Education, Development and Healthcare in Guatemala

Program Overview

Guatemala is as varied in local culture and ecosystems as it is in neighboring countries. As a volunteer in Guatemala, you'll begin to explore this heart of Mayan civilization and quickly understand why so many people have a special place in their heart for Guatemala. With an opportunity to visit idyllic beach towns, wander Mayan ruins, and climb active volcanoes, you can spend plenty of time as a volunteer in Guatemala and never run out of new adventures.

During its 36 year-long civil war, many Guatemalans migrated to Guatemala City seeking employment. Through the years, this unexpected migration has resulted in the unsustainable expansion of Guatemala City. Since the end of its civil war in 1995, Guatemala has made incredible strides as a nation, however, the continuous influx of new residents combined with a high birth-rate has depleted resources, and city planning cannot keep pace. As a volunteer in Guatemala, you will work alongside an incredibly diverse population struggling to cope with the effects of urban migration.

home base garden in guatemala

Where you'll stay in Guatemala City

Located on a quiet and safe block, the Home-Base in Guatemala puts you right next door to Virginia, our Guatemala Country Director. Get to know Virginia and her family as you become a part of the neighborhood.

From the courtyard bursting with tropical flowers and squawking parrots, to the outdoor covered seating area -- a perfect front row seat for a rainstorm -- there's no shortage of reminders that you're in beautiful Central America. Common areas are stocked with games, novels, and even a guitar. Living areas are communal and you'll have more than enough space to keep your belongings.

The cuisine in Guatemala will include some old favorites like homemade guacamole and corn tortillas, and some new dishes that are sure to please, like hearty stews, fresh tropical fruits, and frijoles volteados, another local dish.

Who will support you

During her teenage years, Virginia Burmester spent a full year studying in the U.S. and soon thereafter, traveled to Belgium as a volunteer. Once she had some globetrotting under her belt, Virginia was inspired to become a local community development leader in her native Guatemala. She's worked as an English teacher in Guatemala City for 25 years, and later, as a liaison to international exchange students and host families with AFS. She absolutely adores the opportunity to work with international volunteers and is always happy to share some of her deep knowledge of Guatemalan culture and history. Get to know her family, which includes four daughters, two grandchildren, and pet golden, Mia, when you volunteer abroad in Guatemala.

Volunteer Options

kids playing in guatemala

Education and Literacy

When you work with The Education & Literacy Project in Guatemala, you'll teach children and support educators in an underfunded primary school. The average number of years spent in school among all Guatemalan children is 10; boys typically drop out between grades 4 - 6, when they then go on to work. Your support, attention, love, and eagerness for meaningful connection will help motivate children to continue with their education.

Male volunteer with boy in guatemala

Child Development

When you support The Child Development Project in Guatemala, you’ll have an opportunity to work with a particularly vulnerable group - children. With the help of our volunteers, our partner organizations provide local children with the basics: a safe place, warm meals, education services, and very importantly love and attention.

female volunteer with elderly woman

Aging with Dignity

When you work with The Aging with Dignity Project in Guatemala City, you’ll help to fill a critical gap in services by lending your support to organizations that provide care for the abandoned elderly. In Guatemala there is little, if any support offered to the elderly community and in many cases, due to the financial and emotional burden that elderly families members bring to a family, members of the aging generation are abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

female volunteer with child with disabilities

Support for People with Disabilities

When you work with The Support for People with Disabilities Project in Guatemala City, you’ll lend your help to a center for children with disabilities. The center is run out of a home that was initially donated to provide a safe shelter to orphaned and abandoned children with mental and physical disabilities. Residents of the center, children ages 8 - 18, are provided with meals, basic medical care, and the love and attention of our volunteers and partners.

woman and girls in guatemala

Girls' & Women’s Empowerment

In Guatemala, women and girls, and particularly those of a Mayan background, may face discrimination and a lack of resources and support to reach their academic and economic goals. Your care and support for women who have been impacted by sexual violence, abuse, or trafficking will provide valuable opportunities to rebuild self-esteem and will empower women to create more positive futures. When you work with The Girls' & Women’s Empowerment Project, you will provide education on reproductive health and human rights to these women, as well as at-risk girls. Join these strong women and girls as they work to build strong families and communities in Guatemala.

global health guatemala

Global Health

When you work with The Global Health Project in Guatemala City, you'll support a team of dedicated medical professionals as they offer valuable services to members of the community. As a healthcare volunteer, you’ll assist with the social aspects of healthcare, primarily by supporting nurses, doctors, and caregivers. Your presence offers members of the community and healthcare professionals an opportunity for cultural exchange and a fresh new attitude that will increase morale.


