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? Then you may want to investigate volunteer opportunities in Belize.
In Belize there are basically three kinds of volunteer opportunities available:
Belize YWCA, 119 St. Thomas & Freetown Road, P.O. Box 158, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-224-4971; e-mail [email protected]: The YWCA accept volunteers for its sports, arts and other other programs.
Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, P.O. Box 1787, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-220-8003; www.belizezoo.org; e-mail [email protected]: 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.
Birds Without Borders/Aves Sin Fronteras, c/o 10005 West Blue Mound Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226, 414-258-2333; www. zoosociety.org: 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, 90 Burns Avenue, San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-824-2373; www.peacecorner.org; e-mail [email protected] 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, 100 Coconut Drive, San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-226-3254 ext 243; www.greenreefbelize.com; e-mail [email protected]: 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 KingĖs 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.
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), P.O. Box 150, Punta Gorda Town, Toledo District, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-722-2274 ; www.belizeecotours.org; e-mail [email protected]: 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 ecotours. Contact the organization to see what volunteer opportunities may be available.
Programme for Belize, 1 Eyre Street, P.O. Box 749, Belize City, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-227-5616; www.pfbelize.org; e-mail: [email protected]: 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. (Note: Also see University of Texas/Programme for Belize Archeological Project below.)
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, P.O. Box 187, Belmopan, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-820-3032; www.monkeybaybelize.org; e-mail [email protected]: 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.
SAGA Society Coconut Drive, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize, C.A.; tel. 501-226-3266; www.ambergriscaye.com/sagasociety/; e-mail [email protected]: 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. The local approach to control has been to use strychnine poison. 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.
Wildlife Care Center of Belize, c/o Robin Brockett, Director, [email protected]: This small operation, supported by Woodland Park Zoological Society (601 North 59th St., Seattle, WA 98103, tel. 206-615-1030), and working with the Belize government agencies, is a "way station" for rescued birds and other wildlife, located near the Belize Zoo at the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Occasionally, self-supporting volunteers are accepted for periods of a month or more. Interested persons should contact Robin Brockett.
Earthwatch International, 3 Clock Tower Place, Suite 100, Box 75, Maynard, MA 01754; tel. 800-776-0188; www.earthwatch.org; e-mail [email protected]: Founded in 1971, the not-for-profit Earthwatch specializes in scientific research expeditions. Paying volunteers (expeditions range in cost from US$700 to $4,000, depending on length, plus transportation) are paired with professional scientists in the field. So far, about 4,000 volunteers have participated in Earthwatch programs. Most projects are 10 to 14 days, but some are longer. In Belize, Earthwatch has a continuing program studying manatees, with about 10 or 12 expeditions a year, and in the past has had archeological programs. The cost for 2003 is US$1,695 plus air fare and incidental expenses.
Explorations in Travel, Inc., 2458 River Rd., Guilford, VT 05301; tel. 802-257-0152; www.volunteertravel.com; e-mail [email protected]: Places volunteers and interns at several sites in Belize, including Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Commitment is usually for two to three weeks. Volunteers typically pay US$15 to $20 per day for meals and lodging, and there is a placement fee of US$975.
EcoLogic Development Fund, P.O. Box 383405, Cambridge, MA 02238; tel. 617-441-6300; www.ecologic.org; e-mail [email protected] EcoLogic works with local Maya organizations in protect their homelands from a government-sanctioned logging concession. EcoLogic is also working to create Mayan alternatives to managing Sarstoon-Temash National Park that respect traditional land rights and safeguard areas of biodiversity. In 2002, EcoLogic was seeking an intern for a minimum three-month commitment to work as an organizational assistant with the Ketchi Council of Belize in Punta Gorda. The position is unpaid but EcoLogic says it will assist the volunteer to find funding for room, board and transportation.
Kimochi Work camps, P.O. Box 316, Boulder, CO 80306, tel. 303-494-9542; www.bitahnii.com; e-mail [email protected]: This group mainly has work camps (mainly construction work on buildings for an organization called Indigenous Institute of Relevant Technology) near a Navaho Indian reservation in New Mexico, but from June 16-28, 2002, it held one in Belize, at the Center for Mayan Learning. Fee was US$200, plus transportation and personal expenses.
