SOS outreach trips contribute to improved quality of, and access to education in communities throughout Central and South America by working with local grassroots organizations. Every year, funds raised through Exam-Aid sessions are reinvested into educational projects like classrooms, community centres, playgrounds, dining rooms and latrines to improve the health and education of the communities we work with.
SOS has partners throughout the region who propose projects designed to address specific community needs. After screening and approving projects, we present them to University Chapters who then select the project they want to fundraise for. Campus volunteers and Trip Leaders work with the Director of International Outreach in the months leading up to the trip to organize details and prepare participants.
By joining an outreach trip, you can see firsthand how the funds raised on Canadian campus’ help to improve the lives of others. Outreach trips allow you to immerse yourself in another culture, learn about development issues and benefit from the growth that results from stepping outside of your comfort zone!
SOS has over 20 volunteer abroad opportunities every year! Most of our volunteer opportunities last 2 weeks, though we do offer one-week trips during reading week. Whether one week or two, volunteers work on a construction project in a community in Central or South America to support sustainable education initiatives with a team of volunteers.
Teams work on the construction of various infrastructure projects, such as classrooms, teacher houses, sustainable gardens, and dining centers. Volunteers are housed in the local communities where they work, and are fully immersed in a new culture for the duration of the trip.
This is the perfect opportunity for those wanting to travel and learn about a new culture while contributing to a great cause. Even if you are no longer a student, interested youth under the age of 30 are encouraged to apply for a spot on an Outreach Trip! For more information check out our FAQ.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ― Mark Twain
Volunteer safety is our primary concern. This means:
It is important to SOS that we promote integration and collaboration between international volunteers and local communities. Participants typically stay in available community structures (classrooms, community centers etc.), and live as close to the conditions of the community as possible. We value this because it encourages deeper interaction with community members.
Many communities will have limited access to electricity and running water but we truly believe, and are supported by past volunteers, in saying that this makes the experience and the lessons learned more impactful and valuable. Volunteers receive specific information about accommodations leading up to the trip so that they can prepare and pack accordingly.
3. Language Requirements
Our Latin American communities are predominantly Spanish speaking. While it is encouraged, Spanish is not a requirement for the trip. Each group is provided with a bilingual guide who will work to translate between the community and volunteers.
Being able to communicate in Spanish, is however, encouraged as it significantly improves the level of communication volunteers are able to have with community members. We provide each volunteer with 'Speed Spanish' lessons and encourage each person to make use of these materials pre-trip. A desire to have known more Spanish before the trip is among the most frequent feedback from volunteers.
For individuals interested in learning more than the basics, SOS has contacts with various Spanish schools in Central America and is happy to help organize placements with them. If curious, contact us at email@example.com for further details.
4. Program Fees
We understand that our primary volunteers are university students with limited funds and our work in Latin America means that we can offer more affordable trips. On average, the total program fees for a two-week outreach trip costs between $2,000 and $3,000.
This amount includes:
The program fees paid to SOS do not include:
Click here for a more detailed breakdown of trip costs.
Below is a list of frequently asked questions that we receive, grouped in three main areas:
Q: How do I apply for a trip?
A: Check out our list of current trips here and "click apply" now to submit an application to the trip you would like to join!
Q: How long is the application process?
A: The initial application form should only take about 15-20 mins to complete. We ask a couple of written questions to get to know a little more about you and your motivations for joining the trip. Once you submit that, you’ll get an email from our on-campus outreach team within 48 hours. They’ll set up an interview with you (either in person, or on skype) to chat and make sure you’re a good fit for the group. After that, you should get an email shortly after to let you know if you’ve been accepted.
Q: Is there a deadline?
A: There is no deadline for applications, although we do suggest that you get your applications in as soon as possible so that you don’t miss out (as some of the trips fill up fast). Another bonus for applying sooner rather than later is that you’ll have more time to fundraise and get to know the other people on the trip.
Q: What happens after I am accepted?
A: The first thing you’ll need to do once you’ve received your acceptance email is submit your deposit. Once we’ve got that, you’ll be sent login info to an SOS Portal account. This is where you’ll find all your trip resources to help prepare you for your trip. The outreach team will also be in touch to introduce you to the other trip members.
