Round-up of summer travel programs for teens in Latin America

In honor of April, National Volunteer Month, here is a guest post by my friend, Neshama Abraham, who just went through the process of signing up her teenage daughters for summer volunteer programs. Here’s what she learned:

PHOTO: courtesy Campfire Creative; Ben Lewis and Alex Alonso of San Jose, California, builds a retaining wall at the local school in Ollantaytambo, Peru during a two week service trip last summer.

Guest Post By Neshama Abraham

In March 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke from China and emphasized the importance of youth traveling abroad to become global citizens:

“Immersion in another country’s culture does more than help a student’s job prospects,” she said. “It’s also about shaping the future of your countries and of the world we all share. Because, when it comes to the defining challenges of our time — whether it’s climate change or economic opportunity or the spread of nuclear weapons — these are shared challenges. And no one country can confront them alone. The only way forward is together.”

Indeed, participants describe a boost to their self-confidence, improved language skills, and a new world-view from their volunteering abroad. Continue reading Round-up of summer travel programs for teens in Latin America

Guide to Volunteering in Latin America Free in April for National Volunteer Month

volunteer in latin america

Travel guide publisher Moon Handbooks is giving away free ebook copies of its newest niche guidebook, Volunteer Vacations in Latin America by Amy E. Robertson. (Download the entire book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.) It’s all in celebration of In honor of April, National Volunteer Month.

As anyone who has ever volunteered abroad before knows, it is crucial to do your own research before you sign up. Robertson’s new book is a resource which makes that process easier – and more fun, since it is always fun to read guidebooks before you travel.

My travels in Latin America began in 1998 as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, working with the Ministry of Education in Nicaragua for two years, and continued as a trip leader for American Jewish World Service, guiding groups of young volunteers throughout Central America. So  I was excited to see that Robertson had devoted an entire book to volunteer opportunities in the region. She covers Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

I asked Robertson a few questions about writing this book and about where my readers and I should go on our next volunteer vacation.

JOSHUA BERMAN: What is unique about volunteering in Latin America? Why did you choose to focus this book on this particular region/collection of countries?

AMY E. ROBERTSON: I love Latin America’s rich culture and heritage (Mayans! Incas! Aztecs!), the beauty of its natural environment (Beaches! Volcanoes! Galapagos Islands! Patagonia!), and the warmth of its people. Having lived in Latin America for eight years, it is a region that is very close to my heart. It is also close enough to North America – where Moon Handbooks and many of their readers are based – to easily embark on short-term volunteer adventures, which are the focus of the guide.  No jet-lag, and you can reach many of the destinations covered in the guide with just a few hours flight.

JB: What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching this book?

AR: While many of us are aware of the large US-based organizations that offer service trips, I was amazed to see how many small local initiatives are equipped and eager for international volunteers. In addition to the usual volunteer suspects of teaching English or protecting sea turtles, there is a wealth of truly unique volunteer opportunities out there: planting cardons to help provide food for the endangered chinchilla population in Chile; installing solar panels to provide electricity to rural communities in Nicaragua; monitoring the coral reef by scuba diving in Honduras; offering swimming and surf lessons along with environmental education to youth in Peru.

Continue reading Guide to Volunteering in Latin America Free in April for National Volunteer Month

8 Ways to be an Informed Giver: Q&A with Nonprofit Director Rodney McDonald

How do you know—without a doubt—that your donation is going to the right cause? How do you know that your money will be well spent and effective? “The answer begins with doing a little research”, says Rodney McDonald, Director of Emergency Response Services for Latin America (ERSLA:, a non-profit organization based in Estelí, Nicaragua.

Photo by Henrietta Still. Rodney McDonald unloading a shipment of fire hose to firefighters in Nicaragua.

