Providencia Island is part of Colombia and
is found almost literally in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Most
small Caribbean islands are highly developed, and often reliant on
tourism. However, Colombia's Providencia Island, is a relatively remote
backwater - undeveloped, untouched, and (thankfully) yet to see mass
tourism. Providencia Island offers a unique opportunity for those
interested in combining volunteer work in Colombia with a tropical
By volunteering in Providencia Island,
you'll have an amazing experience, contribute towards local
conservation and the sustainable development of a poor community and
also spend a few months living on a truely beautiful Caribbean Island
that is part of Colombia.
Volunteers work with Trees
and Reefs Foundation.
About Trees and Reefs
and Reefs Foundation was established in 1989 with the aim of
conserving the land and marine environment of Old Providence Island.
The Foundation has a variety of ongoing projects for whom volunteer
workers are required.
Trees and Reefs works closely with the
Archipelago's (governmental) environmental protection agency, Coralina. For example, Coralina
helps fund various projects operated by Trees and Reefs.
You can read about the global conservation award won by Coralina in
2010 in this article on the BBC News website. The conservation
projects that you as a volunteer would be working on have been globally
recognized as examples that set the standard for other conservation
agencies and projects to follow.
Conch Project -
the conch (see photo to the right) is a type of enormous sea snail that
is a endangered species in the waters of Providencia. Together with
Coralina, Trees and Reefs Foundation jointly runs
a project to conserve the conch and help this creature repopulate the
area. Conch farms are established to grow the conch, whose development
is closely monitored. Later the conch are released into the wild in
various local marine conservation areas. A marine geneticist or marine
biology volunteer would be particularly useful for this project.
- the lionfish are an aggressive fish native to the Pacific Ocean. Over
recent years they have become an invasive species throughout the
Caribbean, greatly damaging both the coral and native marine life
through their predatory instincts and rapid reproduction. Sadly, the
largest recorded lionfish has been found in the seas of Providencia
Island, where it is becoming an increasing threat to both the local
marine life, and the associated way of life of the local fishermen. Trees
and Reefs Foundation is part of the team of local
organizations who helps try to control the spread of this invasive
fish. Again, a marine biology volunteer could immensely help with this
Iguana Repopulation Project
- enormous iguanas are found throughout Providencia Island. They are a
threatened species as they are a traditional source of food for the
local islanders. As a means towards conservation, Trees and
Reefs Foundation helps local families develop small iguana
farms so they don't have to hunt the threatened wild iguanas.
Sustainable Permaculture /
Sustainable Agriculture Project - the foundation helps
set up pilot permaculture projects with the aim of re-educating the
young people of the island about the richness of the local soil and how
effective it can be at growing crops. Over recent decades food has
increasingly been imported into Providencia rather than being grown
locally as it traditionally was. The sustainable permaculture project
operated by Trees and Reefs tries to address this
issue and help promote sustainable agriculture amongst the 250 farmers
on the island. An expert in plant diseases and a specialist in
irrigation systems are particularly needed for this project.
Museum of Providencia Project -
Trees and Reefs is currently
establishing a museum whose theme is of the historical relationship
between the local Raizal islander and the sea. The museum will
extensively document the fascinating history and culture of the native
Raizals of the island. Old fisherman need to be interviewed, old maps
and other documents need to be discovered and investigative
anthropological and historical work needs to be carried out in both
Providencia and in London (UK) to help document the history of the
island and it's traditional links to Britain. This is culturally very
important work, and is regarded by the islanders as almost like a
counter-measure against the invented "Spanish history" that the
Colombian government attempts to invent (impose?) with regards to the
history of the island, which all the locals will tell you is thoroughly
related to Britain, not Colombia! [ed - these are my words and
interpretation, no-one elses]. Historians and anthrologists would be
particularly useful types of volunteers for this project.
- the foundation constantly develops new projects as they present
themselves. You might propose new worthwhile projects to the 10 member
directive board of the foundation. Please note that not all the
projects of the foundation have been listed above.
Types of Volunteers
Having given you some background information
about the type of work in which Trees and Reefs
is involved, you should be able to judge whether you might be able to
help in one or ideally a variety of the current projects. Volunteers
should be mature, aged at least 23, proactive
individuals who are university graduates
with an education / work experience background in any of the following
Marine Biology - the no.1 requirement for
the island is marine biology volunteers.
Coral Reef Conservation and Rejuvenation
Other specialists already noted in the
projects section eg. Historians, anthropologists, amongst others.
Placements that are part of a
university course cannot be considered. The Foundation
needs experts in their field to help improve and develop their projects.
