Life Volunteering in the Guatemalan Jungle

Profile picture of

View Profile All Posts
Written by: Becky Khalil

The saying that ‘less is more’ is one that is abundant amongst travellers all over the world. Whether travellers are short term or long term, the notion of ‘less is more’ is a frequent topic within the travelling community. But what would you say when ‘less’ becomes almost zero. Is it still ‘more’?

The notion ‘less is more’ commonly comes from feeling liberated when physically having less. Technology is a good example. When a technological device is broken it feels somewhat liberating not to have responsibility for it. The same concept applies when a backpacker takes only a few t-shirts and the bare essentials needed to survive. From a western perspective the concept is not linked to the item itself but to the sensation you associate with having that item.

What do we mean when we say less is more?

It is not only physical belongings that can help conceptualise the notion of ‘less is more’. Many travellers learn this concept when they witness other lifestyles that are less materially equipped than those in the west, but all the while who tend to appreciate what they do have. A great Fijian man was the first person to open my eyes to this concept. He expressed that ‘we are happy because we appreciate what we do have; family, friends and love. We don’t expect to get the next technological item because we know we can’t and so we appreciate what we have and we are happy with it’.

From then on whenever I encountered a lesser developed community I understood what the Fijian man meant. I also learned that people who have less often give more, and they give it with pride. The most hospitable people I have encountered have been from the poorest communities and in the most rural lands of Asia and Latin America, who don’t have enough food to feed themselves or enough space for their family to sleep. Nevertheless, there they stood offering me free food and accommodation for the night, and they did it with assertion, happiness and pride. From certain experiences I have learned that, yes, having less is sometimes feeling more, but my belief has been challenged since I have been living in the Guatemalan jungle.

Living and working in the Guatemalan jungle

For the past 6 weeks I have been living and volunteering in the Guatemala jungle at an orphan boarding school where the notion of ‘less is more’ certainly gets tested on a daily basis. The school has approximately 100 resident children, about 20 orphans and 80 who have families. The aim of the school is to provide mental, social, physical and educational care for children who either do not have families or whose families cannot afford to support them. Some children will go home every weekend, some will go home only several times a year and some will never return home. Additionally there are 100 children who come from the neighbouring village to attend the school and who return home each night.

The children live in houses, split into 4 groups; big girls, big boys (aged 8-15), small girls, small boys (aged 5-8). With one other volunteer I look after the biggest group; Niñas Grandes (big girls). The volunteers look after the children every moment of every day and night that they are not in school.

Living conditions are harsh for the children. With few possessions and little space of their own the children share a room with their peers in their group. Each child shares a bunk bed and has half a closet to store their belongings. For the large majority only one shelf is used. Children receive plain rice and beans three times a day and have to live every day, including weekends, by a schedule. They have little freedom of choice and are frequently given much less attention than a young child needs to grow socially and mentally, due to the frequently low numbers of live-in volunteers.

Moving away from materialism

Here in the jungle the reality of living with few material items moves from the liberation which makes you feel ‘more’, towards one’s survival, which for many children includes responsibility for numerous younger siblings. Every day starts by waking up at 5 am to do chores, shower and line up for breakfast, before starting school at 7.30 am. After school, which finishes at 4pm, the children have one hour free time to play before they must shower again and line up for dinner at 6.30 pm. After dinner the children have some spare time to relax in their houses before lights out at 8pm.

The school only has electricity for several hours per day in the morning and the evening. The school water supply is also inconsistent, which means that frequently when the children have time to shower there is no water. However, despite everything, the children still finish every day with laughter and smiles.

The volunteer’s life here in the jungle is also harsh. Living in a house made of wood and mosquito mesh, without electricity, but with tarantulas, scorpions and poisonous snakes, and with mould in almost every corner you can see, (as well as quite often on personal items) due to high humidity and not much sunlight over the house, takes a thick-skinned person to commit to life here.

So, is less really more?

So why do we do it? The feeling you get when it’s you that is there in times of happiness and sadness, when it’s you who is there to help when help is needed, and when it’s you who is there in times of pride, achievement and support is a feeling that touches the heart of a volunteer. Most of all, the feeling that you get when you know that the children understand that you are there for them all day and night to care for them is a feeling that words cannot express.

So is less really more? When you come to a place like this you naturally think twice about people who have less. Here in the jungle, physically having less means your daily focus changes.  But, when less becomes almost zero, is it still more? What do you think?

Check out these top volunteer opportunities


Volunteer with Children in Costa Rica

from £945

14 days

Immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture when you travel to Quepos and volunteer on a community project helping disadvantaged children.

Volunteer with Kids in Costa Rica

from £945

14 - 84 days

Immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture when you travel to Quepos and volunteer on a community project helping disadvantaged children.

Volunteer in Childcare in Costa Rica

from £298

7 - 168 days

Volunteer on the Childcare volunteer project in Costa Rica. Located in the capital of San Jose.

Costa Rica Teaching

from £395

7 - 140 days

Costa Rica is one of the most breath-taking countries in the world. Travel to this tropical paradise and take part...


Mexico Unplugged

from £726


Discover the heart of Mexico's Aztec, Zapotec, Mayan and Spanish cultures on this two-week journey spanning ruins, pueblos and beaches....

Costa Rica on a Shoestring

from £407

Costa Rica

Hit two of Costa Rica's famed features – volcanoes and beaches – on this exciting trip that isn't too hard...

Nicaragua & Costa Rica

from £488


Whether it’s the twin volcanoes reflected in the water of Lake Nicaragua, the smell of rich morning coffee in the...

Costa Rica Encompassed Independent Adventure

Costa Rica

Our most comprehensive Costa Rica Pass adventure! Start with the jungles and canals of Tortuguero, nesting ground for giant sea...

Experience Costa Rica Independent Adventure

Costa Rica

Travel from coast to coast, from the Caribbean-flavoured beaches of Costa Rica's Atlantic coast to the Latin rhythms of Guanacaste,...

Grand Cuba

from £1925


Discover the old and new faces of Cuba on an adventure through the country’s vibrant towns, vast plantations, myriad waterfalls...

Pura Vida

from £1295

8 - 8 days

Costa Rica

Life is wonderful in Costa Rica, and you’ll see just how good it is with our Pura Vida trip. Meet...

Mexico Real Food Adventure

from £982


Get an authentic taste of Mexico on this luscious journey through some of the country’s most famous culinary regions. Meander...

Costa Rica Express

from £956

Costa Rica

The jewel of Central America, Costa Rica's environment is world-renowned for being diverse, vibrant and healthy. If you’re short on...

Costa Rica & Panama Discovery

from £705

Costa Rica

Adventure-lovers rejoice! Here is a trip that delivers pure beach bliss, idyllic islands, curious creatures and small towns packed with...

Find more volunteering inspiration

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]