The UK is much less prominent in south America than in other key parts of the developing world such as Africa and India. I was pleased then to be able to make contact with the Otra Cosa Network – http://www.otracosa.org/ a UK registered charity that brings together a number of community based organisations in the north of Peru. I spoke to Juany Murphy, the programme’s international officer, about their work and the opportunities – both volunteering and internships - they offer for people wanting to get some international development experience.
What kind of organisations are in the network? A whole range – everything from farming, construction, schools, crèches, social work projects– and there is even a charity that deals with stray dogs. So volunteers could be helping grow coffee or sugar in a remote Andean village or the social work placements could be with a youth offender project or a kindergarden.
What kind of skills do people need? Well again we have a range of requirements. Some people come who are looking to get practical experience as part of their professional psychology or social work training, for example. Other volunteers are at an earlier stage of their career and just want to get some developing country experience.
How do you respond to people who criticize NGOs for taking on unqualified people to work in the developing world? For example working with children in a way that would not be allowed in the UK? Well we do have volunteers with really relevant qualifications – for example social work student who can work in a professional way with vulnerable single parents or psychology students who can work with children who may have been abused. At the same time we do have positions for people without these kind of skills and qualifications. And yes, it is different from the UK. Honestly, we don’t have the luxury of recruiting only professionally qualified people – we have 12 creches that look after children from 6 months to 3 years. This liberates mothers to earn money, to get education, to have better lives. We need volunteers sometimes to just be an extra pair of hands. We wouldn’t expect those volunteers to be involved in substantial decision making issues.
How much does it cost? Well we made a decision to make the admin fee as affordable as possible so we anything up to 3 months only costs £150. Of course volunteers will need to find some money for food and accommodation – though some of our programmes include that and, of course, flights. Otherwise we recommend that volunteers set aside £100 per month for accommodation and £80 a month for food. So for three months volunteers should budget £650. By the way the accommodation can be either with local families or we also have some more independent living accommodation with some programmes. (See below for administration fees for longer stays)
What else should people know about the schemes? Well some students might be interested to know that some programmes can also count towards a UK degree and we have agreements in place with a number of UK universities such as UEA and UEL. Alongside the work students on certain programmes can attend Universidad Nacional de Trujillo – one of Peru’s best universities, founded by Simon Bolivar. In terms of timing most programmes are available to start any time of the year but there are restrictions on some programmes. For example the schools is from March to December with January and February being the summer holiday. The Tourism Agency runs from March to October (to avoid the rainy season). The Coffee Farm programme runs from May to December. And there is even a Surfing School – this runs from October to May. The other 17 projects run all year round
Do volunteers need to speak Spanish? Some of the programmes will need you to have basic Spanish but some don’t need any. It would be a great way to start developing your Spanish language skills. Through our language programme; you can have an exchange “intercambio” with a local person. It is a good way to become friends with the locals as well as improving your Spanish.
Here are the fees for longer stays:3-6 months: £200; 6-9 months: £250; 9-12 months: £300. Please refer to the website for full prices