Providencia is an English speaking island,
however it is preferred (though not necessary) that volunteer workers
also understand Spanish, the native language of distant Colombia.
Volunteer placements last for a minimum
of 3 months - very rarely will exceptions be made.
Volunteers are expected to leave behind them
a strong, relevant, long lasting, positive contribution towards local
conservation and sustainable development projects. In return, the
foundation expects to offer you a rewarding and memorable experience.
Plus, you get to live in paradise for a few months!
With whom will you be
For your volunteer work, you will be based
in the office of Trees and Reefs Foundation - the
office is beautifully located next to the Caribbean sea and just
outside of the main town of the island.
You will work alongside the Director of the
NGO, a friendly lady named Arelis Howard, who is currently the only
full time employee of the Foundation. Arelis has great experience in
local conservation and sustainable development issues having worked for
many years with Coralina, the local authority in charge of the
conservation of the local environment. Arelis has over 10 years
experience managing and working with volunteers on the island. Other
than her work as Director of the NGO, Arelis is also the manager of the
restaurant Bamboo on Santa Catalina Island. Arelis is fluent in
English, Spanish and her native Creole language. Arelis also works as a
consultant for both Coralina
and Conservation International.
Where & How
will you be working?
Your work will be based in the Foundations
office on the edge of the main town in Providencia Island. It's a
simple office but there's internet and some computers. Depending upon
your expertise, you will probably participate in regular field visits.
Please don't come with the expectation that you will be scuba diving
every other day - it rarely works out this way! You can read
about a past volunteer's experience at this blog.
Adapting to the local
To do voluntary work with the Foundation you
will need to be an adaptable, flexible and patient person. Your
background and culture is likely to be very different from the
background and culture of the local people with whom you will be
working. For example, time-keeping in Colombia (indeed throughout rural
Latin America) is very relaxed - you might arrange to have a meeting at
8am, but no-one will show up until 10am! You will need to be a flexible
and patient person to deal with scenarios that many
people from a "Western" educated background might at times find
frustrating. Things in Colombia happen slowly. Things in Providencia
happen even more slowly! You should be prepared for a slower pace of
life here, and not get frustrated when things happen slower than they
would in your own society. Having said that, you must be a pro-active
person who can make things happen when faced with obstacles that are
seemingly difficult to overcome.
& How to Apply
Volunteers will live with a local family (an
English speaking, Raizal family) and pay 900,000 Colombian pesos per
month (approx US $450) to cover the costs of all their food and
accommodation. The accommodation is simple but clean - you'll sleep
under a mosquito net, and the house where you live will have neither
air-conditioning nor hot water (neither of which are common on the
island). This of 900,000 pesos per month is higher than we would like
it to be, but the cost of living on the island is high as almost
everything (drinking water, most food, etc) is imported from the
exterior. The foundation receives limited funding and cannot sponsor
Volunteer placements last for a minimum of 3
months. Exceptionally highly qualified, genuine experts in their fields
might be able to volunteer for a shorter period of time.
Those seriously interested should send their
CV and a cover letter detailing their expertise,
and reasons for wanting to volunteer in
Providencia to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the time frame when
emailing - for how long are you available, and from when?
I'm British, I manage this website (the
internets most visited independent travel guide to Colombia), and I now
live on Providencia Island (Colombia). Here I work with Trees
and Reefs director Arelis to help her recruit volunteers for
what is a highly worthwhile foundation that does some very important
work for the island.
I can honestly say that the opportunities to
volunteer here in Providencia are unlike any I have heard of elsewhere
in Latin America - this small community of 5000 people really could use
foreign expertise to conserve it's very fragile (UNESCO Biosphere
Reserve) environment, whilst at the same time you as a volunteer get to
spend months living on a tropical paradise Caribbean island.
In the past I myself have worked as a
volunteer in many parts of Latin America - so I know what you, as a
potential volunteer, expect. For the last 6 years, I have recruited
volunteers for the Ecuadorean NGO CRACYP
and the Piedra Blanca Community Ecotourism Project,
volunteers who have helped contribute towards various sustainable
development and ecotourism projects in Ecuador. Recently, I have
started recruiting volunteers to work in Providencia. I won't
personally be organising your volunteer placement here in Providencia -
your placement will be organized by Trees and Reefs.
I simply do the initial recruiting and put relevant candidates in touch
with the Foundation. If you prefer to skip me out and go straight to
the foundation just say so - but remember I'm here to help, and to
judge whether the placement would be suitable for both you and the