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Volunteer Programs in Peru

Volunteering in Peru

Unemployment and poverty fill the streets of Lima with homeless youths, many of whom turn to crime and drugs. Volunteers are needed, and Lima's low cost of living makes volunteering for six months to a year affordable on a fairly small amount of savings.

I am living for a year on a $3,000 stipend from my medical school while I volunteer in public health through an NGO called PRISMA (Proyectos en Salud, Medicina, y Agricultura). This is sufficient for a way of living that includes travel and entertainment.

Those who want to work with children should contact or Project Peru's Zapallel project, which does work in Lima's surrounding shantytowns.

Ecological groups also welcome volunteers. Consider looking into Pro Naturaleza. Over 700,000 acres of Peruvian Amazon are deforested each year by oil and mining companies.

Settling In

To polish your Spanish I recommend taking classes in Arequipa, perhaps the loveliest city in Peru, with fine colonial architecture and stunning vistas. Nearby are archaeological sites, a volcano, and a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon. Twenty hours a week of classes costs about $350/week and include one Salsa dance lesson or one Peruvian cooking lesson per week.

Housing is inexpensive in San Miguel, a safe, middleclass neighborhood. Barranco is a livelier and still more economical option. Even Miraflores, the most cosmopolitan part of town, is still quite economical. Avoid central Lima.

If you are staying for a while, Museo de Arte offers classes in everything from folkdancing to ceramics to Tae Kwon Do. One-month classes are very reasonably priced, usually about $17 a month for six hours a week.

Culture and People

Living in Peru is like being in the fan club of a losing but improving soccer team. In the same sentence in which he criticizes Peruvian politicians, a taxi driver will tell you that there's no greater gift God can give someone than to make them a citizen of Peru. You may begin to agree when you drink hot piña juice on a street corner or sit in a seaside park with vibrant architecture behind you discussing politics with the never shy Limenos.

The city overflows with all the irony, absurdity, and beauty of a Latin American novel. Lima inspires the inquisitive soul. Whether one comes in hopes of giving help or of gaining experience and understanding or both, Lima can be an ideal out-of-country experience.