Volunteer in the Caribbean

Volunteer in the Caribbean is your chance to work in the epitome of exotic islands, pristine beaches, turquoise water and palm trees. If that alone doesn’t win you over, then the mix of cultures and cuisines, the rich history and the happy and lively people will for sure! The perfect place for volunteer work in the Caribbean: Jamaica, the home of reggae and Bob Marley; Cuba is a fascinating place where time seems to stand still and the Bahamas with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Every island has its very unique traits and characteristics!

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Volunteer in the Caribbean

Are you all about the island lifestyle? Are you looking to volunteer while enjoying some incredible beaches? In this case, supporting a good cause by becoming a volunteer in the Caribbean will certainly sound like a great idea to you. After all, the Caribbean is many people’s dream vacation destination for a very good reason. However, before you can get excited about your Caribbean adventure, you first need to choose your desired volunteer country and volunteer project. Moreover, there are different types of charity work that you can engage in. From sports to environmental protection, education, healthcare, and marine conservation, there is much that you can do to help as a volunteer in the Caribbean.

This ultimate guide for becoming a volunteer in the Caribbean is thus meant to provide you with some pointers so that you will find it easier to make your decision. We will tell you which fields of interests are most relevant in each of the most important Caribbean volunteer destinations. Of course, we provide individual country guides on the according destination sites. In turn, these guides are meant to help you prepare for your time as a volunteer in the Caribbean.

Volunteer work in the Caribbean

With over 7000 islands, stunning beaches and landscapes, the Caribbean is one of the most exclusive and popular travel vacationing destinations. Whether you are looking for beautiful coral reefs and marine life, or simply great hiking tracks that are surrounded by nature, the diversity of the Caribbean does not disappoint. Still, the region’s greatest threat is its vulnerability to climate change and exposure to natural disasters.

Among others, some of the major challenges facing the Caribbean are:

  • Climate change
  • Poverty
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Financial markets
  • Human Rights

There is a great amount of possibilities to help with some of these problems, but the most hands-on and active way is to volunteer in the Caribbean for one of the many projects on site. Whether you are passionate about teaching and providing quality education in the Dominican Republic, supporting human rights in Jamaica, or want to protect animals and the marine life, one of the many volunteer programs in the Caribbean will give you the chance to do exactly that.Read on to find out how to volunteer in the Caribbean, what kinds of volunteer opportunities in the Caribbean exist and what your tasks will be when volunteering abroad.

Education in the Caribbean

Poor education, failing the required academic standards, and lack of self-confidence lead to unemployment, hostility, and poverty. Providing quality education for children and empowering young people is the first step to end these problems and pave the way towards a better future for the next generations.

Due to a great amount of underfunded schools and children and young adults that are often overlooked, it is necessary and much needed to support in the field of education and integration. As a teaching volunteer in the Caribbean, you can support the staff in local schools and assist in the progress of children by providing extra help and attention or you can empower young people with special needs. There is a great variety of tasks you could be doing, depending on the volunteer program you choose.

As a volunteer in the Caribbean, yours tasks might include but are not limited to:

  • working with individual or small groups of students
  • helping with class work
  • providing individual attention and assistance to the children
  • supporting teachers in English and Mathematics
  • assisting subjects such as art, dance, drama, history, social studies, geography, French, Spanish (dependent on your skills and needs)
  • teaching children about your culture
  • assisting teachers with preparing lesson plans and charts, educational games, small workshops
  • teaching and assisting in a school with recreational, developmental and therapeutic activities for children and young adults with special needs
  • playing and taking care of underprivileged children and young adults
  • organizing and leading intercultural events and regular meetings for local community members and international volunteers, expats and travelers
  • helping with fundraising events
  • cooperating with other organizations
  • assisting in English teaching
  • assisting with maintenance and restoration activities of the school building
  • assisting social worker with youth, family and community development
  • creating your own project or activity

If you are especially interested in educational programs and want to support children and young adults with your volunteering efforts, there are many projects available in countries such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Lucia.

