Aldeas de Paz is a Venezuelan NGO with a history of inspired service. In 1995 a German entrepreneur named Manfred Mönninghoff was volunteering on a humanitarian project in Merida, Venezuela. The project was focused on integrating street children and at risk youth into more stable environments via school, community projects, and foster families. It was a grassroots effort, as so many humanitarian projects are, and it inspired Mönninghoff to do more, to dedicate his life (and his life savings) to the service of children with an organization dedicated to their care. In 2001, he formed Fundación Aldeas de Paz, a volunteer-based NGO in Caracas. Today, that NGO is based in Santa Elena, a gold and diamonds mining town in the heart of the remote Canaima National Park, on the border with Brazil and Guyana. The location is isolated, beautiful, and culturally and ecologically important.
Canaima National Park is the sixth biggest national park in the world, the size of Belgium or Maryland! Much of the park is occupied by rock plateaus, millions of years old. It is also home to the indigenous Pemon Indians, the giant anteater, Linnaeus’ two-toed sloth, the harpy eagle, dusky parrot, cougar, jaguar, and red-shouldered macaw. In recognition of its incredible cultural and ecological uniqueness, Canaima is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there are a few camps heavily frequented by tourists curious about the Pemon Indians, the animals, or the fascinating rock formations, much of the region is quiet and remote. Only a few roads connect neighboring towns. As such, the local communities are cut off from many basic social services. Children are often the ones who suffer most, cut off from educational opportunity. Enter: Aldeas de Paz.
There are many things that make Aldeas de Paz an exciting organization for volunteers. For starters, Canaima is magnificent. Tourists miss out on so much but volunteers, immersed in the local community, have the opportunity to experience one of the few intact indigenous cultures on the planet. More than that, they have the opportunity to help the children of that culture to grow, learn, and thrive. These children are taught their indigenous language alongside Spanish, keeping their culture alive for future generations. Aldeas de Paz has been in operation in Santa Elena for over a decade and their work is evident in the lives of the people they serve. This is a truly unique and fascinating organization in a magical place. For more information about becoming an Aldeas de Paz volunteer, visit their website or read a first-person account from a past volunteer. They also offer internships and apprenticeships.