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Spanish Courses & Volunteering
in Guatemala

The country with Central America’s tallest and most active volcanoes, the most impressive Mayan ruins and the largest Native American population. Welcome to Guatemala!

Information

21 projects

2-12+ weeks

From €822

Spanish Courses and Volunteering in Guatemala

EXIS language- and volunteer work program combines Spanish lessons with voluntary work in social institutions in Antigua and nearby villages, or in national parks.

Volunteering offers a unique possibility to experience the country, its culture and population from an inside view while doing a meaningful job. Volunteers must be independent, open minded, and minimum 18 years old. You can, of course also choose to follow Spanish lessons without volunteering.

Excursions

The following excusions are included in all prgrammes:

A 2 1/2 days trip to Lake Atitlan & Chichi and a half-day excursion to Pacaya volcano, including entrance fee.
A 25 USD discount to for example a roundtrip to Monterrico Beach.

Volunteering in Guatemala

If you are a beginner or at a low level in Spanish, a 4 weeks language course is normally the minimum requirement before volunteering.

You can choose to work for the Guatemalan Red Cross, at orphanages, with street children or physically and mentally handicapped, work with the elderly or in a national park. Some workplaces require a relevant education, others do not.

You will talk with the school’s coordinator during your first weeks to get a better insight into the different possibilities for work, have your questions answered and in general get ready to begin. The coordinator regularly organizes trips to voluntary work places. Not every institution accepts visitors all the time, as the staff protect children at institutions from becoming “tourist attractions.

Please note that it is only possible to work part time along with Spanish lessons if your language skills are satisfactory.

If you choose to work at a school or other educational institution, please note that these institutions will be closed from mid-December to mid-January and during Easter week. Projects such as Red Cross also close in December and January. There will be other possibilities for volunteer work at these times.
The coordinator will inform you.

There is no refund for lost class time on national holidays. The language school does not close in December, except on the 25th and 30th.

Health Care

Red Cross

Guatemala is one of Central America’s poorest countries, so Red Cross plays an important role in both health and social work.

This organization runs health clinics and ambulance services and does aid work after natural disasters and fires. Red Cross also organizes distribution of clothes to the poorest children.

Los Bomberos Municipales

The local fire department in Antigua does more than put out fires. Firemen also answer emergency calls in Antigua and surrounding areas. Volunteers are most welcome.

If you do not have a first aid course from home, you will be given one for free by the Bomberos. An interesting workplace for volunteers who are thinking about an education/career in the health or emergency response sectors.

Beware that working for the “bomberos” means you will have to follow their dress code: Blue (light or dark) jeans, white round-collar shirt without print, black shoes or black low boots, preferably military style. And if you can find one, a red baseball cap with white lining. This outfit can of course also be bought after arrival in Antigua.

Hospital Nacional Pedro de Bethancourth

This municipal hospital is in San Felipe, 5 minutes drive from the center of Antigua.

Hermano Pedro

“Hermano Pedro” is a state hospital for physically and mentally handicapped children and youngsters in the middle of Antigua. There are about 500 children at this hospital, who cannot live at home because of their severe handicap.
As a volunteer you will be able to work with undernourished babies and mentally handicapped of all ages.
The children need care and stimulation. You can choose to work during the mornings or afternoons.

Puesto de Salud

Small local public clinics running vaccination programs for children, first aid, health care, consultation, dental care.
Volunteers can take part in periodical vaccination programs, visiting families together with a health worker to vaccinate the children, inform the parents about contagious diseases such as cholera and malaria, and give advice about hygiene and nutrition.

There is also an ongoing latrine building project, where manual labor is needed. The goal is to bring down the high child mortality rate, where diarrhea and stomach worms are among the worst problems.

Atkinson Family Clinic at Nuestros Ahijados

This clinic is in San Felipe de Jesus, ca. 10 min. outside Antigua. Volunteers”intern” with the doctor in charge and work directly with the patients.

