Travel to Central America and to the lively resort town of Playa del Carmen situated right on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea in Mexico to volunteer with special needs children.
You will be working alongside one of our esteemed partners, The Integral Care Centre, assisting children and young people with special needs with their different therapies and activities, learning about horse therapy, as well as aqua and physical therapy.
Participating in this project, you will play a key role in helping to empower children with special needs. Ranging from the delivery of basic to advanced education and teaching basic life skills, you will help with the integration of people with special needs in day-to-day activities. Consequently, this project covers a range of diverse and exciting activities.
If you do not speak Spanish, don’t worry! This programme provides you with an excellent opportunity to learn a new language and work with children at the same time. Please note, unless already fluent, you will be required to take 20 hours of Spanish lessons. If you opt for staying longer than 8 weeks, you have an option of doing an extra 80 or 120 hours of Spanish lessons, please speak to your Country Expert for more information.
Immerse yourself in a tropical paradise; experience a different and fascinating country, culture and way of life; support disadvantaged children; feel safe in the knowledge you will be making a serious and measurable impact in the community; live with volunteers from all over the world; participate in a range of different activities; immerse yourself in the Mexican culture; exploring the beaches, jungles and cenotes of the incredible Yucatan peninsula.
"As the first volunteer to work on the new healthcare program, I was excited to visit the special needs school to learn how it runs. During my stay, I was able to be involved in the center’s equine therapy and music therapy programs as well as private therapy sessions. At the request of the school staff, we created learning materials so the staff can teach road safety and assisted with initiating a clothing drive to raise funds for the school. I think it’s very exciting for GVI to be initiating this program to assist in providing the best opportunities to these children. I look forward to following the GVI blog to see how this program develops!"
These updates cover all programs in this location
So what does Life on the Project actually involve? See below for an idea of what to expect on a day to day basis…
Your initial days on the project will be taken up with some basic training prior to carrying out any activities with the children.
Depending on the duration of your stay, you will be working six days a week, assisting the staff of The Integral Care Centre a couple of times a week, as well as physical and aqua therapy in different venues around Playa del Carmen. The rest of the day will be spent preparing the following day’s activities, preparing resources, taking Spanish lessons or enjoying a well-deserved break if all the above has been completed!
Typical daily tasks can include entertaining and playing with the children; preparing and cleaning the school; assisting local staff prepare teaching material and resources; teaching basic education concepts to some of the children; assisting in musical and physical therapy; and, preparing and walking the horses. If you have the required skills and you are staying for a longer duration (minimum 8 weeks), you will also learn how to conduct horse and physical therapy.
Working with children can be physically and emotionally demanding, however, it is very rewarding and the project achieves a good balance between a range of volunteer work activities and downtime.
Days off are free for you to explore and enjoy all the amazing sights that the Riviera Maya has to offer, such as visiting Tulum, Coba or Chichen Itza ruins, swimming in cenotes, or just relaxing on the white sands beaches of Playa del Carmen.
Field Conditions & Accommodation Upgrades
Your accommodation will be in a house or apartment, shared room and bathrooms with access to hot running water and electricity. If you would prefer to stay in private accommodation while on this project, this location does offer upgrades. Contact us for more information, or mention to your Country Expert who will be able to assist you.
What's Not Included
The horse therapy centre that you will volunteer in was established by a group of parents wanting to provide high quality therapy to people with disabilities with a view to teach them how to be more independent and productive citizens.
This is done through a process of knowing each child’s needs and providing an adequate therapy, providing formal education following the regular school curriculum, and motivating the integration of artistic and recreational activities as well as training the parents on how to give the therapies.
You will be assisting the horse therapy centre staff in Playa del Carmen on the different activities they do from preparing class resources to organising games and if you are staying for longer, to provide equine therapy and complementary therapies to people with special needs focusing on the most vulnerable social groups.
The aim of this centre is to contribute to the integral development and ease their incorporation to normal day to day activities. You will play a key role in this as the centre is run with very few staff.
How this project makes a difference
People with special needs are individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be mental, physical or psychological.
In Mexico, 5.1% of the population suffer some type of disability and are often discriminated in schools and work placements. They require special attention and therapy in order to interact more comfortably with other people. This can be very expensive in private schools or clinics, and governmental authorities lack sufficient resources to provide adequate and long-term treatment to this sector of the population. Together with Save the Children, GVI provides these communities with the necessary assistance and resources.
What's Not Included
Volunteering with GVI not only allows you to participate in programmes assisting disadvantaged communities or endangered ecosystems, but it also offers wonderful opportunities to travel in the local area in your downtime or further afield either before or after your programme. Many decide to travel after volunteering, solidifying the lifetime friendships established during the programme.
Our long-term field staff are a great source of advice and are here to help you make the most of your time abroad. Remember to ask about discounts on local activities and side trips through your association with GVI. Our Yucatan field teams have helped us put together the following information on trips and travel options in Mexico!
