How about working with Belizeans to provide care to the needy, medical help for the sick, and protection for fragile ecosystems?
If you think that all of these sound good, then consider volunteering during your stay. Service vacationing has boomed in popularity over the years, and with some research and good planning you can enjoy Belize’s beauty while making connections with its people and environment. Below is a list of a few prominent organizations that offer short and long term opportunities. Some are free, some you will have to pay for, some are for professionals, but all are ways to experience Belize and give back as well.
Since chances are you’ve come to Belize to enjoy its natural beauty, what better way is there to show your appreciation than helping protect the environment? From professional internships to casual volunteering, there are many options. For animal lovers, the famous Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center offers volunteer internships of two to four weeks. However, you’ll need to apply well before you plan to arrive due to the small number of spaces available. The Belize Audubon Society, which manages the majority of Belize’s protected ecosystems, also has volunteer opportunities, including for the annual Christmas Bird Count that is popular among volunteer amateur and professional birdwatchers alike. Green Reef Belize, in San Pedro Town, focuses on the reefs and marine ecosystems and has possible short and long term opportunities. The Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, near Belmopan, supports conservation work in Belize’s jungles.
In the south, the small town of Punta Gorda hosts both the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment and the Ya’axche Conversation Trust, two organizations that accept interns and volunteers for varying periods of time. Sustainable Harvest International—Belize, a Punta Gorda organization focusing on organic agricultural and forest conservation, has daily, weekly, and monthly volunteer opportunities as well. There are multitudes of organizations aside from these that focus on Belize’s huge diversity of environmental resources—a little searching in any of the six districts should give you an idea of how you can pitch in.
Venture into the Maya Mountains or spend some time in the rural areas of the Toledo District and you will fall in love with the beautiful remoteness of many of Belize’s towns and villages. However, this isolation also means that getting medical treatment can be a real challenge for many Belizeans. For interested doctors, nurses, and medical students, volunteering can help address this issue. One organization that offers short and long term positions working directly with rural populations is Hillside Healthcare International.
Located in the Toledo District, Hillside volunteers care for the medical needs of those in the southern Belize, while also training and educating Belizean medical professionals. Interested paramedics, EMTs, and emergency medical professionals may also find opportunities with the Belizean Emergency Response Team (BERT), which sometimes looks for volunteers to assist with trainings. For those with even basic first aid training, the Belizean Red Cross operates in many of Belize’s towns and cities and international Red Cross volunteers are welcome.
Many Belizean organizations work on improving Belize’s social health, and welcome volunteers interested in working with and getting to know Belizeans. The Cornerstone Foundation, located in San Ignacio, is one of Belize’s most famous non-governmental organizations.
Volunteers with Cornerstone assist in programs ranging from Youth and Women Empowerment to HIV/AIDS Education. The Belize YMCA and WMCA also have offices throughout the country and have been welcome to volunteers interested in working with both kids and adults. For those coming to Belize during the academic year, local schools sometimes welcome longer-term visitors who can lead students in sports, music, or art. Send an email or give a call—schools and organizations may be happy to hear that you are interested.
If you are an international visitor (and reading this blog), you’re probably trying to get in touch with organizations through email. This can be tricky in Belize, since many Belizean organizations, especially the smaller ones, have only basic websites. If you’ve come up against this wall, remember to search on Facebook, as just about all Belizean businesses and organizations have a page. Doing this research will also help ensure that you will be a responsible volunteer and that your time and effort will be both helpful and sustainable. With all of the opportunities and work to be done, though, why wouldn’t you find some way to get involved? Enjoy your vacation, appreciate what Belize has to offer, and give back as you can—whatever the cost, the result will be a cultural experience more meaningful than simply being a tourist.