Jospice Internacional San José

This hospice is in San Lucas Sacatepequez, ca. 20 min. from Antigua. It is an AIDS hospice for dying patients, children and adults, who here get a home, food, clothes medicine and attention. Volunteers with no medical background usually help with cleaning and entertain the children.

First and third-year medical students help the nurses.
Fourth year medical students “intern” with the doctors.

Consultorio Medico San Andrés Itzapa

A small public health clinic for low income families, about 30 min. from Antigua. Open consultation for common diseases and first aid. Volunteers help the clinic’s director, a registered nurse, with consultations and medical examinations.

Social Work

Camino Seguro

This project began in January 2000 at a large rubbish dump in Guatemala City. Hundreds of people live here and make their living collecting rubbish. They live in shacks of tin and cardboard, without water or electricity.
The children have never gone to school and are generally very under-stimulated.

They are given school uniforms, learning materials, a monthly food ration and school money. The children must then promise to go to school every day and do their best. Volunteer work includes help with homework, creative and artistic activities. See some comments from former volunteers on the last page.

Volunteers commute from Antigua, 1 hour by bus. Typical activities are study, play and care of the children.

Common Hope

Common Hope or Familias de Esperanza works for more than 8,000 families and children in the poorest rural areas and poorest parts of Antigua and Guatemala City.

This non-profit organization has many different programs, all with the same goal: to improve the poor families’ living conditions through education, health care, better housing, assistance and economic development. The development center consists of 6 buildings with gardens on the outskirts of Antigua – a central location for the 15 villages that receive most help.

The buildings were constructed with help from the fathers of the children this program sponsors. There is a clinic, a library, office for social workers, classrooms and a”boutique” where the donated objects are on display. Volunteers work from 8 to 17.

Tasks depend on Spanish skills, interests and abilities.

Niño Obrero

Niño Obrero means “working child”. Besides being a normal, privately owned school, this place also offers children the possibility to learn crafts, which enables them to earn money. The project helps orphans or children of very poor parents.

There is a very friendly atmosphere at this cosy little school. Children go to school in the mornings and every Wednesday afternoon they follow lessons in the nearby bakery. They also take lessons in sewing, weaving, woodworking or making candles. If you are creative and enjoy teaching handicrafts this is the right place.

The children are also interested in being taught English. As there is no money to buy teaching materials, it is a good idea to bring some manuals for teaching or ask EXIS for advice. The project is in Antigua.

Guardería infantil

A day care center for children of working mothers.
Tasks are mainly caring for the children and playing with them, as well as some teaching at the kindergarten level.

Nuestros Ahijados

This is a private institution, where poor children have the chance to learn. The institution is about 20 minutes from the centre of Antigua, in a little town called San Felipe de Jesus. The institution survives by donations from foreign sponsors. Besides teaching, feeding and supplying medicine, it also is necessary to play, sing and motivate the children, who don’t get much attention from adults.

The children are offered the possibility to follow a complete education, which gives them a better chance in life. Volunteers assist with numerous projects, and besides caring for the children, will often be involved in maintenance of the building.

Hogar de Niños Jerusalem

A home for orphans and abandoned children up to 15 years old, ca. 15 min. outside Quetzaltenango. Volunteers most often work as teaching assistants, arrange activities that support learning and help with domestic tasks.

Hogares Comunitarios

A day care center for children of working mothers and poor families. Offers food and basic education for children from 0 to 6 years.

Volunteers most often work as teaching assistants, arrange activities that support learning and help with domestic tasks.

Escuela Unión y Esperanza

This private school in Jocotenango is for children from poor families who cannot afford to send them to public school. The children get meals at the school every morning and evening.

All the parents come to the school once a month to discuss subjects such as good nutrition, discipline, teaching and more. Volunteers work in the day care center or the school, teaching the alphabet, drawing and painting, teaching English and basic computer skills and playing.

