Volunteer programs abound in Guatemala, but not all are created equal. If you're interested in giving something back, remember that the best schemes should be designed with their beneficiaries in mind, not just to make their participants feel good about themselves, and volunteers shouldn't join programs to do something they're not qualified for back home.
Most volunteer posts require basic or better Spanish skills and a minimum time commitment. Depending on the organization, you may have to pay for room and board for the duration of your stay. Before making a commitment, read the fine print and ask lots of questions.
Short-term placements in orphanages have been a staple of Guatemalan volunteering for years. Unicef and other child-protection organizations have pointed out the damage that can be done to children's welfare by such programs, and no reputable scheme should allow volunteers such access to children.
Lonely Planet strongly encourages those considering volunteering to do research and make informed, responsible choices. One source of information on trusted volunteer opportunities is Quetzaltenango-based EntreMundos, which works with a large variety of local NGOs that welcome skilled volunteers.
Some travelers find work in bars, restaurants and places to stay in Antigua, Panajachel or Quetzaltenango, but wages are usually barely above survival pay. If you're looking to crew a yacht, there's always work being offered around the Río Dulce area, sometimes for short trips; sometimes to the USA and further afield. Check noticeboards and online forums for details.
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