Support community services

If you want to immerse yourself in the culture and get in touch with the locals during your volunteer work in the Caribbean, a community program is a perfect opportunity. Community work calls for open, outgoing and empathetic volunteers that aren’t afraid of getting involved and can face difficult realities.

Depending on what your skills and qualifications are, there is great number of possibilities to help in community development programs as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Some of these volunteering projects include:

  • assisting in advocacy
  • organizing cultural events
  • leading workshops
  • supporting women empowerment
  • raising awareness of human rights
  • helping people that are suffering from issues with domestic violence
  • renovating community building, houses, and schools
  • supporting construction activities
  • providing assistance for elderly people
  • helping out at an orphanage

Before you decide to volunteer at an orphanage or a women shelter, make sure you are prepared for your task and understand what to expect. While working with orphans might sound noble at first, it is important to realize that more than 80% of children living in orphanages are not orphans. They are separated from their families because they are poor, disabled, from an ethnic minority or because they are suffering from other exclusion factors.

Many of the children and women you will be working with have experienced violence or abuse and are traumatized. For this reason, it is essential that volunteers MUST have appropriate skills. If not, you could be putting yourself and the people you work with at risk. Therefore, if you wish to volunteer at one of the orphanage programs or women shelters you should meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • experience in working with traumatized clients
  • training as a child caretaker
  • training as a psychologist
  • training as a social worker

Medical and healthcare

The global trend of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is also reflected in the medical and healthcare system in the Caribbean. With poverty comes a high level of unemployment and some people are unable to acquire proper healthcare. While you might think medical volunteer opportunities in the Caribbean are only suitable for trained doctors and nurses, there are ways for untrained and unskilled volunteers to help as well!

If you are a trained doctor, nurse, medical student or pre-med, you will be able to get hands-on and support the doctors in hospitals, small clinics and health centers. Some of the areas where specialized help is needed are:

  • dentistry
  • general surgery
  • gynecology
  • pediatrics
  • obstetrics
  • child health
  • adolescent health

If you are not a trained professional, there are still many ways and projects for you to help. Support the administrative staff in hospitals and clinics, educate locals about hygiene, illness prevention, nutrition and many other topics. From the Dominican Republic to Jamaica, help is needed in many different locations.

Biodiversity and its conservation

Even though the Caribbean is known for its vast nature and undeniable natural beauty, there are a lot of environmental problems due to climate change and the exposure to natural disasters. If you love to work outdoors and are passionate about our environment, its conservation and especially the marine life, this is the perfect volunteer work in the Caribbean for you!

If you love the underwater world, there are many programs of volunteer work in the Caribbean in the field of marine conservation. Help out at a marine environment conservation or become active as an coral reef restoration assistant.

To give you a general overview of the environmental volunteer programs in the Caribbean, here is a list of the work you could do:

  • learning about marine ecosystems and conservation methods
  • becoming an assistant marine researcher
  • helping create UNESCO protected marine parks
  • teaching conservation awareness in primary schools
  • becoming a PADI diver
  • monitoring coral reefs
  • monitoring and capturing lionfish
  • gardening corals
  • surveying fish and seagrass

Animal and wildlife conservation

If you are interested in working with animals, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in the Caribbean that are focused on these creatures. Locations are such as Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, or Grenada. Projects with animals that need the helping hand of volunteers might be:

  • equine therapy centers
  • endangered marine life conservations
  • veterinarian clinics
  • animal shelter
  • sea turtle conservations

Support local NGOs

If you are talented in organizing, planning and delegating tasks, you should join a local project and support them in their administrative work . This will provide you with valuable experience in working with NGOs and you will gain transferable skills that will be useful for future jobs. Voluntary work at an NGO in the Dominican Republic might include:

  • managerial tasks
  • coordinating the work of other volunteers
  • working in outreach
  • promotion
  • marketing and multimedia (joining the fight for children’s rights by raising awareness through documenting, filming, editing, social networking and expositions)

Volunteers are also needed to raise awareness about the projects and support fundraising efforts. The most important skills needed for this kind of volunteer work is a positive attitude, creativity, and flexibility.

