Posted by: thoughtfulnomad | April 5, 2010


Earlier today I was browsing through some forums on Matador about volunteer opportunities abroad. One topic I came upon was “personal volunteer organization recommendations,” which promted me to write this post.

I spent a month volunteering in Lima, Peru during the summer of 2009. I had been planning to go on some sort of volunteering stint for a while, but up until last spring, I hadn’t found an organization that I could actually afford to volunteer through. (Which I thought was kind of ridiculous) In my opinion, you shouldn’t be forced to pay outrageous amounts of money to go and volunteer your time somewhere. Through much internet and bookstore browsing, though, it seemed like that’s how most programs operated. I’m not stubborn to the point where I wouldn’t pay a bunch of money to go volunteer, especially if I know the money is at least going toward something to do with the organization. In my case, though, I just didn’t have the funding to do that sort of thing. Luckily, after Google had become my best friend and my computer chair had a permanent “Kristen butt imprint” on it, I came across an organization called International Volunteer HQ.

IVHQ is based in New Zealand and run by a guy named Daniel Radcliff. Smaller programs all over the world have linked themselves to Daniel’s program; he acts as a sort of middle man. I had come across some really small volunteer organizations, but not one that was reputable and global. IVHQ was both. Volunteers have the option to work all throughout Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Plus, in many of the countries, there are different cities that you can choose to work in. For example, in Peru you had three options of where you could work: Lima, Huancayo, or Cusco. If you like smaller and more rugged mountain towns, Huancayo is your best pick. Lima is the capital and is situated right on the coast, and Cusco is up in the mountains near Macchu Picchu. Basically what I’m getting at is that by volunteering with IVHQ you have a ton of options. AND…it’s affordable. You are required to pay an application fee of a couple hundred dollars, which made me a little hesitant at first, but the fact is, IVHQ is a middle man, and the man has to have some sort of funding to help you out. Yes, you can do a lot of serious research and find some grassroot programs that don’t make you pay an application fee, but with IVHQ you get a feeling of safety and security, which I think is pretty important. Anyways, after the application fee, the actual cost of the program differs depending on where you go. Regardless, though, your money only goes toward your housing and food. In my case, I lived with a handful of other volunteers with a host family in a middle class area in Lima. We were provided with 3 substantial meals a day along with fruit and tea, juice, etc. anytime throughout the day. The family was amazingly welcoming and caring. They honestly treated every single one of us as if we were their own kid.

The organization in Lima that I worked through is called Kuyay Sonqo, and once I was in Lima, their program directors were our guides and friends. They helped us with any questions, accompanied us to our project locations, and just hung out with us if we wanted to go sightseeing, watch movies, or out to eat. In a sense, we were sort of handed over from Daniel and his staff to the directors in Lima. A really great thing about IVHQ is that they personally visit every program location and talk directly to volunteers to get feedback on how the program could be improved. I personally saw this happen while I was in Lima, which showed me that they were an extremely committed organization. They’re also currently expanding their program location list, so if you decide to check them out, look for even more options than I previously mentioned.

The time I spent volunteering was great. There were a handful of different projects to work on, so your work could easily be catered to your likes and dislikes. In Lima you could work in an orphanage, with the elderly, at schools teaching english, and at a shelter for abused girls. Weekends were free, which allowed groups of volunteers to take trips around the country. I took a short trip to a mountain town known to be a mecca for outdoor adventure type sports. I also traveled to Macchu Picchu and the Amazon rainforest. Needless to say, we spent a good deal of our time working on projects, but we had time to play as well.

If you’re looking to volunteer abroad at some point, I highly suggest looking into IVHQ. I paid well under $1,000 for a month long program, which is pretty much unheard of. The organization is reputable has a great facebook page filled with forums where you can talk to future and previous volunteers about anything from organizing vegan meals with host families to planning weekend trips. Because of this, you can travel alone to a third world country and know that you’re not getting ripped off, which does happen. (I’ve read horror stories about it)

Check out their website and let me know if you have any questions.

International Volunteer Headquarters



  1. Great Blog! I really appreciate your thoughtful comments about the IVHQ program. I will definitely be checking into it….. and will probably have some questions for you at a later time.

  2. Thanks! I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

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