Things to do

Cultural Activities

Tour Guatemala City

Guatemala city

The staff will show you useful points of interest as well as examples of the city's staggering economic disparities. Beginning at the “city dump,” which serves as a home for over 200 families who support themselves by scrap picking, you'll travel about 10 minutes to take in a completely different kind of neighborhood filled with towering mansions and gated communities. This powerful lesson lends some serious perspective to your volunteer service, and introduces you to the complex history of your new home away from home.

Learn Spanish

Spanish lessons

In Guatemala, Spanish lessons are divided into levels based on your ability, and tailored to your needs. The first lesson is held in a typical classroom style, but then you'll have a chance to put your knowledge to the test. Your teacher will take you out into the community and challenge you to bargain for fruits, vegetables, and clothing in Spanish at a nearby underground market. Just another awesome adventure to add to your list!

Cook Guatemalan Cuisine

Guatemalan cuisine

Our cooks will provide all of your meals for you, with one fun exception: each week, you'll have a chance to prepare a veritable Guatemalan feast with your fellow volunteers, under the expert guidance of our cooks. Learn how to prepare a traditional Guatemalan “fusion” meal, combining elements of both Spanish and Mayan cuisine, and don’t forget to take the recipe home to replicate for your friends and family.

Learn About Mayan History

Guatemalan woman working

Learn about the traditional beliefs and culture of indigenous Mayan people in Guatemala, including the oft-referenced Mayan Calendar, from a local professor specializing in Mayan culture and cosmology. After a discussion of the history and incredible accuracy of the calendar, the professor will identify your unique energy animal, the Mayan equivalent of a horoscope.

Sip Hot Cocoa

Cocoa tree

Connect with a local family over cups of steaming, frothy hot chocolate and learn their millennia-old family recipe for the traditional Mayan drink. You’ll even have the opportunity to help them roast the cacao beans, peel and clean the seeds, cook the chocolate, and then — and here's the best part — enjoy the fruits of your labors over conversation with the family.

Free Time

Visit a Volcano

volcano guatemala

Journey just outside of Guatemala City to experience some of the most impressive of Guatemala's 37 volcanoes, including Pacaya and Volcán de Fuego. These are also two of Central America's most active volcanoes, so trade in your flip flops for a pair of sturdy shoes and climb each volcano to snap some photos in front of the slow-flowing lava. You'll want to remember to pack a stick or two, because where's the fun in an active volcano if you haven't got marshmallows to roast?!

Relax at Lake Atitlan

lake atitlan

Formed nearly 2 million years ago, Lake Atitlan has been referred to as one of the world's most beautiful lakes — and not just by the folks here! Once you've shopped your little heart out in one of the region's many markets, check out all of the outdoor options. Get your adrenaline pumping on a zipline adventure, trek the forests, or climb some waterfalls. No matter what you get into, we promise you'll sleep well that night!

Scale Ruins at Tikal

Ruins at Tikal

Journey to the northern part of the country to marvel at one of the greatest surviving Mayan cities at the Tikal ruins. Arrive early in the morning to avoid the tourist rush and take in the towering temples and intricate pathways in all their serene splendor. It's an epic spot that's nothing short of magical, especially when you catch it shrouded in the morning mist. Climb 196 steps to the top of Tikal's iconic Temple of the Great Jaguar, and explore the Mayan city's sprawling ruins.

Enjoy the Caribbean

Caribbean water

Perched at the very edge of Guatemala's northeastern coast along the Amatique Bay and surrounded by jungle to the south and west, Livingston is unlike any other place in Guatemala. Sail down the city's namesake river to a 19th century settlement for emancipated West Indian slaves and take in the rich Caribbean influenced culture of the Garifuna. Nibble fresh shrimp along the waterfront and let the sounds of local musicians' bongos and turtle shell drums ease you into a Caribbean state of mind.

Stamp your Passport

passports

As the one-time capital of ancient Central America, Guatemala is a gateway to the rest of the subcontinent. Journey north to explore southeast Mexico’s budding sustainable tourism industry. Go snorkeling and diving in Belize’s Barrier Reef, the longest reef in the Western Hemisphere. Chase the break at one of El Salvador’s many coastal retreats. Continue further east to Honduras' stunning Celaque Mountain National Park and tackle its nearly 10,000-foot peak, or relax in natural hot springs.