Maya Research Program at Blue Creek, Box 298760, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX 76129; tel. 817-257-5943; www.mayaresearchprogram.org; e-mail [email protected]: Blue Creek This archeological research station, organized by Texas Christian University, is in Blue Creek, in rural Orange Walk District. It attracts about 30 students and paying volunteers to each of four two-week programs, where they work with 15 to 30 professional staff. The day starts around 6 a.m., with breakfast at 6:30, and most of the work day (until 3:30 p.m.) involves strenuous activity at a Maya site. Your required contribution (likely tax-deductible) is US$1,250 for a two-week program (US$1,000 for each program if you participate in two or more programs) which includes lodging and food, but not transportation to Belize or personal expenses. A small number of scholarships is available for students who intend to pursue archeology as a career. Academic credit through TCU or another university may be available.
Plenty International, www.plenty.org; e-mail [email protected]: Plenty places volunteers with medical, midwifery, marketing and other skills in Toledo District and elsewhere. This grassroots organization, founded in Tennessee in 1974, places 8 to 10 volunteers a year, mostly in Belize. There is a minimum three-month commitment. A nominal (US$30) placement fee is charged, and there are no stipends or other payments to volunteers, but in some cases volunteers may receive food and housing.
Raleigh International, 27 Parsons Green Lane, London SW6 4H, England: tel. 44 (0) 20-7371-8585; www.raleigh.org.uk; e-mail [email protected]: This U.K.-based organization runs 11 three-month expeditions a year in seven countries. It operated volunteer projects in Belize for five years, including building trails in Cockscomb and in scarlet macaw habitat near Red Bank village. Raleigh says it will run at least two expeditions in Belize starting in 2003, details of which have not yet been announced. Programs are for young people ages 17 to 25. Note: In August 1998, a Raleigh volunteer was stabbed to death near Red Bank village in Stann Creek district. Two local men were arrested and convicted of the crime.
Trekforce Expeditions, 34 Buckingham Palace Road, London, England, SW1W 0RE; tel. 020 7828 2275; www.trekforce.org.uk; e-mail [email protected]: Trekforce bills itself as an "expedition charity." It has two basic programs, a shorter program of about two months which involves a project in the rainforest such as building a visitor center at a national park; and a longer program, about five months, that adds rural teaching and language learning components. About 1,000 volunteers so far have participated in Trekforce programs around the world. When you sign up for an expedition, you "become a member of our charity and are authorized to raise money on our behalf." Volunteers can raise money to pay for their expedition just about any way they like -- by holding raffles, bake sales, car washes or by soliciting funds from corporations and friends. Trekforce currently offers several 8- and 20-week expeditions in Belize each year. The 8-week expedition costs 2,350 pounds (about US$3,400) and the 20-week 3,600 pounds (US$5,200), in both cases plus airfare.
University of California Research Expeditions, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616; tel. 530-757-3529; www.urep.ucdavis.edu; e-mail [email protected]: UC-Davis runs four two-week programs on rainforest mammals in the Bladen watershed area of Toledo District. Participants count and measure trees, survey populations of birds and mammals and document the types of seeds they consume. Animals are tagged, weighed and released. Cost ("contribution") is US$1,660 plus airfare and incidentals. Some scholarships are available.
University of Texas/Programme for Belize Archeological Project, Mesoamerican Archaeological Research Laboratory, The University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712; tel. 512-232-7049; www.uts.cc.utexas.edu/~marl; e-mail: [email protected]: The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Anthropology, since 1992 has operated a field research station on Programme for Belize lands. Volunteers must commit for a minimum of one week, up to a maximum of 15 weeks. The field school program involves survey, excavation at several Maya sites, and laboratory experience working directly with excavated Maya artifacts. Field techniques, lectures on Maya culture history and instruction concerning artifact analysis are provided during each session. Program fees are US$620/week or US$1880/4 weeks; after 4 weeks, the cost is US$300 for each additional week, up to 15 weeks. Fees are plus transport to Belize and personal expenses, but do include meals and lodging. Students have the opportunity to earn university credits.
World Challenge Expeditions, tel. 020 8728 7206; www.world-challenge.co.uk; e-mail: [email protected]: World Challenge offers teaching and conservation placements in several areas of Belize, for periods of either three or six months. Teaching placements are in rural schools in Corozal, Orange Walk and Cayo districts; conservation placements could be with a warden at a marine reserve or at a visitor center at a park. Volunteers, mostly under age 25, are given an orientation course before coming to Belize and a short in-country orientation. You live with a local host family and pay about US$175 for lodging and meals, plus around US$2,800 placement fee, which includes training and air fare.