Optional Side Trips
As a large and vibrant country, Mexico can seem daunting at first, but here are a few ideas to get you going in the Yucatan Peninsula on your weekends off:
In this region, you are spoilt for choice in the number of opportunities to explore a stunning underwater world. You could start with snorkelling with turtles of all sizes in Akumal bay, where they are protected and come to feed; dive or snorkel within the unique cenotes (the underwater river systems); dive Cozumel, where the wall dives along the island have been voted as part of the world’s best top ten diving locations; or, for a full weekend, try Isla Holbox, a small island off the north of the peninsula. It’s a beautiful, tranquil place, great for a quiet weekend away. Whale sharks (the world’s largest fish) migrate up near the island from June to September and snorkelling alongside them while they filter feed is a truly breathtaking experience!
Alternatively, if you are looking for a break from the water, make your way to Río Lagartos where flamingos flock and river crocodiles abound; visit Bacalar – known as the lake of seven colours due to the various shades of blue; or visit prime breeding areas for the hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and green turtle (May to October).
Immerse yourself in the surviving Mayan culture of the area and visit remote and untouched Mayan archaeological sites, such as the famous and easily accessible sites of Tulum and Coba, or visit the beautiful and majestic Mayan ruins of Palenque in the Chiapas region. And finally, the colonial city of Mérida is the peninsula’s cultural capital and the local artisans of Izamal will be sure to offer you some souvenirs of your trip.
Further Travel Opportunities
If you want to travel throughout the rest of Mexico either before or after your time with us, there is more than your fair share of interesting places that are well worth a visit. Take a trip to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and experience lowland tropical forests and have an opportunity to try and seek out threatened species; the island of Espíritu Santo offers kayaking with whale sharks (seasonal) and sea lions; if you are keen to try surfing, Puerto Escondido is rated as one of the world’s best surfing spots.
Oaxaca is a beautiful city to visit on the Pacific Coast, a colonial city with some of the nation’s most magnificent architecture, also offering several archaeological sites including the Zapotec ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Further south, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, is definitely worth a visit. Colourful buildings, historical architecture, and impressive nearby ecological sites with fun activities will easily keep you entertained for days.
Neighbouring countries to the south, Guatemala and Belize offer something different yet again. In Belize, island hop all the way down the coast, stopping to dive the Blue Hole, another world-class dive site. Guatemala can be reached easily by bus and offers everything from the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Antigua, to volcanoes, the beautiful Lake Atitlan, adventure sports such as mountain biking, and the majestic Mayan ruins of Tikal.
If you do decide to spend time travelling through Central America, make sure to allow yourself time to take it all in, because this region will pull you in and not let go!
Meet Daniela, our awesome base manager in Playa del Carmen. She is passionate about working with kids and being involved in education in Mexico, her home country. Daniela has a degree in psychology and obtained her Masters in psychoanalysis, which facilitates her with the interaction with kids and volunteers.
Her volunteering journey started out when she joined GVI on our National Scholarship Program and now she has returned to the field to continue making a difference. Daniela worked as a therapist with adolescents with addictions and as a teacher of a special need school and being with other human beings is her speciality. She has travelled to many places abroad and she also used to be a professional dancer for a few years of her life to pay for some of her studies. "I trained in a circus, from acrobats to juggling, I wasn’t really good but the family you get to know there is amazing."
Meet Olivia, our fantastic community officer in Playa, Mexico. She was a volunteer in a Animal Shelter in San Antonio, Texas. She then started working as a Intake Coordinator for the City.
She loves traveling, learning new things, being on the move and meeting new people. Her favourite part about working with GVI is helping others, making a difference in the world, meeting new people and the opportunity of traveling to another countries.
Meet Friso, our sensational science officer in Pez Maya, Mexico. He has backpacked through Australia for 6 months, travelled in South-East Asia for a total of about 3 months. He's spent 5 months on Curacao, Dutch Antilles, and 3 months in Indonesia (Sulawesi and Borneo) for research projects. He Lived and studied in New-Zealand for 6 months and spent another month as a volunteer in a resort in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
He has a Bachelor degree in Earth Sciences and Master degree Limnology & Oceanography at the University of Amsterdam. He is also a PADI Divemaster and thus member of PADI Pro’s.
What he loves the most about GVI is firstly, the people, who he works with at the moment and secondly, practically living on a beach and having an amazing coral reef right on his doorstep is pretty great!
Community Field Staff
Meet Kopa, our Kenyan born Community Field Staff Member in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This ambitious African studied Community Health and Development at the African Institute of Research and Development studies. It was GVI’s objectives and sustainable projects that first attracted him to join our team.
Kopa joined GVI in 2012 as a valued staff member in Kenya. Here he put his skills and knowledge to work and managed to upgrade a new health project to a standing one. Kopa, or Doctor as his friends call him, also worked with PSI (Population Services International) for 15 months and with the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health for 4 years.
Kopa is crazy about Zanzibar’s golden beaches and apparently he is quite the multitasker - he can make sounds from his mouth and whistle at the same time! Living in Mexico, he is having the time of his life, meeting different people with different cultures from all parts of the world!
