Want to take a break from school, work or other regular responsibilities? Would you like to help others less fortunate than you, or perhaps do something for the world by assisting in conservation activities? Would you like to learn a new skill, or spend time investigating the mysteries of the Maya world?
Apart from the self esteem such an activity can promote, it may well be advantageous to have an international work assignment in your resume. In a tight job market recruiters often look beyond academic qualifications and those who have track record of working overseas can improve their chances or employment of promotion. If this intrigues you, then you may want to investigate volunteer job opportunities in Belize.
Types of volunteer opportunities available
Church and medical-related mission work. This involves a week to several weeks of volunteer work in a medical or dental clinic, building churches or homes or other assistance. Usually these mission groups are based outside of Belize, often at a church or school or as a part of a local medical society, and volunteers travel to Belize at the same time, as a group. In most cases, volunteers pay for their own transportation to the country, along with personal expenses, but food and lodging sometimes is provided by the mission. Because these medical and religious missions are so diverse, it’s not possible to provide a list of them. We suggest you contact your church, college or local medical society and ask if they know of missions to Belize. If not, you may well raise the issue of why not? And perhaps spearhead your group’s first mission here.
Organized volunteer programs. These organized programs are of two types: In the first, which may be run either by a for-profit firm such as a travel company or by a not-for-profit charity or university, volunteers provide for their own transportation to and within the country, pay a fee of around US$10 to $25 a day for lodging and board and may also pay a placement fee or contribution which can be several hundred dollars or more. Some “volunteer” programs of several weeks or months in length can cost the volunteer thousands of dollars. In the case of the second type, volunteers do not pay a fee and they may receive food and lodging in exchange for their volunteer work, but they usually have to pay transportation and incidental expenses out of pocket.
These volunteer programs revolve either around conservation, such as working with wildlife or reef preservation, or around archeology, with volunteers assisting on a dig at a Maya site. A few programs offer volunteer opportunities in education, animal care or social work. Some of these programs are Belize-based, such as those at the Belize Zoo or Programme for Belize. Others are based in the U.S., U.K. or elsewhere outside Belize.
Advantages of these structured programs include the fact that they are available to all kinds of volunteers and that they usually can be arranged ahead of time, before arriving in Belize. A commitment of at least a two of weeks is often required for these programs, which benefits both the organization which has to train volunteers and the volunteers themselves who require time to adjust to the work and the Belize climate and environment.
As in most countries, it is possible and, in most cases, easy to just go to a worthwhile organization and volunteer your services. Conservation organizations, churches, libraries, medical clinics, humane societies, schools are among those that may welcome volunteers. For example, the YWCA in Belize City accepts volunteers to help teach sports and arts activities. But there are hundreds of churches and schools in Belize, and many of these would welcome volunteers to help out with teaching, outreach or other activities. Usually, you will not receive any lodging or food in return for your volunteer activities, but in a few cases this might be available.
To arrange this kind of independent volunteer work, it is usually necessary to be in Belize and to make personal contact with the organization you are seeking to help. It is rare that you will be able to arrange satisfactory volunteer work before you arrive. In fact, most of these volunteer opportunities in Belize are completely unstructured. It’s up to you to find out about areas of need and then to go and volunteer your services.
This information was accurate at time of publication, but things change quickly. Check with individual organizations directly for current information. Note that many of these organizations charge fees which may be tax-deductible as contributions, for transportation, room, board and placement.
Belize Audubon Society, 12 Fort St., P.O. Box 1001, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-223-5004; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org For more than 32 years, BAS has long been considered the premier conservation organization in Belize. BAS, which is entirely independent from the National Audubon Society, has 1,700 members. Through an agreement with the Government of Belize, it manages eight parks and protected areas including Cockscomb, Crooked Tree, Half Moon Caye and Tapir Mountain. While BAS does not have a highly organized volunteer program, those interested in volunteering can contact BAS to see if any help is needed in the office or in its education and field programs. The annual Christmas Bird Count, held in Belize City, Punta Gorda, Belmopan and Gallon Jug, is a time when volunteer birders do their things.