Q: Why do I have to pay a deposit?
A: The deposit holds your spot on the trip (so we know that you’re serious about joining us). We also purchase your insurance we receive your deposit, so that just in case anything happens you’ll have insurance in place.
Q: Can I still apply for a trip with a specific university if I do not attend that university?
A: Yes! Although each trip is organized by a particular university, participation is open to any University student. Additionally, we run National open trips with participants from a variety of backgrounds & ages based on demand and available funds from Exam-AID's.
Q: Do I need to speak Spanish?
A: Our Latin American communities are predominantly Spanish speaking. While it is encouraged, Spanish is not a requirement for the trip. Each group is provided with a bilingual guide who will work to translate between the community and volunteers. However, the ability to communicate in Spanish, even at a basic level, will allow you to have more meaningful interactions with the community, for this reason we encourage participants to take advantage of the basic Spanish learning resources available to you once you are confirmed on a trip.
Q: How far in advance do we have to confirm participation?
A: Confirmation and payment is due two-three months prior to the trip. When you first inquire about joining a trip, the Trip Leader will confirm exact dates and deadlines with you.
Q: I haven't heard back about my application and It's been over 48 hours, what do I do?
A: Outreach teams on campus are students just like you, so from time to time they get pretty busy and you may not hear from them immediately (especially if it’s around mid-term or finals). If this is the case, shoot us a quick email at HQ (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can check in with them and see what’s going on.
Q: How do I apply to become a trip leader?
A: The call for Trip Leader applications is sent out to all volunteers and trip applicants 2-3 months before the trip departure date and posted on our online Portal. If you would like to be an SOS Trip Leader, send in your trip application early!
Q: Are there any scholarships or funding available to offset the cost of the trip?
A: Yes! Scholarships are open to all trip participants who are also SOS campus volunteers. We award approximately 20 scholarships valued between $100 and $400 each. Scholarship winners are awarded based on financial need and contribution to campus chapter. Trip Leaders also receive $300 or $500 towards the total cost of their trip depending on the size of the group.
Q: Can I talk to/email with someone who's been on a trip?
A: Absolutely! Again, send us a quick email at HQ (email@example.com) along with any details that you’re looking to find out and we’ll put you in touch with a past participant.
Q: Where do we stay?
A: Accommodations differ from trip to trip, but generally our groups start in community structures/buildings (schools, community centre, churches) right in the community where you’re working. Accommodations are basic so you’ll likely need to bring a sleeping bag, pillow and sleeping mat, but this allows for a closer connection to the community where you’re working.
Q: What does the price include?
A: The trip price ($950+flights) includes your flights, comprehensive travel and medical insurance, meals, accommodation, in-country transportation, and pre/during/post trip support.
Q: How do I make payments?
A: You can make a payment online using paypal (at which point you can pay with your debit or credit card) or you can simply send us a cheque. (When you’re accepted you’ll get all the details for where to send payments).
Q: How are flights arranged?
A: Head office arranges flights through Merit Travel. We book group flights for your trips so that you can travel down together, get group pricing, and have a little more flexibility if we need to make changes.
Q: Can I book my own flights?
A: We do prefer if you travel with the group, but do understand that sometimes may have other plans that conflict. If you’re thinking about booking your own flights, just send us a quick email and we’ll see if we can work something out.
Q: How will I know if I need a visa or vaccinations?
A: Because the specific needs vary for each country, you will receive more information from your trip leader and head office once you have selected a trip. In general, visa information is available online, and recommend that all volunteers see a travel doctor to receive professional advice regarding vaccinations.
Q: Will there be adult supervision for our group?
A: SOS trips are targeted to university students, the vast majority of whom are over 18 years of age. As such all trip participants are considered adults. In country NGO leaders are also usually adults as well, but trip leaders are the main supervisors.
Q: Will we be able to contact our parents during the trip? If so, how often?
A: Since volunteers stay in rural communities, access to internet is limited and sometimes not available at all. Each community is provided with a cell phone for use in emergencies, but not for day-to-day contact with home. Participants are usually able to contact home on rest days. In order to gain the most out of the experience, we discourage constant contact with home, as it is a barrier to full immersion in the local community and culture.
