We'll kick off your adventure with a week in Monterrico including both Spanish classes and volunteering.
You'll have 3 x 45 minute Spanish lessons every day from Monday to Friday. These will usually be in the mornings after breakfast from 09:00-11:45, but occasionally will be scheduled for the afternoon to facilitate access to schools where a lot of our volunteer activities will be focused. These lessons will be tailored to suit all levels, from beginner to intermediate, and are designed to help you interact with the local community.
In addition to the Spanish lessons, we have about 3 hours volunteering each day Monday to Friday. During the weekend we also have one ½ day volunteering activity keeping the local kids (and ourselves) busy with some fun activities!
Our volunteering activities are structured to engage with the local community through 6 local junior schools (reaching 400+ kids in total). An ‘umbrella’ project has been developed whereby kids accumulate stamps for 6 different ‘activity types’ during the year. As a reward, at the end of the year up to 30 of the most enthusiastic junior volunteers will enjoy a trip to Pacaya volcano and Antigua! Our job is to motivate them by effective communication in the schools and timetabling activities - with fun stuff tagged on. Our main objectives are:
Monterrico is actually an island enveloped in a mangrove forest whose sweet waters nurture much vegetation and wildlife. There are two types of Mangrove and these are being degraded by caustic runoff from the sugar cane industry and some commercial harvesting for construction purposes. To ensure the Mangrove remains healthy and continues to support a vibrant and diverse eco system we maintain a forest nursery - planting trees, collecting saplings and helping to dispose of rubbish.
Beach Conservation & Coastal Cleanup
Plastic inputs are highest in rapidly developing countries - which also have some of the lowest waste collection rates in the world. Without effective waste collection an avalanche of plastic debris is entering our oceans causing harm to people and wildlife. We organise fun games and events on the beach with local kids and take this opportunity to have cleanup events where everyone gets involved. But, like all good things, it’s an on-going battle and volunteers are needed to keep up the good work with weekly beach clean-ups.
School Premises Upgrades (Light Construction)
We are committed to improve local school facilities. It may be as simple as painting a classroom or upgrading a basketball or soccer pitch, or it could be to upgrade bathroom units.
We will oversee separation of waste so that plastic bottles can be filled to create eco blocks that can be used in construction and upgrading of school facilities.
Teaching Kids to Swim
As is typical of many coastal communities around the world, many kids here do not have formal swimming lessons. We will schedule times when kids can learn to swim in a pool based environment.
In week 2 we move a few kilometers up the coast to ARCAS for a residential volunteer placement. ARCAS is a wildlife rescue & conservation association supported by the Guatemalan government with a primary objective to protect the regions most important seas turtles and to help ensure conservation of the last remaining mangroves in Guatemala.
Turtle Conservation & Research
Animal rehabilitation efforts focus on yellow naped parrots, orange-fronted parakeet, sweet water turtles, iguanas, the occasional caiman and pelican, and of course sea turtles - Olive Ridley (approx. 90%), Green and Leatherback. There are three ‘hatcheries’ at Hawaii beach (3 km from Monterrico), where volunteers will be based and a further one a little way up the coast at Rosario. Each hatchery can contain up to 200 nests; last year 80,000 eggs where incubated of which 80% hatched.
The official turtle season, including nesting, on the Pacific coast runs between June 1st and end of January and towards the end of the season, only baby turtles will be seen by volunteers. In the first few months of each new season, generally only nesting adult turtles are seen. The non-turtle months are February - April, but there is still a lot of work to be done in preparation for the new nesting season, as well as community projects, which run all year round.
You’ll be protecting the eggs and hatchlings of Olive Ridley, Green and Leatherback species, who visit this intensive nesting beach at night to nest. In Guatemala it is still legal to collect and sell turtle eggs. However, ‘Parlameros’ as the fishermen are called are obliged to give 20% of their catch to ARCAS in return for a receipt that certifies that they are permitted to sell the remaining 80% of their catch.
This makes it especially important for our volunteers on night patrols to spot turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs and mark the nest before the Parlameros mark the nest! The relationship between Parlameros and ARCAS is surprisingly friendly and cooperative however, and there are never conflicts regarding who spots and marks a nest first.
You will work between 6-10 hours per day (07:00-17:00) from Monday to Friday and 12:00-17:00 on Saturday only (time is subject to change). Your tasks include maintenance of infrastructure and surroundings, beach cleaning, night patrols to look for nesting female turtles (in season), transport of food and water, collection of data and releasing baby turtles into the ocean (in season). Turtles almost always nest in the dark, and on a moonless night during egg-laying season you have a good chance of seeing one in Monterrico.
Owing to the special work carried out at ARCAS the following house rules are in place:
- No mosquito repellent is to be applied for at least 2 hours running up to patrols or hatchery duty.
- No smoking is permitted near the hatchery or on patrols and ARCAS is an alcohol-free zone.
- Nobody is allowed on the beach after dark unless they are on patrol, and never alone.
- Respect hours of night patrols, and respect project coordinators, other volunteers and Parlameros.
- Please leave all tools and equipment clean and in their correct place.
Weeks 3 & 4: Volunteering in Monterrico or ARCAS
You can extend your stay up to 4 weeks, and continue volunteering either at the community project in Monterrico or working with turtle conservation at ARCAS.
Volunteers need to be flexible and keep an open mind concerning their placements as situations can arise beyond our control which could require you to be placed at a different project than the one you have initially chosen. We will of course always do our utmost to fulfill your initial wishes but do remember that where you are going is quite different from where you are coming and as such one should be prepared for things not always going according to plan.
Volunteering and intercultural travel share a common trait: the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. This program is designed for proactive individuals and groups that are prepared to adapt to the local environment and its current needs. Naturally, the scheduling and activities of our program are subject to change. Alterations in activities are mainly due to changes in local conditions, which we believe is part of what makes overseas programs the interesting adventure and incredible learning experience that they are.