You can choose to work part- or full time.

The school depends on donations and has few resources. Volunteers need imagination and energy to create interesting teaching.

El Buen Samaritano

Day care center with about 160 children from Jocotenango, a refuge where the children feel safe and have access to education, food and medical help.

Volunteers help with planning and running daily activities and make sure the children respect homework and rules.
The center needs help with cooking and maintenance of the building.

Open Windows

Children in Sacatepequez now have a library that is sponsored by private funds and needs volunteers to help with reading, playing, assisting projects and just giving attention to children who are proud to learn to read.
Many of the children do not have any books in their homes. Their parents may even be illiterate. It is probable that no one has ever read them a story. Reading- and reference books as well as teaching materials are lent to classrooms in local schools as well. Working for Open Windows is a joyful experience.

See more at: http://www.openwindowsfoundation.com/

Environmental Work

Focus on the environment is a key to the survival of Guatemala’s wildlife. Volunteers can take part in rehabilitation and reintroduction of protected animals, re-planting of forests together with schoolchildren, clearing beaches, helping newly hatched turtles or accompanying poor children on eco-tours. Below are descriptions of 3 environmental projects.

Wildlife Rescue Center

The project is based in the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, which is located in the tropical northern Petén region by Lake Petén Itza, close to the town of Flores. Besides the abundance of biological diversity, the Biosphere Reserve also contains a wealth of discovered and undiscovered Mayan archaeological sites – the best known being the stunning temple complexes of Tikal.

Wildlife Rescue Centre’s goals are:

  • To strive for the preservation and protection of wildlife and encourage research. Here are toucans, macaws, howler monkeys, margays, ocelots, coatimundis, taras, kinkajous, jaguars, deer and iguanas
  • To rescue wild animals seized from illegal traffickers, rehabilitate and reintroduce into their natural habitats
  • To promote and assist in the creation and management of protected habitat areas for wild animals
  • To raise awareness among Guatemalans about the need to conserve natural resources through an educational program and promote economic alternatives in rural communities

Volunteers can work alongside the local communities in their efforts to protect animals and their habitat. Nearly all the animals seized from smugglers are very young, needing constant care and attention. Volunteer work will often be care and feeding. Participants can also help with the construction of cages or buildings and trail maintenance. Working Hours are from 7:00am to 12:00pm and from 15.00pm to 16.00 pm.

All volunteers stay in a house with modern facilities within the project and receive three meals a day. After your language course in Antigua the coordinator will help you to travel by bus from Antigua to Lago Petén Itzá. The distance is about 260 km.

During your free time you can hike, swim or visit the Mayan ruins of the famous Tikal and the Canopy Park. After end work stay you can catch a bus from Peten directly to the airport in Guatemala City.

Turtles, iguanas and alligators

This project covers 3 hectares of protected beach area, 2 km west of the village of Hawaii and 7 km east of the vacation town of Monterrico. Turtles are an endangered species, but the locals still collect and sell turtle eggs.

The egg-laying period follows the rainy season from June to October with the high season in August and September.
About 2 months later the newly hatched turtles are set free in the ocean. During the egg-laying period volunteers walk the beach at night and collect eggs which they rebury in special hatching areas.

During these and other periods, the volunteers also help with feeding and cleaning around the caimans and iguanas and replanting of the mangroves.

In the iguana and alligator project, the young are raised in captivity and set free in the mangrove area.
Volunteers are accommodated at the project in houses with sleeping rooms, kitchen and bathroom.

National Park

The park is half an hour’s drive from Guatemala City and is open to paying guests. It is a recreation and information area. Visitors are shown around by guides who explain why the preservation of the park, its plants and animal life are so important.

Volunteers stay with their host families in Antigua and take the bus to the park, ca. 30 – 45 minutes each way.
You can expect flexible work hours, but on Saturdays and Sundays everybody is busy because of the many visitors. You might work keeping up the paths, making banners and signs, assist teaching about the environment at local schools or guiding tours.

