Nitty-Gritty for Volunteers

San Juan del Sur has been a center for hands-on activism for over 20 years. Sincere volunteers are welcomed in the community. This is a wonderful town in which to develop your skills, improve your Spanish, and work closely with local community activists.

NOTE: If you are planning to travel to San Juan del Sur and are willing to carry down needed medical or educational supplies, please write We can even help you pay the extra bag fee the airlines charge.

The Newton/San Juan del Sur Sister City Project (SCP) will be glad to help individuals or groups arrange a volunteer experience in San Juan del Sur. While you will not be our official representative(s) and while we can accept no liability for anything that happens to you in Nicaragua, we can give you tips on transportation options, help you arrange a home-stay, direct you to reputable Spanish language schools, and put you in contact with interesting community service placements.

NOTE:  Unlike some organizations, we don’t charge anything for making arrangements for volunteers. But if you are committed to working on either our BioSand Filter project or EcoStove project we ask that you set aside funds the help cover the costs of materials and transportation for the project you’d be working on. For instance, if you’re helping Antonia Mendoza, we’d ask that you help purchase sand and gravel and/or plastic buckets for the BioSand Filters, and that you set aside about $65 to rent a truck for at least one day (and pay for diesel) to take Antonia, yourself and filter supplies out to a rural community.   Ditto for Fidel Pavon and the EcoStove project: he too usually needs materials and transportation. In short, asking you to set side $100 a week per person as a contribution to the project for which you’ll be volunteering seems to us quite fair. If either Antonia or Fidel says they don’t need supplies or transportation during the time you’re volunteering, we ask that you make a cash contribution via our Treasurer, Carlos Guzman (Antonia or Fidel can tell you where he lives or ask me for a map.) More info about these two projects below.

To find Antonia Mendoza’s office: stand on the steps of the Catholic church in the main plaza. Look across the street to the right and you will see a spiral staircase. Her office (Fundacion Tierra/Earth Fund) is at the top of the staircase.   Phone: 8588-5292. Later afternoon is the best time to find her. Fidel Pavon’s Newton Workshop on Appropriate Technology is in Barrio Las Delicias, about a mile+ beyond the baseball field and cemetery. His phone: 5818-3889. Spanish only in both cases. If you have no Spanish let me know and I’ll arrange a time/place for them to meet you: write me

Alternatively you can donate directly to the Newton/San Juan del Sur Sister City Project. We ask that you “do the right thing” by donating online or simply sending your tax-deductible contribution payable to “Newton/San Juan Sister City Project” to: Don Ross, Treasurer, 211 Winslow Road, Waban, MA 02468.  If you wish to support a specific project, such as Appropriate Technology, or the Free High School for Adults, specify that on the memo line of your check.

There are three main areas that people typically volunteer in: Public Health, Appropriate Technology (including water purification, smoke-free cook stoves, “green” building techniques, etc), and Adult Education (helping out at the Free High School for Adults, Battered Women’s Shelter, Biblioteca and Bookmobile, etc.)


There are two clinics in San Juan: the government-run Centro de Salud requires that you bring with you a letter IN SPANISH on official stationery from your medical school attesting that you are a student in good standing who wishes to “ayudar y aprender” by volunteering at the Centro de Salud. It can be addressed to “Estimados colegas de MINSA.” They do standard clinical care in the areas of general medicine, emergency care, OB/GYN, Pre- and Post-Natal care, chronic diseases, PT (mainly diabetes and renal failure), and make weekly trips to rural communities. Please see Dr. Colleen Harrison’s notes on the main volunteer page for more about volunteering at the Centro de Salud.

The other clinic, Servicios Medicos Comunales (aka La Clinica ) is run by Dr. Rosa Elena Bello (

In 2010 the clinic added a second floor for a battered women’s shelter, a dental clinic, and a laboratory and computer lab for the Free High School, which also has its office in the clinic. There are a variety of projects to get involved in, such as helping the in-house MD, Dr. Jennys Lopez with consultations, testing water from rural wells for contamination, taking part in a cervical cancer screening program, or a child nutrition program.

