Helping to close the opportunity gap
I can heartily recommend One, Two… Tree! as a well-structured and well-intentioned organization. Some background: They place volunteers in the public school classrooms – alongside the local, licensed teachers – to provide instruction in English as a foreign language.
The schools are chosen for their current lack of access to English language resources. In most cases the teachers never learned it, or only the basics, yet English study is mandated by the government for these students. So the volunteers fill an important and justifiable role in these communities, bringing enthusiasm and their knowledge of the language where it is needed. Even better, like all good development organizations, they are actively working to make themselves redundant, by teaching English and TEFL instructional techniques to the teachers, as well. If you work hard, you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished here.
There are decent materials and training available, and the directors are amazing people and a great resource themselves, but you will have the most impact with some academic foundation. Study a little about TEFL and middle childhood education if you can – even just one day of reading – before you come. (Also Spanish, obviously.) You’ll be happier and more able to notice your accomplishments if you stay at least two months. The students are a delightful mix of behaviors and aptitudes; accept them as they are and you will have so much fun together. In Guatemala, I worked in schools near the beautiful and vibrant Lake Atitlan area, with primarily Mayan people and plenty of Latin influence, as well. It was a fascinating immersion in two cultures and an experience I will always treasure. In Nicaragua, I worked in a small town well off the tourist trail and definitely experienced “real” Latin America (reggaeton 24/7, anybody?)! There is time to travel more widely on weekends and holidays, and your expenses can be very low if you live like a local. Overall this organization attracts good people who take their work seriously, so it’s a much nicer place to work than some others in the region. The homestays are fine for long-term, though be aware that they will be a bit different from the type of homestay offered by Spanish schools in Central America and NGOs in other parts of the world. Ask questions in your interview!