An Introduction to Argentina for Volunteers

A young girl holds up the Argentinian flag at Expanish language school in Buenos Aires.
Expanish is a Spanish-language school in Buenos Aires that also offers combined language study and volunteer work programs. Photo courtesy of Expanish.

Argentina evokes mystery, romance, and beauty. Bordered by Chile to the west; Brazil, Uruguay, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east; and Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, this is a land of sparkling lakes, snowcapped mountains, and grassland pampas peopled with gaucho cowboys, tango dancers, and urban sophisticates. Nature lovers will be hard-pressed to choose a destination: glacial lakes carved out of mountains along the border with Chile; the Iguazú Falls bordering Brazil and Paraguay, higher than Niagara and four times as wide; or the Patagonian coast, home to seals, sea lions, and penguins. City lovers will revel in the country’s baroque cafés, republican architecture, world-class steak houses, and sultry music halls.

Argentina is home to approximately 40 million people. This is an upper-middle-income country, with a gross national income per capita of US$9,740 (2011 World Bank figures). That relatively high per capita income hides the impact its roller-coaster economy (1999-2002 financial crisis, economic recovery in following years, then instability and 25 percent annual inflation by 2012) has on its most marginalized population. While the national government does not provide clear poverty figures, a recent World Bank report states that Argentina has seen the largest increase in inequality in the region over the past three decades and that there are significant pockets of rural poverty.

Few local organizations directly recruit international volunteers, but those who are looking to travel independently can find a variety of opportunities, including working with disadvantaged children, sorting cans at a food bank, serving meals in a soup kitchen, or helping out at an organic farm. Many more volunteer opportunities are available through organizations that work in multiple countries.

While there are significant pockets of poverty in Argentina due to its financial struggles, overall services and traveler amenities are highly developed (tap water is potable, health care is inexpensive and good, and risks of tropical diseases are minimal), making Argentina a comfortable choice for travelers who might be apprehensive about roughing it elsewhere in Latin America.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.