Language Courses in Guatemala

This program gives you the opportunity to follow intensive Spanish lessons and at the same time experience a Guatemalan family’s daily life. You can chose between the following courses:

Standard course

This program consists of 20 individual lessons per week. The teaching methods are based on the four language skills: listening, grammar, oral and written comprehension.

Intensive course

If you want to make quicker progress, you can choose to the intensive course with 25 individual lessons per week.

Super intensive course

This course is for students who want to a total immersion in the Spanish language. A crash course with 30 individual lessons per week.

If you like to dance you can combine language classes in the morning with 2 hours of professional Salsa and Merengue training in the afternoon.

Afternoon activities

  • Movies at school
  • Salsa and Merengue
  • Cooking classes
  • Discussion groups
  • Guest lectures
  • Scrabble in Spanish and other board games
  • Soccer matches, students against teachers
  • Demonstration of the typical Guatemalan weaving techniques and explanation of what the different patterns signify
  • Visits to volunteer work places, museums and Maya ruins
  • Excursions to volcanoes
  • Bicycle excursions
  • Special events, such as decorating the streets during Easter week, Christmas procession, Halloween party and more

The school doesn’t charge you for any of these – you only pay for transportation, bicycle rental and entrance tickets.
The school also organizes short and long excursions. You will receive more information in the handbook.

Spanish Courses

Standard Course with 20 lessons/week

Weeks Fees
1 €822
2 €1160
3 €1498
4 €1836
5 €2174
6 €2512
7 €2850
8 €3188
9 €3526
10 €3865
11 €4203
12 €4541

Intensive Course with 25 lessons/week

Weeks Fees
1 €880
2 €1235
3 €1591
4 €1946
5 €2302
6 €2657
7 €3013
8 €3368
9 €3724
10 €4080
11 €4435
12 €4791

Super Intensive Course with 30 lessons/week

Weeks Fees
1 €924
2 €1297
3 €1670
4 €2043
5 €2416
6 €2789
7 €3162
8 €3535
9 €3908
10 €4281
11 €4654
12 €5027

Voluntary Work and Spanish Courses

If you’re interested in other combinations of language courses and volunteering – or would like more a more intensive course type than the standard course (20 lessons/week) in the examples below, don’t hesitate to ask for fees.

Standard Course followed by Social Work/Health Work/Work in National Park

Course Weeks Work Weeks Fees
2 2 €1685
2 4 €1928
2 8 €2414
4 4 €2494
4 8 €2927
6 4 €3055
6 6 €3298
8 2 €3375
8 4 €3618

Standard Course followed by work with turtles/iguanas/alligators or in the Wildlife Rescue Center

Course Weeks Work Weeks Fees
2 2 €1879
2 4 €2268
2 8 €3045
4 4 €2831
4 8 €3608
6 4 €3395
6 6 €3783
8 2 €3570
8 4 €3958

General information

For all projects
Minimum 2 or 4 weeks Spanish lessons and minimum 2 weeks work, depending on knowledge of Spanish and choice of work place.

If you plan to have a holiday or want to travel around during your stay, it is advised to do so between the language course and voluntary work. You will be accommodated with local host families and receive full board, except on Sunday. In those cases where the projects take place in Antigua or in the nearby villages, you will continue to live with your host family. Otherwise the school will find another host family for you.

Procedure
Please fill out the application form and include a motivation letter in Spanish or English, presenting yourself, mentioning experience and your expectations of the voluntary work. If you are a medical or nursing student, we also need your CV.

Before you travel
EXIS always strives to deliver the best service, also in Guatemala, but do not expect European standards. Work is not planned ahead with charts and schedules as it is in Europe. It requires a personal effort from the volunteer to make things function optimally. Guatemala is a very poor country and we are grateful to the many volunteers who have arranged donations from companies such as LEGO in Denmark, toy shops and school suppliers. These donations are a much needed supplement to the orphanages and schools.It is a big challenge to live and work in a poor country. It demands courage, some experience and the ability to adapt. It can be overwhelming, especially at first, to have to adjust to completely new conditions and communicate in a foreign language. Things are not as you are used to, the climate, the food, the atmosphere – everything is different.

