The Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immersion Program

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of work is available?

Maryknoll Bolivia will place volunteers in ministries that reflect Maryknoll's values, favoring partnership over paternalism, empowerment over dependency, and reflecting gospel values. Examples include work with schoolchildren, orphans, elderly, special education and HIV/AIDS, community gardens, prisons, parish groups, women's advocacy, etc.  Placements will be determined according to availability of mission sites and talents and interests of volunteers as determined in application and interview process.  Check out some of our placement partners here.

Will housing be provided?

Housing will be provided. Many volunteers will live together in Maryknoll's Volunteer House in Cochabamba, close to several Maryknoll missioners. Others may live with Maryknoll missioners, or, depending on their ministry placement, there may be housing available at the work site.

What immunizations are required?

Proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine used to be required for a visa, but no longer is. You do not need malaria medicine for Cochabamba. Typhoid and hepatitis vaccines are important. It is strongly suggested that the volunteer contact his/ her physician and/or a travel doctor for additional recommended immunizations.

What is my financial obligation?

The volunteer is responsible for airfare to and from Bolivia, buying health insurance to cover him/her throughout time in Bolivia and paying out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and a $450/month ($675 for six weeks) program fee. The fee may be paid by the volunteer or fundraised in the form of tax-deductable donations to Maryknoll. The program will cover basic living expenses (lodging, food, transportation around town, local phone calls), but cannot pay for personal items (clothes, gifts, vacation travel, entertainment, etc.).

Is there an orientation program?

Basic orientation to daily life in Cochabamba and to ministry sites is provided prior to beginning work. Since the emphasis is on immersion, the entire volunteer experience is, in many ways, "orientation." But Maryknoll will explain the program requirements, the volunteer's ministry placement and housing situation, and give an orientation to the area, local Maryknoll facilities, etc. Volunteers will also participate in ongoing cultural orientation, weekly reflections with other volunteers, and meet weekly with a Maryknoll mission mentor.  

Is there a reentry program upon returning to the USA?

Maryknoll Bolivia will help to prepare the volunteer for re-integration as the volunteer term draws to an end. Maryknoll does not have a reentry program in the U.S. at this time.  However, information and suggestions for programs will be provided to the candidate upon return to the United States.

Where do volunteers serve?

Currently all placements are in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Most are in the city, although some rural placements may be available, particular for people looking to stay a full year.

Are there other volunteers at the sites?

There may be other volunteers at the site.  In some instances, other organizations may have volunteers in the same area. Other times, a single volunteer works at a site, alongside Bolivians.

Is Spanish a requirement?

Six-month to one-year volunteers need a demonstrated proficiency in Spanish. Six-week volunteers need at least the equivalent level of one year of university Spanish study in the U.S.

Volunteers will often be in situations in which there are no other foreigners present, and very few Bolivians speak English. Volunteers need to be able to understand what is happening around them, and express themselves to the people with whom they are working – often in environments with noise, multiple conversations happening at once, etc.  The heart of the immersion experience is developing relationships with Bolivians. We've been told multiple times by our volunteers to please emphasize how important language skills are for making the most of one's time in Bolivia.

Is this program related to the Maryknoll Language Institute?

The Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immersion Program is a full-time volunteer program. Volunteers must speak Spanish before beginning their volunteer work. For 48 years, Maryknoll operated a world-renowned Language Institute here in Cochabamba, offering language immersion courses in Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. In October 2013, the Institute closed indefinitely. (See their website here for updates, as they may offer more classes in the future.) Meanwhile, you may wish to come to Latin America to study Spanish before volunteering with our program, and we can suggest different ways for you to do this. But whether it's with Maryknoll's Language Institute or elsewhere, you would finish your language studies before beginning the Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immersion Program. You may also see on the Language Institute's website (http://www.ideim.org/) that they offer volunteer opportunities for language students. That is also different from our program!  So, if you are going to study Spanish (at the Institute or elsewhere), you would begin volunteering after completing your Spanish studies. Please keep this in mind when calculating how long you would plan to be in Bolivia.  Also, note that the Language Institute and the Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immersion Program have completely separate application processes.

How is this different from the "Maryknoll Lay Missioners?"