Director of Programs
Meet Danny, our Director of Programs. Although he’s based in Playa del Carmen, Danny oversees the development and running of all of our field operations. He started out with GVI as our Country Director in Mexico and quickly became an invaluable part of the team.
Although being Director of Programs is a pretty demanding job, Danny manages to find time to do the other things he loves in-between. He’s an avid photographer and is always training for a triathlon or ironman.
What’s Danny’s favourite aspect of his job? “Starting new projects – we get lots of request for assistance and it’s difficult to decide when funds are limited. The evaluation process and those initial talks with local partners are very interesting. Seeing projects grow from an idea to full programs is very exciting. I also love the relationships you create with local organisations, they become friends and we jointly work to achieve the project aims.”
Andrea Ezeta Watts
Meet Andy, one of the Science Officers and also one of our newest staff members in Pez Maya Marine conservation program. Andy holds a degree in Biology and is a certified Dive Master and boat driver. Originally from Mexico city Andy worked in a Science communication office, where she was in charge of designing board games, writing TV scripts and collaborating in a radio program.
Meet Andrea or Andy as she is affectionately known around the Pez Maya hub. She is one of our awesome Science Offers, is a certified Dive Master and holds a degree in Biology. Originally from Mexico City, she used to work in a Science Communication Office, where she was in charge of designing board games, writing TV scripts and colloborating in a radio programme.
Lucky for us, Andy got fed up with her life in the city and started looking for a way to develop her biology skills in the field. She came across GVI and volunteered as one of our National Scholarship participants. Having impressed everyone by the end of the programme, Andy was offered a temporary staff position on our turtle monitoring programme and is now the newest edition to our growing team in Mexico.
Andy is also a professional fencer! She has travelled the world competing in international tournaments and was one of the best fencers in Mexico before she retired. So if you fancy testing your fencing skills while visiting our Pez Maya base, don't forget to challenge her to a friendly dual!
Meet Kerry, our IDC Staff Instructor in Pez Maya, Mexico! Kerry's diving adventure began in 2008 in Coffs Harbour, Australia, where she managed a hostel with an onsite dive shop. After attempting a 9-5 lifestyle, Kerry decided the ocean was calling and joined our Divemaster Internship in Mexico. She completed her work placement at XTC, which led onto her completing her Instructor Development Course as well!
Kerry went on to use her qualifications to work as an instructor at a PADI Career Development Centre in Vietnam, where she progressed to an IDC Staff Instructor whilst managing two of their dive centres.
Since leaving GVI it was always Kerry's aim to return as a staff member and we are thrilled to have her back! "I am excited to see many new Divemasters and Instructors as a result of these internships and see them on the road towards an exciting and rewarding career path."
Meet James, a certified Dive master, EFR Instructor and a graduate in Environmental Science. James is our base manager and a very skilled boat driver, teacher and maintenance guy at our Marine conservation program in Pez Maya, Mexico!
Before joining GVI James worked with various NGO’s around the World and has even lived in Madagascar! “It’s such a massive country! There’s so much to do and see and the biodiversity on land and in the ocean is incredible!”
What’s James’s favourite aspect of his job? “The point when volunteers have been here for a few weeks and start to remember the names of things in the sea, seeing that extra bit of excitement when they see something and can name it – that’s when I know I’m doing my job right.” The most interesting discovery up to date was when he found an anchor which they have lost a few months previously, with a fairly large octopus attached underneath.
Random fact about our James, he can sing All The Countries of The World by the Animaniacs! Make sure you request a rendition when you visit our Pez Maya hub!
Meet Alejandro, our logistics coordinator in Playa del Carmen. He started out with GVI as one of our National Scholarship Program participants in 2007. With a degree in Tourism Management and a passionate commitment to improving our world, we just had to keep him!
Alejandro’s favourite aspect of his job? Our Partners. “The opportunity to partner with organisations that share our goal to make the world better is amazing, also seeing the way volunteers connect with the children and the huge effect they have on their development, even over a short period of time. They’re a great resource for the children’s education.”
When he’s not working, Alejandro likes to explore the local area, visiting the Mayan ruins and national parks, or relaxing at the beach.
Meet Lluvia, our Country Director for Mexico. With a history in environmental education, she initially joined GVI as a participant in our National Scholarship Programme, and we just couldn’t let her go!
Lluvia is a qualified Dive Master and Biologist, who she spent 3 years working as field staff and base manager in Pez Maya.
Her favourite experience since she joined GVI? Diving with dolphins. ”We were on our way to a dive site when a pod of dolphins came along and started jumping in and out of the water alongside the boat. They stayed with us for the entyre dive, getting really close and were looking at us. It was of course, my best dive ever!”
What does Lluvia think volunteers contribute to the projects? “The work that the volunteers do is extremely important; if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be able to run the projects. The different activities they do like collecting data on the reef, delivering environmental education lessons, helping out running the toy libraries, all help our partners to achieve their goals.”