Belize YWCA, 119 St. Thomas & Freetown Road, P.O. Box 158, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-224-4971; e-mail email@example.com The YWCA accept volunteers for its sports, arts and other other programs. The YWCA is a national, non-governmental, not-for-profit Christian organization committed to making opportunities available for the spiritual, intellectual and physical development of women and girls in Belize.
Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, P.O. Box 1787, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-220-8003; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org The Belize Zoo is one of the truly great conservation organizations in Central America, and its director, Sharon Matola, has done a tremendous amount to further eco awareness and education in Belize, though her work has not always been appreciated by the powers-that-be in Belize. The adjoining Tropical Education Center offers a wide range of education and outreach programs. Motivated volunteers may be accepted to assist Belize Zoo and TEC programs. The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center is settled upon 29 acres of tropical savanna and exhibits over 150 animals, representing over 45 species, all native to Belize. The zoo keeps animals which were orphaned, rescued, born at the zoo, rehabilitated animals, or sent to The Belize Zoo as donations from other zoological institutions.
Birds Without Borders – Aves Sin Fronteras, c/o 10005 West Blue Mound Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226 • 414-258-2333; Birds Without Borders is a research, education and conservation organization coordinated by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County (Wisconsin). It operates in Belize in association with the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center and with private landowners. The group was formed in 1996 to study migratory birds common to both Wisconsin and Belize there are at least 114 of these common species). Occasional volunteer opportunities may be available.
Cornerstone Foundation Belize, 90 Burns Avenue, San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-824-2373; e-mail email@example.com This non-profit organization is one of the best-known volunteer organizations in Belize. Its programs include various cultural, community service, and peace-related volunteer programs in Cayo District. Volunteers commit for a minimum of three weeks (three months in the longer-term programs). For longer-term programs, individuals pay US$300 to $400 a month for housing, couples and families US$600. There is a US$100 application fee, a weekly meal fee of around US$15 and other fees. Those involved in three-week programs such as the AIDS Education or Natural Healing programs pay a fee of around US$550 to $650. At any one time, the foundation may have from one to 18 volunteers in Belize, plus local administers and staff.
Green Reef Belize, 100 Coconut Drive, San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-226-3254 ext 243; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Founded in 1996, Green Reef is a private, non-profit group based in San Pedro, devoted to protecting Belize’s marine and coastal resources. Among its projects are establishing mooring buoys to protect the barrier reef, the management of two cayes near Ambergris as bird sanctuaries and monitoring Jewfish populations in Belize. Green Reef currently doesn’t have a volunteer coordinator, but it says it is interested in hearing from prospective volunteers, especially those with skills in Web design, photography, fund-raising, community involvement and education. In the past it has had Peace Corps members as full-time volunteers and has worked with Smith College and Kansas State University to bring in volunteers.
King’s Children Home, 38/40 Unity Blvd., P.O. Box 144, Belmopan, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-822-2021: The King’s Children Home is a non-profit organization which assists children in Belize who have lost their parent(s) through death, have been abandoned, abused and/or neglected. KCH needs volunteers to help out, for any period of time, but preferable for 2-6 month periods or longer. Volunteers work with kids from 1-18 years of age. Activities may include tutoring, counseling, clerical duties and pre-schooling.
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, P.O. Box 187, Belmopan, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-820-3032; e-mail email@example.com Monkey Bay is a private wildlife sanctuary and environmental education center on 1,070 acres near the Belize Zoo. Links to other conservation organizations in Belize and Monkey Bay’s own programs provide some volunteer opportunities in conservation and community service. Monkey Bay also offers home stay programs, as well as 12- to 21-day education and adventure programs for students (middle school to university). The education programs are at rates of about US$75 a day.
Mount Carmel High School Belize, Benque Viejo del Carmen, Cayo, Belize, C.A.; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org This school is highly unusual in that it has an all-volunteer faculty. Volunteers, who must be four-year university graduates and be willing to teach in a Catholic environment, commit to teach for a period of one to two years, and in return they receive room, board and US$12.50/week in spending money. The minimum commitment is one school year, from mid-August until mid-June and the typical length is two years with the summer off. Living arrangements are spartan but clean. Meals are taken together in the rectory. Mt. Carmel High School is a grant-aided institution under the patronage of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT). The Philosophy of education institutions managed by SOLT is rooted in the sacred mystery of the Blessed Trinity. As such, SOLT institutions are committed to a wholesome education whereby the individual is led towards Trinitarian relationships to bear fruit for God’s Kingdom.