This program is different from the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM). We are sponsored by the Lay Missioners in Bolivia, in collaboration with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Maryknoll Sisters, which are actually 3 distinct organizations, all part of the Maryknoll mission family. But the MKLM program requires an initial commitment of 3 ½ years and places missioners in many countries around the world. Our program is shorter-term (6 weeks to 1 year) and is only in Bolivia.

What is the length of the commitment?

Six weeks to one year. And anything in-between – we're pretty flexible!

Is there an age limitation?

Two years of college or equivalent experience is required. We generally do not accept applicants over 68 years old.

Do volunteers have to be Catholic?

No, but we do ask that volunteers identify as Christians. Maryknoll is a Catholic mission organization, and volunteers should be comfortable participating in a Catholic-based program. Most volunteers tend to be Catholic, but we've also had Lutheran, Mennonite, and non-denominational Christians accepted to the program.  Much of the work volunteers do is not overtly religious in nature. But we ask that volunteers be Christian because we understand our work as Mission – as sharing the Good News of the Gospel through our presence and ministry. In our reflections as a Maryknoll community, we consider our work in light of our shared faith, reflecting on questions such as, "Where did I encounter Christ this week?"  Maryknoll has a deep respect for all people of good will, regardless of religious background, and we collaborate with non-religious folks in other ways. But, given the objectives and nature of the Maryknoll Bolivia Mission Immersion Program, it would not be a good match for non-Christian volunteers. (If you are looking for recommendations for more secular volunteer programs in Bolivia, see here , here or here.)

Is regular prayer and liturgy a part of the program?

We encourage volunteers to maintain an active prayer life. As Maryknoll missioners, one important way we do this is to get involved in the communities in which we work. Other than weekly reflection meetings with the other Maryknoll volunteers, there is no regular, required prayer or liturgical celebration. Volunteers often participate in weekly or daily masses in the communities where they live and work. We also encourage volunteers to integrate their experiences in Bolivia into their own faith journeys, be it by regular personal prayer, journaling, or other means of grounding experiences in an ongoing relationship with God. 

How do I apply?

To become a volunteer, see here.

To inquire about bringing a group down for an exposure trip, please contact us.

How long is the application process?

Between inquiring about the program, applying, acceptance, background checks and filling out forms, and making travel plans and applying for visas, we recommend people begin the process 6 months before they plan to come to Bolivia. If you're looking at coming sooner, let us know so we can help determine of there's still time! 

When does the program begin?

We have rolling admissions, so there is no specific deadline or start date for volunteering. Some kinds of placements may be limited between December and February, due to summer vacations in Bolivia, but other great volunteer sites are up and running 365 days a year!

Is there an exposure trip coming up that I can join?

Perhaps, but that would be through a group organizing the trip from the U.S.  We do not schedule trips and then wait for individuals to sign up. Rather, groups – parish groups, university groups, activist delegations, etc. – come to us as such, and we work with them to plan and host their mission trip. There are Maryknoll groups in the U.S. who regularly organize trips with us. Contact us to find out if there are any such trips coming up soon. 

Do exposure trip groups do volunteer work?

No.  Our Bolivian partners tend to agree that having a group of foreign visitors try to "help" for just a week or two tends to serve the volunteer groups' needs more than those of the organization purportedly being served. It also changes the focus of a trip, so that when participants return home, they tell people about how they helped Bolivians, rather than how they learned from Bolivians. We want exposure trips to focus on learning, and making connections. Groups have opportunities to visit various projects and communities, and there might be a chance to help prepare for a parish gathering, or pitch in at a community garden one morning, etc, as part of a visit. But, for the most part, these mission trips are aimed at introducing North Americans to Bolivians and Bolivian culture and realities. We take seriously Ivan Illich's words to a group of North Americans going to do service work in Mexico in 1968: "I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the 'good' which you intend to do. I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status, your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help." We believe that service can function as an opportunity to form relationships in a spirit of solidarity, but that takes time. It works for volunteers who come from 6 weeks up to a year, and for missioners who stay a lifetime. But for visiting groups who are only in Bolivia for a few days or weeks, we prefer to focus on seeing a number of places, meeting plenty of people, and learning as much as possible. And in the end, it is by returning home to share what you've learned that you are of most service to the people of Bolivia.