GVI’s Volunteer With Children in Costa Rica program allows travelers to connect with local youth. // © 2015 Global Vision International
Feature image (above): Project volunteers often spend their free time exploring Manuel Antonio National Park, which is a short bus ride from Quepos. // © 2015 Global Vision International
As the experiential travel market expands, so does demand for voluntourism, or travel that incorporates the opportunity to help local communities in a given destination. One company with a lengthy history in this niche is Global Vision International (GVI), which has offered volunteer and education programs abroad since 1998. And this year, the company’s Volunteer With Children in Costa Rica project was included in National Geographic Traveler’s 2015 “50 Tours of Lifetime” list.
The acclaimed project can last between two and 24 weeks and combines teaching local children, learning Spanish and digging into Costa Rica’s renowned beauty. Project participants are based in Quepos, just north of Manuel Antonio National Park. According to a statement from GVI, schools in Quepos are understaffed.
An average day for a volunteer might include leading small-group lessons with students, leading arts-and-crafts projects and organizing sporting events. Language lessons with students and older members of the community are also common. Adrienne West, marketing manager for GVI, says the work suits so many types of travelers.
“We look for anyone with an interest in helping people and the energy and enthusiasm to throw themselves in and get involved,” West said. “Any age is welcome, and any education experience you have is always fantastic but not essential. We have had qualified teachers and fluent Spanish speakers working alongside people with no prior experience or language knowledge, and both have come away with an amazing experience and left their own impact. Come with an open mind and a willingness to get involved, and you will be the right kind of person.”
Couples, siblings and entire families have participated in the experience, according to West. And while the minimum length of participation is two weeks — GVI understands that even that duration is a stretch for some travelers — West believes that a longer stay yields stronger results. She recommends participants stay at least six weeks.
“[With a longer stay], you get to know the environment you are working in and acclimate to the lifestyle,” she said. “You have more time to incorporate the training received from our expert field team and to get to know the people you are working with. Everyone contributes, regardless of how long they are with us, but people who are able to stay for more than a month see that contribution a bit more easily.”
In addition to the work they do in the community, participants have plenty of must-do Costa Rica experiences nearby, such as wildlife watching and hiking in Manual Antonio. Ziplining tours and surf lessons in easy-to-reach surf towns are among other options. But in the end, West says it’s the connections they have with the local people for which volunteers are the most grateful.
“Volunteers always talk about the people they met and the friendships they made,” West said. “A lot of people choose to volunteer to open their eyes and push their boundaries as well as to help. They realize that even though they came to give back and to make a difference — and they have done both those things — there is also going to be a lasting impact on themselves, which they take home and carry with them in everything they do.”
The Volunteer With Children in Costa Rica program begins at $1,790 per person and includes basic shared accommodations; all meals; training; 24-hour, in-country support; and more.