Yes, we are a new organization, so the following answers are based on personal experience as a volunteer. I hope you will find what you are looking for, but if not, please feel free to contact us or send an email to email@example.com
Why would I want to be a volunteer? Because it´s cool! Volunteering is at once rewarding, challenging and fun. You will get to meet a variety of interesting people and forge long lasting friendships. You will get the opportunity to use your skills, or learn new ones to really make a difference to a community that needs your help.
What sort of work would I be doing? If you are not familiar with Earthbag Building, then you will learn everything there is to know about this great method of building. Among other things, you could be mixing dirt, filling the bags and placing them, build an entire house or a dry toilet. We also do a lot of dirt plastering, and build cob furniture. There is always digging foundations, doing carpentry, painting murals and artwork. It all is a lot of work, but very stimulating and rewarding, and it keeps you in shape!
You may also have to work directly with the people at the communities, since we focus on the needs of the community, working closely with local people to see what they need. At first we will be doing small projects, like houses and orphan homes, dry toilets and others structures.
How much does it cost? Unlike a lot of other volunteer organizations we don’t charge a participation fee. I am trying to get founding so that we will be able to offer accommodation, but as today, you will have to cover your food and living expenses while in San Cristobal. I do have a kitchen that you can use and thus save g a good deal of money. When working in a community, the people there offer the food and a place to sleep.
Other expenses? It will basically depend on your life style. A set menu in a "Fonda" will cost you about $30 pesos ($2.50 us). Better restaurants go for about $60 - 70 pesos ($5 - 6 us). Beer cost $15 - 25 pesos ($1.50 2.50) at the pubs, but a "caguama" (1 liter) is only $18 pesos ($1.50 us). You will have to pay about $70-150 pesos ($7 -12 us) per night at hostels. A monthly rent goes for about $800 - 1500 pesos ($60 - 100 us) for a room in a shared house.
What sort of people are you looking for? We are looking for people who are enthusiastic, hard-working and who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. Of course, any construction or trade skills are useful, but all volunteers will be able to get in, learn new skills and help to build something that will really change someone’s life. People of all walks of life and all ages 18 and up are welcome and encouraged to come here and help the people in Chiapas.
Is there a minimum stay? Yes. We are looking for people that can stay at least for two weeks. You see, all help is good, and we have to adapt to the volunteers we get, but the longer you stay the better. Long stays help to build better teams and also to learn more and better the tricks of the trade.
What is a typical day? Work at a community usually starts early. We normally start at 6:30 am, and finish by 2:00 pm with a half an hour break for lunch at 9:00. At the communities it is normal to have a light coffee just before 6:00, breakfast at 9:00, and lunch around 2:00, and dinner around 7:00 pm. In my case, I continue working after lunch on "lighter" things that need to be done. We work Mondays through Fridays and a half-day on Saturday. You can have Saturdays off if you wish to do sightseeing.
Where do I stay? As today, I can only offer lots of clean floor space at my house in San Cristobal for you to lay your sleeping bag. Eventually, we will have real beds and later a house for volunteers. Please check the packing list below to ensure you have what you need to set yourself up comfortably. When we work in a community, the people provide a basic place to sleep, but do not expect too much.
Not comfortable with our set-up? If you would prefer to stay elsewhere, you are still welcome to volunteer with us during the day and be part of our volunteer community—the house would still be your base for meals, meetings, hanging out, etc. There are several accommodation options in the area starting from $70 pesos for a dorm bed; $150 pesos get you a single simple room.
How about the food? You will have to take care of it. There are many little supermarkets and fresh produce outlets around town. You can cook at my house. San Cris is a very cosmopolitan town; there are all sorts of restaurants. You can find organic, vegetarian, imported food, etc. In the communities, the food is offered by the people. It is generally very basic: beans, rice, eggs, soup, tortillas, coffee and cookies.
Do I need to be able to speak Spanish? No. It is not a problem if you don’t speak any Spanish, however, knowing at least the basics will make your stay easier and more rewarding, as you will be able to interact more easily with the local people and Spanish-speaking volunteers. We ask that you try to learn the phrases on our Basic Spanish Phrases page before you arrive and print our list of Work Site Vocab, as many of the work we do is with community people who only speak Spanish. I really recommend Assimil language methods. A little bit of Spanish goes a long way here.
How do I get there? San Cristobal is a well know town. There is an airport in Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas and a shuttle service from there (1 hour). There are many good value bus services. A trip from Mexico City or Cancun would cost $350 - $900 pesos. It is a very long ride though. There are many people arriving here on route from Cancun, Guatemala or Oaxaca, breaking the trip here and staying for long time. Be sure to get in contact with us.
What will the weather be like? San Cristobal lies at 2200 meters above sea level. Summer is wet and fresh. Winter is sunny and cold (7 degrees Celsius). Spring and autumn are great, sunny and cool. However, the communities where we work are located in lower valleys. There it can be very hot during the summer, but pleasant during winter.
Are there any health issues I should be concerned about? Please read up about all of the common infectious illnesses and ailments that are a risk to travelers coming to this area. It is important that you have had all the necessary travel vaccinations recommended for visiting Mexico. Your doctor can advise you of these.
There are no mosquitoes in San Cristobal, but in the communities is a different ball game, since the numbers rise when the weather warms up, so it’s a good idea to pack insect repellent and a mosquito net. The sun is intense and there is little cover, so it’s sensible to bring high factor sunscreen and a good hat. You will need to ensure you drink enough water during the day, especially when you’re working hard. If you bring your own water bottle, which is always useful, make sure to bring a method to purify the water, as tap water here is not potable. Please read travel health advisories when deciding what immunizations and medical supplies you will need. We strongly advise that you ensure your tetanus is up to date. Please note that we do not carry insurance; volunteers should purchase travel insurance from a reputable agency and also check whether it will cover you for manual labor.
How safe is it? There have been some incidents of pick pocketing and mugging in the city, as there are in many other places in Mexico. In general San Cristobal is very safe, but all normal precautions apply. Again San Cristobal is a very cosmopolitan town. There are many foreigners living here either permanently or temporarily. It is a touristy town and local people are used to see all sorts of characters. In the communities is also pretty safe. For example, at the Lopez-Hernandez community, my room has no key, and nothing has ever been stolen.
How do I call home (or send an email)? There are plenty of internet cafe shops in town, with Skype. I do have an internet connection at home. In the communities, it can be a little more problematic, but if there is coverage, you may use my computer to send an email.
How should I bring my money? There are ATM machines and money-changers all over. However, it is advisable to think about bringing something as a backup, as cards get broken and lost.
What about Visas? Mexico works under a reciprocal visa system with many countries. Still, citizens from most "developed" countries do not need a visa to enter the country. It is possible to get extensions and arrange longer stays. Please check for particular countries.
What should I bring?
Good work gloves
Good Work Boots
Passport + copies
Credit/ debit cards and cash
Sun hat/ cap
Sweaters or sweatshirts
Spanish phrase book, textbook or dictionary
What can I bring as a donation if I have extra room? Since we are a new organization, there is great need for tools and equipment. It would be great if you could bring something from our letter to Santa. Please, consider also making a direct general donation which will be used directly for a specific project. 100% of your donations go to the work in Chiapas.
What if I forget anything? You can buy almost anything you need in San Cristobal. Shopping is an interesting experience at the public market here in town.