Additional note
During your work you will be faced daily with a harsh social reality and experience things a tourist never sees. To take part in the voluntary work programme, maturity, flexibility, independence and the desire to do social work are necessary.

Your rewards are your positive contribution to the lives you touch and a unique experience, an experience for life.

All “Voluntary Work and Spanish Courses” fees include

Voluntary Work

Accommodation with a Guatemalan family with full board, 3 daily meals Monday-Saturday

Language Course

Airport pickup and drop off. No drop off for volunteers working in National Parks, from where they can take a bus to the airport

N

Weekly language tests

Course certificate after completion, stating the exact level you have reached

Orientation and guided city tour

EXIS handbook before departure

Preparation for volunteer work

Participation in the school’s afternoon activities

Following extras:

N

Trip to Lake Atitlan, Chichi and Pacaya Volcano

N

Free use of internet and WIFI connection

N

Free water, tea and coffee at school

N

One weekly washing machine with 1 kg cloths

N

One free salsa and merengue tryout lesson

N

Security box

N

A ”Spanglish” T-shirt

N

Access to school library with Latin American music, games, grammar books, videos about the culture and history

 The following is not included in the fees:

  • Round trip to Guatemala
  • Vaccinations
  • Spending money
  • Course book, can be bought at school for 25 USD
  • Professional Salsa and Merengue lessons, 10 USD per hour
  • In case you enrol for two work places, an extra fee of 50 USD will be charged

All “Spanish Courses” fees include

20 individual lessons weekly

Accommodation with a Guatemalan host family, full board Monday-Saturday

N

Weekly language tests

Course certificate after completion, stating the exact level you have reached

Orientation and guided city tour

EXIS handbook before departure

Participation in the school’s afternoon activities

Following extras:

N

Trip to Lake Atitlan, Chichi and Pacaya Volcano

N

Free use of internet and WIFI connection

N

Free water, tea and coffee at school

N

One weekly washing machine with 1 kg cloths

N

One free salsa and merengue tryout lesson

N

Security box

N

A ”Spanglish” T-shirt

N

Access to school library with Latin American music, games, grammar books, videos about the culture and history

 The following is not included in the fees:

  • Round trip to Guatemala
  • Vaccinations
  • Spending money
  • Course book, can be bought at school for 25 USD
  • Professional Salsa and Merengue lessons, 10 USD per hour

The Country

Guatemala is a very beautiful and fertile country. The northern border is Mexico, with El Salvador and Honduras to the south. The country is also bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

Guatemala boasts Central America’s highest and most active volcanoes and the most impressive Maya ruins. It is the country with the largest Indian population, divided into 22 tribes. Each tribe speaks its own language. The majority of the Maya Indians still dress in the traditional styles, with colorful, homespun costumes. Each tribe has its own characteristic costume, weaving technique and special embroidery.

With its spontaneous beauty, fertility and interesting Indian culture Guatemala attracts many young travellers and tourists.

Below the surface

Below the surface of “the eternal spring” hides a harsh reality. Most Guatemalans live in deep poverty, often unable to cover their most basic needs. Child mortality rate is about 70 for 1000 births, and illiteracy is 44 percent for men and 52 percent for women.

Apart from the major social problems, the Indian population has experienced a powerful political oppression. Through the years, one military dictator after another has violently oppressed the Indian people. In protest against the dictator, and in an attempt to overthrow the regime, the first guerrilla group was formed in 1960. The guerrillas hoped the Indian population would support them, and they had some success.

