Volunteering with The Chiapas Project is an extremely rewarding experience. Our small missions offer a unique opportunity for medical professionals, Spanish to English translators, and people with no medical background who simply want to help. Ocotepec, Chiapas is an indigenous village with no formal health infrastructure; Chiapas Project volunteers help treat chronic and acute problems, provide healthcare education, and work with the community to improve overall public health. More information on what volunteers have done in the past is available in the “Past Missions” section of this site.
Note: Volunteer forms and additional information available here.
1. Who Can Volunteer?
The Chiapas Project’s mission is to provide medical and dental care to the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico, improve public health, AND to promote volunteerism amongst young people and health care providers. Volunteers should be in average physical condition, self-motivated, and have a strong desire to broaden their horizons while helping those in need.
Medical and dental professionals (doctors, nurses, hygienists, EMT’s, paramedics, PA’s, CNM’s, dental assistants, etc) are most critically needed. All of your skills, and some that you didn’t know you had, will be utilized. You will be allowed to practice the medicine and dentistry that first got you interested in the healthcare field, knowing that there are others nearby to back you up. There are no worries about HMO’s, Medicare or overdue accounts.
Non-medical/dental volunteers serve a variety of important functions. You might spend one day as a dental assistant, the next carrying a backpack over a mountain path to an outlaying village, and the following as a cook. (Note: The cook(s) are held in very high esteem!) Your help will allow the care providers to treat many more patients than they could without your being there, and we will try to utilize any special skills or passions that you have, as well (photography, videography, education, etc). Spanish speakers are especially welcome, as they play a vital role in translating for doctors and dentists, working in triage, and explaining prescriptions in the pharmacy.
Young people, high school age and older, are encouraged to consider spending a week in Chiapas, but you must be realistic as to what you’re getting yourself into. You are expected to work along with adults. As such, you must be a strong, mature person who sincerely wishes to serve the indigenous people and to experience the superb feeling that volunteerism gives. With that said, you should know that the adults are very supportive and will treat you with the respect you deserve. It’s not a party, but we do have fun. The opportunity to interact with the local people and Mexican students has been a highlight of past trips.
2. What does the committment entail?
As was explained to Dr. Brody when he sought advice before the first trip to Chiapas from other dentists who perform volunteer work, the hardest part is making the committment to help others. After that it’s simply a matter of the details.
We travel to Chiapas for one week at a time, usually in August and in February/March. Group members should make their decision to join as early as possible, mostly to ensure availability of airline seats at a reasonable price. Volunteers are responsible for preparing themselves for the trip (having proper vaccinations, documentation, clothing, medications, etc.) as well as helping to prepare the group in general (packing, lugging, getting psyched). It must be kept in mind that we will be in a remote area for 4 days out of the week and there are inherent risks being far from emergency care. Of course, the presence of volunteer doctors mitigates the risk, but it is something to be considered.
Medical and dental professionals are encouraged to find their comfort zone, and then take three steps beyond. It is extremely rewarding, especially for non-doctors, to utilize their skills that are restricted in the U.S.
Once in Mexico, we are pretty much on our own. There are no real leaders, only fellow volunteers. If something needs to be done then it is up to each volunteer to pitch in and do it, without having to be asked to do so. It is an exhausting week, but a very rewarding one. Please see the “Comments from Volunteers” section of this website for more insight on what your week will be like.
3. Where do we sleep and eat?
While in Ocotepec, volunteers stay at the Brody household, about a ten minute walk from the clinic. There is enough room for about all of the volunteers, with a women’s bedroom, a men’s bedroom, and a dormitory room. The house has almost all of the amenities that you are used to, but because of a weak electric supply relative to the number of volunteers, we ask that you leave your blow dryers and hair straighteners in Tuxtla. It is a very comfortable place to stay, and we only ask that everyone remains cognizant of the fact that they are sharing a home and space with others.
Food is prepared in the kitchen of the Brody household. All volunteers will serve two to three kitchen shifts, which may include cooking, cleaning up after a meal, or setting up before one. We all pitch in. The meals are generally simple and delicious. Please let us know if you have any dietary restrictions before the trip so we can plan accordingly.
While in Tuxtla Gutierrez, volunteers stay at the Camino Real hotel. It is an extremely nice hotel, complete with all of the ammenities one would expect from a 5-star property. It is a welcomed change from the more basic accomodations in Ocotepec. Volunteers are responsible for the costs of their meals and lodging in Tuxtla, though group costs cover a welcome dinner when the volunteers arrive and a goodbye dinner after we return from Ocotepec.
4. I’ve never heard of Chiapas. What is it like? Is it safe?
Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico. The capital is the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez and Ocotepec is about a 3 hour drive away. The state has incredible natural beauty, with mountains, jungles, and the Sumadero Canyon. Much of the population is indigenous, representing numerous different cultures and languages. Following the work in Ocotepec, the group will have a free day and a half to enjoy the surrounding area; volunteers often take boat rides in the canyon, explore Chiapa de Corzo, and take day trips to San Cristobal.
Despite violence in other areas of Mexico, Chiapas, and Ocotepec in particular, remain very safe. The people are extremely friendly and welcoming, and the police and military are active in protecting the region. If you have any concerns about the safety of the region, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.
5. Do I have to pay for anything?
Yes. Volunteers pay all of the costs relating to their week of service. Group expenses will cover the two dinners, food and supplies for Ocotepec, and transportation and are usually about $500, though any remaining money will be returned; the price for splitting a room at the Camino with another volunteer for three nights is about $460. Payment is expected at the time air reservations are made. Very little personal spending money is needed- about $100 should be fine for a day of relaxation after returning from Ocotepec.
If you would like to volunteer but cannot pay for your trip, it is possible to have your trip sponsored by donors. Please contact us for more information.
Money donated to The Chiapas Project, unless otherwise indicated, are all used for the benefit of the indigenous Zoque people of Chiapas. There are no administrative expenses and therefore each volunteer is fully responsible for his/her own expenses.