volunteer house is large and spacious, and within walking distance to the city’s main attractions. Rooms are separated by gender. There are wifi and laundry services onsite. Breakfast and lunch are included on weekdays, and dinner and meals on weekends are not included, but there are nearby restaurants and cafes in Cochabamba. Airport pickup is included. Program fees start at $249 for two weeks, and longer stays are encouraged. Click here to learn more and to register!
Frontier places travelers on quality volunteer programs that range from community development, education, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, humanitarian work, and research and conservation. Established in 1989, it operates more than 400 programs in 60 countries. A nonprofit conservation and development NGO, Frontier specializes in projects that safeguard biodiversity and contribute sustainable livelihoods, while providing adventure travel opportunities for its participants.
Bolivia Child Refuge
Travel to Bolivia, the nexus of the Amazonian and Andean landscapes in South America, for an educational outreach program with Frontier. The Bolivia Child Refuge project ensures that children have a safe environment in which to grow up, keeping them off the street and preventing them from dropping out of school.
This program places you in the middle of a colorful culture known for its ancient ruins and busy street markets. Weave your way through stalls of rainbow textiles, and travel the countryside on chicken buses that defy gravity on winding mountain roads.
You’ll need to be 18 years of age or older to participate in this educational support program, which will have you playing games and sports with children as well as tutoring them after school. If you’re eager to prepare for your adventure in Bolivia, you can earn TEFL certification pre-departure.
Your work will focus on interaction and support, with an emphasis on encouraging children to expand their skills and strengthen their characters through academic and sports, as well as daily chores. You’ll make vivid and happy memories on this trip, caring for children through games, songs, dance, and play.
Travel, medical advice, and documentation are provided for you pre-departure, and you’ll fly into to La Paz International Airport (LPB). You’ll receive local orientation and project training, as well as in-country emergency support with Frontier.
Accommodation and breakfast are included in this project, and you’ll stay at a centrally-located hostel, in a large, mixed-gender dorm room. The hostel is clean and comfortable, and basic. A private apartment option also is available for a fee.
During your free time, take Spanish lessons and improve your language skills. Go whitewater rafting on the Yungas, or wildlife watching in the Amazon. Program fees start at $945 for two weeks, with longer stays up to six months available for $345 per week. Learn more and apply here!
Bolivia Community Gardening
Share your love for all living things on the Bolivia Community Garden program with Frontier. Teach children the importance of sustainable agriculture and environmental issues with a fun, hands-on experience in the garden, adjacent to health care centers and children’s homes.
If you have expertise in growing herbs, fruit, or vegetables, or would like to cultivate it on a trip to Bolivia, then this project is for you! You’ll provide children with guidance in the processes of planting and harvesting their own food, from plant to dinnerplate.
If you’re 18 years of age, or older, you’ll also have a chance to influence underprivileged children, helping to shape their view of the world and themselves. This recreational activity is important on many levels, from building character and self-esteem, to building an agricultural future.
The areas are used for recreational space and need specialist care and design in order to grow. The gardens also need to be raised and accessible to disabled children in wheelchairs. Do your homework before you travel abroad and bring your great ideas to a developing nation!
Arrive at La Paz International Airport (LPB), where a friendly Frontier staff member will greet you and give you an introduction to the community, as well as project training.
You’ll stay at a basic, clean, and comfortable hostel in a large, mixed-gender dorm room. For a fee, a private apartment option is available. A continental breakfast is served, but you’re responsible for the rest of your meals. The hostel is centrally located and close to markets and restaurants.
If you’re feeling adventurous, on your days off you can visit the incredible salt flats of Bolivia, a great spot for photos. Or, take a downhill mountain bike ride on the “World’s Most Dangerous Road.” The markets in the Witches Quarter in La Paz are calling! This program starts at $1,645 for four weeks, with longer stays available for $345 per week. Read more and apply here!
A Vision of a New World
Bolivia’s children are at risk from the tradition of poverty, and a constitutional right to work legally at the age of 10. You can help the plight of children in South America by encouraging them to envision a bright future: one that includes education and develops skills to pursue any opportunity they choose. When you volunteer on a program in Bolivia, you share more than your time with its children – you share a vision of a new world.
Robin Van Auken · Writer
Robin is a researcher, writer, and a registered professional archaeologist, a skillset she uses every day as a cultural communication specialist with Hands-on Heritage. Her projects connect communities with an emphasis on interpretation and education and conserve cultural and environmental legacies.