Programme for Belize, 1 Eyre Street, P.O. Box 749, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-227-5616; e-mail: email@example.com This completely Belizean-run organization manages the 260,000-acre Rio Bravo Conservation and Management area, the country’s second-largest protected reserve, representing about 4% of Belize’s land area. Programme for Belize accepts paying guests at its Rio Bravo and Hill Bank research stations, where visitors enjoy simple but pleasant accommodations and hearty local fare. Volunteer opportunities may occasionally be available, both in conservation and in archeology. La Milpa is one of about 60 Maya sites on the Rio Bravo lands.
SAGA Society Belize, Coconut Drive, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-226-3266; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Saga is a non-profit organization, founded in 1999, whose purpose is to assist homeless and suffering dogs, cats and other animals on Ambergris Caye. Most of the stray dogs and cats on Ambergris, as elsewhere in Belize, are not neutered, and many are undernourished with a variety of diseases. Saga is trying to raise funds to build an animal shelter on the island and to establish a subsidized neutering program. This small group has no organized volunteer program, but local volunteers are welcomed. More volunteers will be needed if and when a shelter is up and running.
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), P.O. Box 150, Punta Gorda Town, Toledo District, Belize, C.A.; Tel. 501-722-2274 ; e-mail email@example.com Formed in 1997, TIDE focuses on conservation in Toledo District. The group helps manage the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and Paynes Creek National Park. To raise funds, it offers eco tours. TIDE’s mission statement is to foster community participation in resource management and sustainable use of ecosystems within the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor of southern Belize for the benefit of present and future generations.
The Scout Association of Belize at times has openings for volunteers, especially those with scouting experience in their home countries. Central America Boulevard, Belize City Center, Belize City, Belize, Central America. The Scout Association of Belize exists by virtue of the Scout Association of Belize Act, 1987 passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate of Belize and assented to by the Governor-General of Belize on 25 January 1988.
Tips For Getting More Out Of Your Volunteer Experience
* Don’t expect to get free room and board or other compensation. In some cases, this may happen but more often you will have to pay your own way and may even have to pay a fee for the opportunity of of volunteering. But look at it another way, what a great addition to your resume especially if at some time a promotion requires or gives the edge to a candidate with international working experience.
* Expect some hard work – good if you need to get into shape! Some programs such as archeological expeditions require manual labor. Initially at least you also will have to acclimate your body to Belize’s warm, humid sub-tropical climate.
* You may have to put up with basic living conditions. While some medical mission volunteers stay at nice hotels, many volunteers will be living on the the project site, staying in Belize-style housing (usually without air-conditioning or even fans and perhaps without indoor plumbing). Conservation and archeological volunteers may basically camp out.
* Volunteer organizations and their programs change constantly, so be sure you have the latest information on programs and costs. The most up-to-date information is usually on the Internet. Just go to a search engine such as Google and search using key words such as “volunteer work Belize.” Also, check out specialized Web sites on working, going to school and volunteering abroad.
* Although volunteer organizations usually do good work, keep in mind that for the staff and administrators these programs may be their career or at least a job. Some of the international volunteer organizations are relatively large businesses, and in at least a few cases their good works appear to be subsidiary to maintaining and building the organization.
* A work permit may be required in Belize, even for short-term volunteer work. There is a small fee, usually US$25. but this is usually covered by the volunteer program.
* Have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish in a short time. Belize has many challenges, ranging from under funded schools to poverty, etc. and none of these will be solved quickly.
* The most typical volunteer in Belize is a college student or a young person who has recently finished college, but volunteers come in all ages and from all backgrounds.
* For longer-term volunteering, consider the U.S. Peace Corps if you are a U.S. national, or the British Volunteer Services Overseas if you are a British Subject.