Bringing some small gifts is always a generous and thoughtful idea. Sometimes though, it is better to wait until you have actually arrived in the country you are volunteering in to purchases gifts or necessities for a specific project. By doing this, you can avoid having problems in customs and will find that the costs of items are less expensive in South America. You can always contact the project you will be working at, ahead of time, to see if they have any specific recommendations. Usually lightweight items, such as clothes, school supplies, or some small toys.
It is always great to speak to friends, families and different local organizations or churches who would be interested in supporting the work that you are doing. Many schools also have programs, grants, and funding for international volunteer projects. Doing some research online is a good way to see what options are available. Another idea is to be creative and think of ways to fundraise on your own! You can organize a carwash, have a bake sale, or plan an activity (a marathon walk, a bike race, etc. ) to raise money. Once you have the amount that you intend to give, it is always advised to use some caution, especially when dealing with your project. Never give money directly to a project as there are no guarantees that it will get used appropriately, or in the manner in which it was agreed upon. Instead, speak to a project about possibly constructing a bathroom, repainting the project, ordering books and new school supplies, purchasing school uniforms for the children, or organizing a day activity for the children with the director of the project.
If you are unable to speak the local language at a decent level, it will definitely make things more difficult. Do the best that you can to learn as much of the local language as possible. It will help you communicate better with the people in the project and they will respect you more for it as well.
No. The type of work that you will be doing is more assistance work as opposed to a structured job position. For this reason, you are helping out and giving your services! You will not however, be taking opportunities away from locals who would be qualified for this type of work.
An attitude of service and cooperation along with a desire to share your skills and your talents can go a long way in helping others. Setting realistic goals per day in the work you will be doing will help you during your time in the project. Volunteer work is not about changing the world, or accomplishing the impossible, but rather, bringing some joy, comfort and education into another persons´ life. Each project has different goals and objectives so it is important to remember that compromise and patience is necessary, especially when working in a foreign culture and environment.
Before arriving in South America, make sure that you have all of your necessary vaccinations done in order to prevent certain illnesses here. If you have certain medications that you are accustomed to using, bring it with you and make sure that you have enough to last you during your time in South America. While working in projects, take whatever precautions that you need to in order to stay well. Avoid food or drinks that you feel may not be good for you. Should you find yourself in a project where you are surrounded by those with an illness (in one of the clinics or hospitals for example), talk to the project to find out if they have any specific suggestions or precautions that they feel you should be made aware. In the majority of cases, however, it is the personal responsibility of the volunteer should he or she become ill.