Are you interested in going to another country? Do you want to volunteer while experiencing a new culture and learning new skills? Do you want to live abroad while doing something good? Do you want to practice or improve your language skills? Do you want to make a bit of the world a better place?
Then you should come volunteer in the Dominican Republic! Don’t believe us? Read on through the pros and cons of volunteering in the Dominican Republic, then come join us as a volunteer in the Caribbean. (Spoiler—the pros definitely outweigh the cons!).
Pros of volunteering in the Dominican Republic
There is a LOT to be excited when it comes to your Dominican Republic service trip, like…
The Dominican Republic is part of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, and is known for its white sand beaches and swaying palm trees. Within the country, you can see a variety of terrain, from stunning waterfalls to verdant mountains. On the weekends and during free time, volunteers can explore the island and all it has to offer. But the beautiful nature is just one of the things you can enjoy as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic.
Volunteers are also immersed in a rich culture. The Dominican culture has had many different ethnic and historical influences, which makes it incredibly unique and worth getting to know. Because of the positive attitude of Dominicans and their communities, volunteers feel welcome from the start, and are able to quickly learn the way of life in the country. They are also able to enjoy Dominican food, from the rice and beans you can buy on any street to the fresh Caribbean fruits and vegetables from the market. The addition of the ever-present bachata, salsa, and merengue music truly makes this cultural experience complete.
Because of their everyday interactions with this culture, volunteers on a Dominican Republic service trip are also able to enhance their Spanish skills. Whether new to the language or practically fluent, they are constantly able to learn more through everyday conversations with locals and the Spanish classes offered through a lot of foundations, including Aldeas de Paz. Most Dominicans are more than willing to strike up conversations with strangers, and are very patient in talking with people who have less advanced Spanish skills. Spanish classes build on this experience and work at the level of each of the participants. Through these means, volunteers are able to improve their Spanish as best as possible in the time they spend doing volunteer work in Dominican Republic.
Volunteers are also able to work on many other essential life skills, such as time management, self-discipline, and teamwork. Volunteers gain insight into the working of an NGO and compile work experience, for the first time for some. Through operating in teams, volunteers work with each other, learn from each other, and create lifelong friendships. During work and free time, volunteers gather life experience through living in a new culture and with each other. Our mission is “gaining by giving,” and that’s how our volunteers work—giving their time and efforts to the community, while learning and gaining important skills in their own lives. It’s really a win-win situation.
5. Work opportunities
The work and what you get out of it is very personalized, and depends on the project you’re participating in. You can find projects in the areas of education, healthcare, animal care, tourism, community work, and environmental conservation. Other projects will vary from organization to organization. For instance, if you volunteer with Aldeas de Paz, you can also gain experience in NGO management and multimedia volunteering. If none of the projects from this great range suits you, most organizations are open minded and willing to support you in new projects to suit your interests. Working hours depend on the project, but all volunteers are welcome to participate in teaching our language and computer courses for the community. The flexibility of the projects is an advantage that makes us unique from other NGOs.
6. Making a difference
Within the projects, you’ll experience many volunteer opportunities in Dominican Republic to make a meaningful difference in the community. One example of this is the Mamá Elba School, a school for children with special needs that is run completely by Aldeas de Paz. Without this school and the help of the volunteers, these children wouldn’t receive the chance to get an education, as they are not always welcomed in public schools. In the school and other programs, the foundation collaborates with local organizations and their projects.
Cons of volunteering in the Dominican Republic
1. Laidback way of life
The hardest thing to get used to, as most volunteers experience, is the new culture and way of life. The Dominican lifestyle is very chill and easygoing, and there is a different concept of time here, meaning that events don’t always start at the time they are planned, which can be confusing at first. But Dominican Republic volunteer opportunities will help you quickly get used to (and dare we say enjoy?!) it, and appreciate how spontaneously things can work out. Funnily enough, the Dominican public transportation, a system of guaguas, is often more punctual than European trains.
The mentality and point of view of this culture is also different in terms of gender equality. Female volunteers experience catcalling and more attention than they may be used to, which can be an annoyance, but not a threat. This gives them an extra level of awareness of both the culture and the issues that the community faces, making the work they do even more meaningful and pertinent. With this perspective, former volunteers organized a flash mob for the movement and did workshops with the community the topic.
3. Different living conditions
Another thing that people from western countries may not be used to are the living conditions. For many volunteers, the lack of hot water in the apartments makes showering, especially in the evening, not such a pleasure. The occasional power outages and water shortages also make everyday life an additional, authentic challenge and an adventure just living here.
4. Hot and humid weather
The weather sometimes makes it quite hard to be very active and productive, with the high humidity and long hours of sunshine, but many volunteers organizations do their best to use the time in a proper way. It doesn’t take too long to get used to the heat, and weekends spent relaxing on the beach make it all worth it.
5. Distance from home
Another difficulty for volunteers in the Dominican Republic—and anywhere abroad—can be living away from home for weeks or even months. The distance from your known environment, family, and friends can be challenging during some moments of your stay. Some volunteers are living on their own and away from home for the first time, but they quickly get accustomed to life with their new roommates or host family. In this way, the group of people with whom you volunteer will truly become like family. You'll take care of each other, cheer each other up, and spend an amazing time together in the Dominican Republic.
Next steps to volunteering in the Dominican Republic
Now that you have the inside scoop, know where many volunteers choose to spend their time, and know common causes that volunteers are working to eradicate, it's time to choose who you want to volunteer abroad with! Choosing a program isn't as hard as it sounds, especially if you follow these steps:
- Decide where to go. Figuring out where YOU should volunteer in the DR is paramount. Have a short list of locations that sound ideal for your goals and skills (i.e. if you don't have experience working with animals, you might reconsider volunteering in wildlife conservation). Don't let the lack of sunshine hold you back—choose a place that's right for you.
- Pick your project. What will you become? A medical volunteer in the Dominican Republic, or a person who works as a volunteer at a Dominican Republic orphanage? Other common projects here include teaching English or construction. Do some reflection on what skills and knowledge you bring to the table, which project would best benefit from your time and energy, and how you can best maximize your impact.
- Choose from the best volunteer abroad programs in the Dominican Republic. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, program/university reputation, location, and how the project's needs match your skills. Some programs may even share info for ambassadors or past participants if you want the REAL dirt. Here are more considerations to make as you figure out how to choose the right volunteer program for you. Pro tip: You can use MyGoAbroad to compare programs side-by-side.
- Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge on travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Be sure to raise a little extra money to donate to the organization that you'll be working with. Learning how to fund your volunteer abroad adventure is essential prior to your travels!
- Get prepared! Preparing to volunteer abroad is as fun as it sounds. With the days til departure number dwindling and your excitement boiling, it can be easy to overlook the details. Lean on us to help guide you through your pre-departure process—that's what we're here for.
Are YOU ready to volunteer in the Dominican Republic?
With all these factors to consider, it isn’t an easy decision to decide where to volunteer or what you want to do. But remember: the most important thing is that you can make a difference. Whether you’re looking for job experience in managing an NGO or want to devote your time and create projects to improve the lives of Dominican community members and children!
This article was contributed by Aldeas de Paz, a volunteer-based nonprofit organization providing educational opportunities and creating a peaceful and inclusive community which nurtures mutual learning and cultural exchange.