Those with skills in psychology or social work may be able to find a niche at the Battered Women’s Shelter.
E-mail Dr. Margaret Gullette ( or Dr. Bello.


See our Appropriate Technology page to find an overview of the various projects we are currently involved in. In 2008/2009 we concentrated on manufacturing and installing over 600 BioSand Filters in rural homes throughout the scattered villages of the township. In 2010/2011 we will be did follow-up visits to these homes, and for those following the correct protocols for filter use, we offered a cost-sharing program for getting an EcoStove (for cooking with wood without filling house and lungs with smoke). We are also cooperating with local NGO’s to use sustainable green  building materials (starting in 2011, with Compressed Earth Blocks) in such projects as school construction in the countryside.

Fidel Pavon (, cell 8632-4008) at the Newton Workshop on Appropriate Technology is responsible for manufacturing the components for the EcoStove and can always use help. Especially if you have only a few days to volunteer, this is an easy and popular destination. He might also put you to work processing our special volcanic sand for (re)installing in BioSand Filters. To help install EcoStoves, talk to Fidel, or call Antonia Mendoza (8439-8075).


Two main opportunities are teaching English or computer skills, or working with children at the Saturday daycare center. Contact Maria Dolores Silva via Dr. Bello at

Those interested in working with children should also drop by the Biblioteca Movil (Free public lending library and Bookmobile). The Biblioteca allows you to do arts and crafts and reading aloud to kids in the afternoons, as well as trips in pick‡up trucks packed with books for kids in rural communities.


If you live with a family, please be respectful of their customs. Although you do not represent the Newton SCP officially, unofficially your behavior reflects on us and on your home country. Staying out late, heavy drinking, and drug use are unacceptable to your hosts and can be dangerous.

A valid passport is sufficient to enter Nicaragua (be sure to carry a copy and keep it separately). Prepare to purchase a $10 (USD) 90-day visa at airport. Don’t take travelers’ cheques, but do take a debit card and don’t forget the password; there are a couple of ATM’s in town. Restaurants and shops may or may not accept credit and debit cards. Many spots accept US dollars provided that they are in small denominations and in perfect condition (without tears or markings).

There are plenty of inexpensive internet cafes for e-mail and/or calls home using Skype. If you want to work on your Spanish, there are several good Spanish schools in San Juan that offer one-on-one tutoring.

Refer to your doctor, a travel health clinic, and the CDC for guidelines on travel health and safety risks in Nicaragua. Protect yourself from the sun!

If you want to live with a family experienced in hosting foreigners contact
Living with a home-stay usually costs $20 per person per day, including meals.

Flying into Managua, book a flight that gets in as early as possible. San Juan del Sur is 2.5 hours from the airport, and you want to avoid traveling after dark. A dependable taxi driver named Marcos Bermudez will take an individual or small group to San Juan for $60 per carload of 2-5 people. (505-8878-2080). DO NOT just grab a taxi at the airport, or in San Juan del Sur to return to Managua. Here is a news article from July 2010 that makes clear why:

The U.S. Embassy in Managua reported that nearly a dozen taxi kidnappings occurred in the past month in several areas, including some around the international airport, along bus routes to and from San Juan del Sur, San Jorge, Granada, Managua, Esteli and Masaya, and in the city of Managua. In all cases involving U.S. citizens, the incidents involved a local befriending the American and offering to share or help find a taxi. Once inside the taxi, the victims were held at knife- or gun-point, threatened with violent assault, robbed, driven to ATMs to empty their bank accounts, then abandoned in remote areas. The incidents often occurred after strangers befriended the victims on a bus and the bus arrived at its destination. The assailants have had many profiles, including a young pregnant woman and women and men of various ages. The embassy recommends using only officially registered taxis bearing registration numbers on the door, license plate and trunk or radio-dispatched taxis.



  1. hola,
    Debo admitir que antes no me motivaba mucho elblog, pero ultimamente estoy leyendolo frecuentemente y esta mejorando.

    Bien hecho!

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