Things to know before volunteering in the Caribbean

Before starting your volunteer work in the Caribbean, it’s important to think about the cultural norms you’ll need to adjust to. In addition, learn about the precautions you might need to take when volunteering abroad. The following list might help you with that:

Safety & precautions

Before you leave on your volunteer trip to the Caribbean, make sure to read up on the safety advice your government gives for tourists in the specific country you are planning on visiting. Most Caribbean countries are perfectly safe, however, it is important to use common sense at all times and be aware of the current political situation.

Here are some universal tips you might want to follow during your volunteer work in the Caribbean:

  • Keep your personal belongings and important travel documents with you at all times! It also makes sense to bring attested photocopies of these documents, in case you lose them!
  • If you are going out, do not take a lot of money, jewelry or other fancy possessions with you. Take only the money you will need and leave everything else back home!
  • Do not use unregistered taxis! Doing so increases the risk of becoming a victim of a crime.

Health advice

It is annoying to get sick when traveling abroad, there are some basic precautions you can take to avoid it:

  • Get all proper vaccinations a few weeks before any volunteer trips to the Caribbean. Find out which vaccinations you need in which Caribbean country on the website of the US-based health protection agency CDC.
  • Plan for how you will get health care during your stay. Get a travel insurance and bring medicine with you, especially if you need special medication.
  • Protect yourself from mosquitoes, as they can carry diseases such as dengue fever. If you suspect you have dengue fever, seek out medical advice. There is no vaccine. The cornerstone of prevention is protection against insect bites.

Packing essentials

It’s nice to have a slight idea of what to expect from a foreign country. It’s even nicer to know, which packing essentials should definitely land in your backpack! This makes life a whole lot easier when it comes to preparing for your time as a volunteer in the Caribbean. It is always a good idea to ask you project coordinator what volunteers should bring for the specific programs as well.

  • Apart from the essential travel documents, like passport, travel medical insurance information, and visa, you should also keep photocopies or scanned copies of these.
  • Always carry sunscreen with you! The Caribbean sun can be unforgiving!
  • Keep enough cash with you! You might want to consider getting a money belt.
  • Carry luggage with you that will aid, not complicate your trip, like daypacks or backpacks; as well as lightweight bags.
  • Pack appropriate clothing and shoes!
  • Don’t forget to bring locks for hostel lockers and also for your luggage!
  • Mosquito nets that are treated with Permethrin will help ensure your safety from Mosquito bites. Also, try to buy bug sprays and Sunblock containing DEET.

Who can volunteer in the Caribbean?

As you will have noticed by now, there are many different projects that expect different skills and abilities from their volunteers. While you can find out the specific requirements for each project on their program page, here are some general requirements that apply to most volunteer opportunities in the Caribbean:

  • You need to be at least 18 years old for most of the volunteer projects abroad. When in doubt, we advise you to get in contact with the local project manager, as in some projects you can also volunteer when you’re 16 years old.
  • You need to have basic Spanish and English skills to join a volunteer project in the Caribbean. Please note that some teaching projects might ask for more advanced skills though.
  • Depending on the project you’re interested in, you might need to provide a criminal background check and a health declaration before volunteering.

How to volunteer in the Caribbean

So you’re ready to volunteer in the Caribbean but you’re not quite sure how to get started? Take a look at the following 3 steps that will prepare you for your volunteer work in the Caribbean and an unforgettable adventure abroad:

  • Check whether there’s a match between you and the project by looking at their requirements.
  • Take a look at the location of the project and decide whether it would be a location you are excited about.
  • Get in touch with the organization and see whether your expectations and your schedule match up.

Insurance (Health & travel)

  • We recommend getting both health and travel insurance to all our volunteers. In fact, this is even a requirement for most programs abroad. Get in touch with your program contact person to find out if an insurance plan is already in place for volunteers.

Visa, passport, and documentation

  • Look into the visa requirements for the country you will volunteer in.
  • Make sure you have a valid passport considering the requirement of the host country.

Prepare the correct documents to fulfill the visa application