McDonald has been on the dirty front lines of development work for a decade, based in Nicaragua since his service in the Peace Corps there from 2002 to 2004. McDonald founded ERSLA in 2006; to date,he has helped deliver several tons of much needed firefighting equipment to Nicaragua and has worked on water purification projects that have provided over 1800 families with safe drinking water. He has worked with many other good people and organizations, and some not-so-effective ones. I asked him what people should know who are thinking about making a year-end (or any time of year) donation. Following were his eight top tips.

ersla2.jpg1. Do your homework: All registered non-profits in the United States are required to file a form 990 with the IRS. This is to insure that they aren’t working for profit, but are at least attempting to perform the task they are registered to accomplish. Like most information submitted to the IRS, this form is very complicated but does contain valuable information for the donor. This form is also required by the IRS as part of the non-profit status to be available to the public. This information can be found in many locations, including the following sites: Give Well, Guide Star and Great Non-profits Continue reading 8 Ways to be an Informed Giver: Q&A with Nonprofit Director Rodney McDonald

I’m speaking about my Peace Corps service this Monday at CU Boulder

peace corps nicaragua hat Happy Peace Corps week, everybody! I’m proud to be participating in the big Peace Corps Palooza recruiting event this Monday evening in the Glenn Miller Ballroom. CU Boulder is the country’s number one Peace Corps Volunteer–producing university (two years in a row!), so it should be a fun event with many colors, sounds, and sights from around the world.

I’ll be giving a presentation, sometime after 6 p.m., about my Peace Corps service in Nicaragua (Environmental Education, 1998-2000) and how it has affected my life and career.

Event Description: “Peace Corps is actively seeking volunteers to serve across the globe. Come to the Peace Corps Palooza to learn about the organization, life overseas and meet with former volunteers. Also, explore volunteer opportunities in areas including: education, youth/community development, agriculture, health and HIV/AIDS, business development, environment and information technology. All CU students are welcome! Life is calling… how far will you go?”

CU-Boulder Peace Corps Recruiting Office

Peace Corps Palooza!

“My Village, My Lobster” documentary film project about Nicaragua, official trailer release!

nicaragua lobster fishermen

Independent filmmakers Brad Allgood and Joshua Wolff have been toiling to bring the story of Nicaragua’s lobster fishermen to international viewers for years. They have just released a hard-hitting movie trailer (which you should watch if you have any interest in Nicaragua — or where that lobster tail on your plate came from) and they have started a Kickstarter to complete the final production. Please consider helping them, so they can spread this story about the fishermen of Puerto Cabezas.

I talked with Brad (who is a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Nicaragua) about the project. Continue reading “My Village, My Lobster” documentary film project about Nicaragua, official trailer release!

Volunteer Opportunity! Alternative Breaks in Nicaragua and Mexico


One of the best volunteer programs out there: American Jewish World Service. I used to lead spring break trips for them. They write: “Attention 18 to 25-year-olds: Want to have a transformative travel experience to learn about social change in the developing world? Apply for AJWS’s May Alternative Break programs in Nicaragua and Mexico! Applications accepted on a rolling basis.” ”

5 Ways to Give Back during Your Travels, article on

“Under ideal circumstances,” reports Laurel Miller, voluntourism is “a sustainable, experiential way to see the world and give back at the same time.” Amen to that. Miller breaks down the ways you can help out in her article:

Five easy ways be a philanthropic traveler

Miller offers excellent advice for being “a philanthropic traveler regardless of your income, physical ability, educational background, or destination,” and her article has some interesting side links. Enjoy.

Colonial homes walking tours of Granada, Nicaragua, proceeds go to library and school projects


A friend asked me to share this, sounds like an excellent opportunity for anyone visiting or living in Granada, one of the most beautiful cities in the world (and the oldest on the North American continent!):

Enjoy a morning walking tour of some of Granada’s most beautiful and historical colonial homes. Learn about the history and the Spanish colonial architecture while viewing  the city’s private homes. Proceeds benefit the children of Nicaragua by providing books, education and other activities through Biblioteca Puedo Leer and Sacuanjoche Kindergarten. Continue reading Colonial homes walking tours of Granada, Nicaragua, proceeds go to library and school projects

Power to the People mixes renewable energy, voluntourism, on La Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua


This short film abut a solar energy installation in rural Nicaragua was produced by Brad Allgood, an independent filmmaker, and Jenean Smith, founder of Power to the People, both of whom, I’m proud to say, are fellow Peace Corps Nicaragua brethren (I love hearing about RPCV compas who have found creative ways to stay connected to their host countries … but I digress).

The video opens with a wonderful, marimba-filled tribute to Nicaragua, then follows a group of volunteers as they travel to La Isla de Ometepe to assist with a solar panel installation. Beautiful scenery, interesting story, worthy cause. Enjoy.