Making origami with Yanapay kids Volunteering

Since we got back from our Panama trip, we’ve been thinking a lot about where we want to go and what we want to do for our next trip. Because of our dislike for cold weather, and the Salt Lake Inversion, we’re probably going to head out during the winter months, like last year (starting in January, 2010), and go somewhere warm. We also would like to stick with a Spanish-speaking country since the girls and I have already picked up quite a bit of Spanish, and we want to get more comfortable with it (and Jen can help us get around).

So right now I’m leaning toward South America. For a short while, we thought of doing a cruise down there (using the cruise as our transportation there instead of a flight) that might hit several of the South American countries, and then leave us down there to explore further, but we didn’t find any cruises that had our desired itinerary around the dates we wanted.

But as “fun” as cruises are, and as life-changing as our vacation in Panama was, I want our next trip to be even more meaningful. I want to do something that will not only improve our lives, but other people’s lives.

So I started looking into volunteer vacations. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to help others in need, and at the same time experience the people, language and culture in more depth than we otherwise would. I believe that volunteer service has the potential to change lives for the better – both the giver’s and the receiver’s. I can’t think of a more meaningful and fulfilling way to spend time with my family than serving others.

I found several organizations that organize trips to countries around that world that include a mix of volunteer work, as well as tourism, and often include food and lodging. I have been doing hours of research on-line, and have contacted several of these organizations to see what their requirements are and what kind of work we could do. We’re most interested in working with children, possibly at an orphanage or something similar – we figure our girls will probably do best with children around, and is something they could probably help with.

However, there are two main problems I have found with most of these organizations.

  • First, many have minimum age requirements of 6 or 8 years, or more. This won’t work for our family since our girls will be 6 and 4 next year. We have to find something that allows young children to help, or at least tag along.
  • Second, most of these organizations are very expensive! For example, a typical cost might be $1500 per person for one week! For our family of four, that’s a lot of money – especially for low-cost countries in South America.

These are some of the reasons we didn’t do any volunteer work in Panama. No one would let us take our kids – and if they did, they would charge us a lot of money. But I knew it didn’t have to be like that, and I have been determined to find some kind of organized service we can do together as a family on this next trip.

How pleased I was when I started stumbling upon some volunteer organizations that not only allowed children of any age to participate, but that also cost very little or were even free to participate in! Most weren’t advertised as “volunteer vacations”, but did allow time on evenings or weekends for sight-seeing or other activities. Some even offered free Spanish classes, and very cheap lodging and food (by far cheaper than staying at a hotel and eating at restaurants). They were also generally more flexible than their more expensive counterparts, allowing you to volunteer for as little as one day, to as long as several months or indefinitely, rather than confining you to a specific date range.

The advantages the more expensive organizations offer is medical and evacuation insurance, 24/7 support (in case of emergency), and they seem to hold your hand a bit more. Since evacuation insurance can be purchased fairly inexpensively, and Jen already speaks the language, these advantages didn’t seem significant enough to us to justify the extra expense.

I still haven’t chosen which one(s) we might do, and I’m waiting to hear back from several places, but I wanted to share my findings with you so far. If you have been looking for volunteer opportunities for your family,  hopefully you will find this list helpful. I’ve been focusing my search in Peru right now, so a few of these will be Peru-only, but some offer placement in many locations, including Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Pay-to-Volunteer Organizations

CCS (Cross-Cultural Solutions) – ($2500/person)

This appears to be one of the larger and more well-known international volunteering organizations, and it looks like they do a great job. Their minimum age requirement is 8, but they said they sometimes make exceptions. However, it’s also one of the expensive ones. They do have trips all over the world, going at all times of the year, but it would have cost our family almost $10,000 to volunteer for two weeks, so this isn’t one I considered for long. I only list it here, because you’ll probably run into it on your search, and it’s hard to find pricing on their website.

Volunteers for Peace – ($500/family)

Volunteers for Peace has several volunteer programs nationally and internationally, although a significantly fewer number that allows families with small children. They are also relatively inexpensive ($500/family). However, all of their family programs are during the summer, and we want to go during the winter, so this one was out for us. But if you are looking for a family volunteer opportunity in the summer, you may want to look here. You can search their directory or projects here:

Globe Aware – ($1250/person)

Lots of great locations. Lots of dates. NO AGE REQUIREMENTS! They also handle lodging, food, and excursions for you. I was seriously considering this one…until I found I could volunteer elsewhere for FREE! (See below)

Free / Cheap Volunteering Organizations

Most of the sites below I found on this list: – what a great resource that is! It’s kind of the king of volunteering organization lists in South America – at least from what I’ve been able to find. Not all of the organizations cater to families, though, so I have sorted out the ones (from Peru) that look like they will be work for us. And here some of them:

Hogar de Esperanza ( – So far this one’s our favorite, and the only one we’ve heard a response from after a week. This is an orphanage with kids of various ages. They seem to have great, clean facilities with lots of different kinds of opportunities to help including caring for the children, cooking, reading/games, grounds maintenance, cleaning, arts and crafts, and more. They offer optional accommodations (including Internet) and 3 meals a day for just $15/day! – Free to volunteer. Teaching children, one week minimum. – Take care of children ages 6 months to 6 years. Restaurant work, environmental work, working with the elderly. Also has Spanish classes and cheap accommodations. – Free. Working with street children, playing games, teaching music, etc. Offers Spanish classes and cheap accommodations ($10-30/day). – $60 for 2 weeks. Teaching kids, arts/crafts, cleaning, cooking. Accommodations for $200/month.

There are others, but these are the ones that interested me the most so far. We still have several months before we need to make any kind of decision, but it’s been rewarding to find what is available out there, and we’re excited to participate in something like this. I’ll keep you posted as to what we find and what we end up doing.

Has anyone reading this had any experience volunteering overseas that they could share? This is our first time doing this, and we want to learn all we can before we go.

Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in each moment.


  1. I’m so glad you were able to find some organizations that will work for our family! I am really looking forward to having a more service-oriented experience while we are traveling. :)

  2. As you know, I think this is a fabulous idea. I’ve never done something like this – though am interested in doing so at some point in my life. Though I don’t think I want to go somewhere really hot……

    I’ll be eager to hear of recommendations you get – and, of course, all about your family’s experience.

  3. Hello. I think the article is really interesting. I am even interested in reading more. How soon will you update your blog?

  4. As a divorced father of four, I LOVE this post! Thanks so much for doing the work and research to find all this out. It helps to have alternatives to the cruises or family road trips. I love your non traditional approach to your life.

  5. Thank you soo much for posting the info you’ve found:) My husband and I have been talking about vacationing this way recently. We have a 10 year old daughter and I really feel like she’s @ the age to be of help while not requiring much watching.

  6. Lauren Ard Says: January 6, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Can you give us an update on what program you went with and if it was a good experience?

  7. Hello Brandon
    I came upon this old blog of yours. Did you go? How was it? I am looking into a similar experience for my family and your site has already been the most helpful I have found online to date. Thanks for sharing,

    • Yes, Angi, you can read about our experience here:
      These days, I also recommend using caution before considering volunteering on a short-term basis, as many programs are actually not served by tourist volunteers, except for the money they generate for the organization they pay for the experience. (And sometimes they’re harmed, such as “orphanages” where parents leave their kids so they can charge tourists money to play with them.) It can be hard to know beforehand, but do as much research as you can. Good luck!

  8. Did you write a blog post on how your trip went? I’d love to hear how the planning went.

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