If you’re feeling adventurous, consider a volunteer trip to Bolivia, a country with such distinctions as the World’s Most Dangerous Road, the World’s Largest Salt Flat, and the Largest Lake in South America. Toss in sky-scraping Andean Mountains, dense Amazon rainforests, and the Atacama Desert, and you’re in a quandary over what to pack. The climate is as varied as the landscape, so it’s best to start in one locale, and then buy the gear you need for your next quest.
The culture of Bolivia is also a treasure – it is an anthropologist’s dream with the largest population of indigenous people in South America. People here come from many ethnic backgrounds, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans, Asians, and Africans. And the country recognizes 36 official languages besides Spanish! The archaeological opportunities are great as well, with Incan ruins to explore and lost sites waiting to be discovered.
Bolivia is a paradise for the naturalist too, with myriad birds, fish, animals, and insects that dazzle the imagination. New species are still being discovered there. Madidi National Park is regarded as the most biologically diverse protected area in the world. Named after a local ant species, the park was created in 1995 to protect the country’s diversity. It’s reckoned that two-thirds of Bolivia’s biodiversity resides here.
With so many exciting adventures awaiting you in Bolivia, why should you volunteer there? The simple answer is this: Bolivia is a country with huge potential, but it’s also one of the poorest nations in South America, and this has a huge impact on families.
In 2014, Bolivia passed a controversial law that allows children as young as 10 years old to work for themselves and their families. Because of this, the government – as well as NGOs and educational organizations – are still struggling with how to protect children from abuse and exploitation. It’s a tradition of poverty that leads many children to work, dropping out of school at a young age. It’s a social problem that’s so prevalent, it’s almost invisible.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Despite its poverty, Bolivia is one of the top three safest countries in Latin America. In the last 50 years the Bolivian population has tripled to about 11 million people. Bolivian culture is influenced by the Quechua, the Aymara, and other popular cultures of Latin America. It divides its cultural development into three periods: pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Republican.
Before the Spanish colonized the area in the 16th century, the Andean region was part of the Inca Empire. Major archaeological ruins in Bolivia are Tiwanaku, El Fuerte de Samaipata, Inkallaqta, and Iskanawaya.
The Spanish introduced their traditions during the Colonial period, which evolved into a distinctive art and architectural style thanks to native and mestizo builders and artisans, known as “Mestizo Baroque.” Bolivia also enjoys a rich folklore tradition, and folk music is vastly popular.