Saturday, December 5, 2009


Non-profit organization. What do you think of? I tend to think of an idealistic organization, a place doing good work. Ultimately, a place I’d probably like to work.

A volunteer-run non-profit. Sounds even better. And if the money supports a separate organization providing essential services to the community that’s better still. Of course I’d want to work there! Right?

In reflecting on our past work and the work we’re doing now, one common theme shines brighter than any others—all six organizations have been non-profit organizations. We certainly hadn’t planned it out this way. Well, to be truthful, we didn’t plan the trip itself, including the volunteer opportunities. But it’s cool that it has worked out this way. Both of our career paths, whatever they decide to be, could foreseeably include work with non-profit organizations. Beyond any personal benefit, familiarizing ourselves with the various organizations and subsequently critiquing them has been extremely interesting.

At the moment we’re volunteering at Project Bona Fide, a non-profit working to develop a fully organic, fully sustainable farm (i.e. a permaculture farm) on a strip of land here on the Isla de Ometepe in southern Nicaragua. Bona Fide seems perfect for us: there’s work to do; there’s farming to learn about; there are a few other, like-minded people around the place (so we’re not constantly staring at one another); and you’re done with work at noon! But we can’t unconditionally support the place. What’s the problem? Good question. Maybe it’s just the fact that we’re paying $20 a day ($10 per person) to volunteer. Maybe it’s that the food system is disorganized. Food is included in what we pay, but we don’t feel that the kitchen is amply stocked for us (Juleen asked for tea… the answer was no). Maybe it’s that the goal of the farm is unclear. After nine years under the current owner, it still depends on volunteer’s fees to stay afloat. For seeking sustainability, the farm grows an alarmingly few number of the foods it consumes. We’ve heard the owners might want it to function as an education center; however, the accommodations are rather barren.

In Leon, Nicaragua we experienced similar frustrations with various non-profit organizations. A woman representing a pro-woman’s group didn’t respect the meeting she setup with us. Consequently we weren’t able to work with the organization. A community group providing a safe place for street kids scoffed when we offered to start an afternoon class. Our attempts to assist Quetzaltrekkers were hindered by unclear expectations for management and volunteers alike.

So are we just whiney and overly critical? Well, yes. You know that. But more appears to be at play here. We’ve had great experiences and are thankful to have learned a lot through our volunteer experiences. And we’re not going to give up on them yet; we’ll keep seeking out work with non-profit groups along the way. We are surprised, though, that we cannot unconditionally recommend any of the non-profits we’ve worked with. Aren’t non-profits organizations better than this?

Next stop: corporate Costa Rica!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, non-profits can seem more appealing than they really are! While their goals are often admirable, they face the same staffing and productive issues that for-profits face, but with the added burden of raising funds to stay afloat. Sigh. Good luck though and keep looking! Have you tried working in any hostels? That might be fun...