Q: I have allergies/dietary restrictions, is that an issue?
A: Not at all! Once you sign up and before you head out, we’ll ask you to fill out a form so that we’re aware of any allergies and dietary restrictions. We’ll share this information with the group leader in destination so that they can make arrangements and be sure that you’ve got plenty food to eat.
Q: Can I see an itinerary?
A: Itineraries for each trip are sent out to groups about a month before departure (as things change and we also like to get the participants input when planning them). For the most part, all of our trips follow a similar structure. Upon arrival, you usually have a day to settle, rest up after your travel and get to know the community. Work days start early in the morning (when it’s still cool) and you’ll work around 6 hours (with plenty of breaks and rests). Evenings are for relaxing and interacting with the community. Sometimes your local group leader will arrange evening activities like cooking or dancing lessons. About half way through your project, you’ll have a couple days off as rest days so that you can relax and get to see a little more of the area where you are.
Q: What do we do on our rest days?
A: HQ and the local team in destination will send your group a couple suggestions to decide between. Generally rest day activities are things like a day at the beach, a hike, visiting a larger city or nearby tourist attraction.
Q: How much interaction with the community can we expect?
A: It is important to SOS that we promote integration and collaboration between international volunteers and local communities. Participants typically stay in available community structures (classrooms, community centers etc), and live as close to the conditions of the community as possible. The level of interaction varies from community to community. In some cases, local children and adults are present throughout the day and interact with volunteers while construction is taking place. In others, community members are not present until later in the evening.
Q: Will there be access to electricity to charge cameras, phones etc.?
A: Many communities will have limited access to electricity. We understand that cameras are a necessity for capturing memories, but discourage bringing cell phones.
Q: What kind of work are we going to do? Do I need any experience or construction skills?
A: Groups work on the construction of various infrastructure projects, such as schoolrooms, teacher houses, sustainable garden, and dining centers. Each worksite will have an experienced foreman to direct the project and community members helping with the work. Participants only perform the tasks that they feel comfortable with and do not need any specific construction skills; you just need to be willing to lend a hand!
Q: Are volunteers taking jobs away from people there?
A: Although many of the infrastructure projects could be built without the help of volunteers, a little help goes a long way. Local people often have other jobs and to take the days off to build the infrastructure projects means days lost from their crops or businesses, which means loss of income. Additionally, project funds allocated to our community partners include funds to pay local construction workers and foremen.
Q: Do we actually finish a building in 2 weeks? What happens if we don't finish?
A: This varies depending on the project. Often, community members will have begun work on the construction prior to the SOS groups arrival. In these cases, depending on the size of the project, it may be completed by the end of the two-week trip. In cases where the SOS group does not complete the project, workers from the community continue after their departure. Often, for particularly large projects, we send two successive groups to the community, one to break ground on the project, and another to finish it, with the community continuing the work in between.
Q: What will accommodations be like in the community?
A: It is important to SOS that we promote integration and collaboration between international volunteers and local communities. Trips typically camp in available community structures (classrooms, community centers etc), and live as close to the conditions of the community as possible. We value this because it encourages understandings of the lives and conditions of community members, rather than tourists. Many communities will have limited access to electricity and running water but we truly believe, and are supported by past volunteers, in saying that this makes the experience and the lessons learned more impactful and valuable. You will be challenged; however, we do not want to surprise you or the communities. We communicate expectations from both parties well before arrival so that everyone involved can prepare.
Q: What does a typical day look like?
A: The typical day varies depending on the country, project and community partner; but volunteers can expect to work from about 8am to 3pm, with lunch and water breaks in between. Evenings may be spent interacting with community members or taking part in team building and reflection activities. Click here to see a sample trip itinerary. (Link to itinerary in dropbox)
Q: Do we get time off during the trip to explore the area?
A: Yes. Although the project construction is the main goal of the trip. Volunteers do have rest days on weekends to explore the area and see local attractions. Rest days are coordinated with the community partner and approved by head office ahead of time.