Volunteering abroad is an activity that allows travellers to experience a more realistic side of a country and learn about the culture from another point of view. It is easy to arrange and available to all travellers. Join a project and get stuck in!
I helped on a volunteer project in Mérida with the company Original Volunteers. I have volunteered with them many times, as a solo traveller. It was very exciting; either as a group or in pairs we travelled to different parts of the city and helped in a great variety of ways. The project coordinator, Tila, helped volunteers organize a varied schedule visiting different projects.
I was keen to get involved and volunteer with Mexican children, so at the beginning of the week we travelled to a kindergarten to help children aged up to six years old. We worked alongside the staff in a supporting role, coloring, singing songs, and reading stories.
Next, we volunteered with slightly older children outside of Mérida in San Antonio Tehuitz. We taught the children English and reviewed other lessons as well. The children were keen to practice as much as they could, and even if we were doing arts and craft activities they were still excited about practicing new phrases they had just learned, speaking in English the whole time.
The last children’s project we visited was at a local orphanage with disabled boys. We helped them get some fresh air, pushing their wheelchairs, as well as helping at meal time. The boys loved playing with bubbles and when we all played instruments together.
My favorite of all the projects was at a local cat and dog sanctuary. Another volunteer and I helped walk and bathe the dogs along with grooming and preparing food for all of the animals. We also helped with vet visits and general play and socializing with the animals.
I embraced my time in México and took advantage of the chance to practice my Spanish with the locals. Although Tila, the project coordinator, was fluent in English, a lot of the staff at the projects, charities, and schools spoke little or no English. To converse with them I had to speak in Spanish.
The locals live a relaxed and stress-free life, not fussing over the small things. I felt this lifestyle rubbed off on me and I was a lot calmer, even when I would normally get embarrassed (by failing to pronounce words correctly and people not understanding my Spanish). No one ever got annoyed and they were patient with me practicing their language.
The Yucatecans helped me practice my Spanish phrases and I returned home with a much better understanding of the language and much better pronunciation of the words.
Personally, I think that visiting this amazing colonial city and helping to develop the community is the best way to travel to the Yucatán peninsula. Along with volunteering, we had time for day trips to the stunning Caribbean white sand beaches. Many people are unaware that the peninsula’s coast is home to the world’s second largest barrier reef; the beaches are beautiful, and full of amazing diving spots. We also took time to explore the Maya ruins. The history of Yucatán amazed me: the advanced culture of the Maya and the magical creation of Chichén Itzá. The cenotes, naturally made underwater caves, were my favorite thing to visit and they were all over Yucatán!
I would recommend volunteering in México to anyone who is considering visiting the country. Living with other volunteers and spending most of my time with locals, I felt safe and found everyone was inviting, for the whole duration of my visit. I know travellers who have previously visited this country and felt less comfortable with worries instilled by the media of gangs and drug trade. I had a polar opposite experience, I felt welcomed and at home as soon as I arrived.
Yucatán Today has previously prepared an article on volunteer projects in Yucatán. Check these out and join a volunteer project today. And here are the details of the organization I volunteered with: Original Volunteers who organized all my placements as part of a weekly schedule for me.
Editorial by Astrid Halliday for use in Yucatán Today