In 1982 the guerrillas gained power, and controlled a large part of the rural districts. A systematic oppression by the military was started in order to crush the opposition. Whole villages were burned and many people were massacred. Over a period of two years 40,000 people were killed, 420 villages were removed from the map and 250,000 fled, amongst other places to Mexico. 1 million became refugees in their own country.

The conditions today are somewhat quieter. A civil government runs the country in a formal democratic system. A large number of refugees have returned from Mexico to plough their fields and start a new life in their native country. They hope for peace and economic improvement.

Generally speaking Guatemala is a safe place to visit and travel in. The local population is incredibly friendly and hospitable. As long as you do not get involved with politics, there’s no reason to be nervous. Guatemala is Central America’s most favoured and popular travel destination.

Seasons

Guatemala’s tropical climate gives relatively high temperatures all year round, but temperature also depends on where you are in the country. The low-lying areas and beaches are hot and humid, but temperatures in the highlands are more unstable and can swing from 30 degrees during the day down to 5 degrees at night.

In the rainy season, from May to September, the sun usually shines until 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and then torrential showers turn the streets to rivers. December and January are the coldest months, March and April the warmest. In Guatemala City the daytime temperature stays around 25-30 degrees all year. A weather forecast: http://www.weather-forecast.com/locations/Guatemala.shtml

EXIS in Guatemala

Antigua

Just before dawn you can sometimes hear the sound of horse-drawn carriages turning the corners on Antigua’s cobblestoned streets. The locals recognize the sound as ghosts of the Spanish conquistadors from the time Antigua was the capital of Guatemala.

Antigua is full of such ghosts and stories, and they are all part of the soul of a city that is known and loved throughout the world.

Antigua was founded in 1542 and today has 35,000 inhabitants. The town lies 1500 meters above sea level in a beautiful green valley, about 45 kilometres from Guatemala City. Cobblestone streets, impressive churches, palaces and colonial buildings, many in poor repair, make the town unique in Central America. Three volcanoes surround the town, and on clear days the view from every street corner is fantastic.

The climate is very pleasant. It is usually 20-25°C in daytime with the temperature falling in the late evening.
Restored colonial buildings are now used to house cafes and restaurants amongst other things. These are impressive buildings with massive wooden pillars which support large balconies and contain cozy patios with a richness of flowers and plants. You can sit for several hours over a cup of coffee, enjoying the atmosphere, observing people, writing a letter or reading a good book.

In the centre of town you’ll find the large colonial square where people from surrounding villages come daily to sell their textiles, rugs and other items.

The Sunday market in the square is an orgy of colours. Everything is sold here: from homespun fabrics in all colours and patterns, brushes, toilet paper, exotic herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers to chickens, fried rice and candy. This day the traffic is banned from the square to make room for the merchants.

Because of the unique architecture and the pleasant climate, there are a lot of tourists. This means all sorts of entertainment: places to dance, cozy cafes where travellers meet, cinemas etc. If you grow tired of brown beans and corn tortillas, there are international eating places, where everything from large fruit salads with muesli and yoghurt, to fondue and beef bourguignon, where French cheese desert and a glass of red wine is served. You will be able to meet locals here as well as other foreigners, and for a while discuss something besides Spanish verbs.

The school

The school is about 7 minutes walk from the center of town and lessons are taught in one of the airy patios. The offices and toilets, a coin laundromat, a lounge with a screen for films and a little cafeteria with free coffee, tea or mineral water, are all in the same building. The atmosphere is international, with students from all over the world. A new course starts every Monday, with arrival and airport pick-up Sunday before.

Accommodation

Your accommodation is with a Guatemalan host family. You will receive three meals a day, Monday – Saturday. You will have your own room and will share a bath and toilet. Living with a family is a unique chance for you to practice your Spanish and also get an idea of a Guatemalan family’s daily life. Most families have more than one student living in their house and live at 15 to 20 minutes walking distance from school.

Ready to go?

Reserve a spot for one of our projects in Guatemala