For those able to spare the time and energy, volunteering in South America is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. One can participate in various programs with little or no Spanish (and even learn Spanish whilst there at low cost). Volunteers can stay from as little as one week.
Searching for volunteer opportunities in South America produces hundreds and hundreds of results. Sadly the vast majority are sites demanding extravagant amounts of money for short-term placement. Even sadder is that much of the money never reaches the children. Sonrisas en Peru will only list credible organisations with a track record of providing benefits to the local community as well as providing a volunteer experience at a reasonable cost.
Westfalia Orphanage is an orphanage located in the beautiful mountains of Cieneguilla about an hour and a half from downtown Lima, Peru. It provides housing, education, and psychological assistance to children with serious emotional development problems, who have suffered a state of material and moral abandonment. The orphanage houses around 100 children and they welcome volunteers when possible. Knowledge of Spanish is a must.
Aldea Yanapay is a small organisation in Cusco, Peru providing school care for children as well as a service to children in police detention. The organisation has a wonderful philosophy and volunteering is totally free. You have the choice to live in the volunteer house, at the Yanapay hostel owned by the organisation (profits go into the school), or seek out your own accommodation.
I volunteered at Yanapay for several months and it is a very worth-while positive organisation. Cusco is a fun, and beautiful ancient city located close to Machu Picchu.
For further information visit www.aldeayanapay.org