For over twenty years, Las Casas de la Selva has hosted volunteers from all over the planet, either involved in the total operations & management of Las Casas, carrying out particular tasks detailed below, or assisting us with our research.
Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry Project relies on the work of dedicated volunteers. Most all accomplishments here are the result of the vision, and resourcefulness of volunteers and researchers.
If you are interested, and feel that you have relevant skills and proficiency, please contact us. Even if your talents and areas of interest are not specifically covered, we welcome you to participate in the project’s total system as a volunteer. Contact us, we are very open.
Please take the time to peruse the information of what to expect and what we expect from you.
Individuals over 18 interested in volunteering for Tropic Ventures are invited to apply for up to a three week stay. Longer stays must be approved beforehand, and will usually only be granted to returning volunteers who, having volunteered in the past, are aware of what it is like to volunteer at Tropic Ventures.
Travel arrangements, visas, health and travel insurance, etc., are the responsibility of the participant. Upon application you will be provided with full details. We have found it beneficial for volunteers to have some notion of the areas of work and opportunities at Las Casas, though this list is certainly not exhaustive!
The research at Las Casas focuses on the ecological management of timber production in tropical and subtropical secondary rainforest areas makes a valuable contribution to the future preservation of rainforest land and rainforest species by developing a method of sustainable utilization of the land for profit without destruction of the local ecology. In the case of Puerto Rico, it will also make a considerable contribution to the island economy. All the research we do helps provide answers for the people of the local community and globally, about managing their forest. Scientific work is needed in all areas of sustainable forest management, tropical botany, fauna, soil & water, non-traditional forest products, agro-ecology, environmental education. Two of our scientific papers are available upon request.
For foresters, students of forestry, arborists or any individual, Las Casas de la Selva is the perfect place to learn more about silviculture, to get involved in hands-on training in areas including tree selection and thinning procedures, felling trees, sawing and drying of wood. Implementation of real time practice in all areas, including road-building, drainage & erosion control, tree-planting and plantation management, forecasting and logistical planning of harvests and tree-planting programs. Individuals must be physically fit, and a scientific-technical background would be an advantage for some of the projects where research & mapping is required. Knowledge of wood markets and marketing the processed lumber and value-added products, or an interest in product design is also useful, but good health, an adventurous spirit, and love of forests is all that’s necessary.
Tropic Ventures Education & Research Foundation seeks to establish regular visitations and collaborations with schools, colleges and institutions, from Puerto Rico and world-wide. This involves facilitating connections, meeting with students, school teachers and education authorities, organizing trips, co-ordinating activities at the project, and creating contacts that will benefit potentials and possibilities at the project. Participation is possible in preparation and creation of brochures and publicity materials, as well as investigating existing Puerto Rican environmental programs and school projects, and how Las Casas can support them.
In an effort to learn more about tropical plants medicinal, cultural, material, or economic uses, a trail and several small bridges have been established with the help of youth volunteers since 2006 at the project. The vision is to create an interpretive ethnobotanical trail that is a relatively easy half an hour walk through the rainforest. This involves skills in botany for plant ID, creation and installation of small gardens, signs, maps, trailwork, and trail maintenance. Work includes: Collecting cuttings and seeds; monitoring of cutting/seedlings in nursery; monitoring of seeds that have been planted out; identification of more sites for planting out. Future work includes: planning sustainable harvesting of our plantings, treatment of harvested plants; seeking other species for planting; marketing, and outreach to local and the global community.
We endeavor to be off the grid as much as possible, and are looking into other possibilities.
Building projects and structural maintenance.
The project suffered hits of two major hurricanes over its twenty-five year life, and upgrading facilities and building new accommodations and structures is a major role. Las Casas has special electrical, plumbing and carpentry areas.
Someone with woodworking skills can get involved in with workshop management and maintenance as well as producing quality products from sustainably grown and harvested hardwoods.
Trail blazing & Signs
Tasks include: Keeping trails clear and safe; clearing new trails; addressing drainage issues; mapping trails by GPS; making direction signs for various trails and the ethnobotanical trail.
Life at Las Casas de la Selva
Participating at Las Casas as an all-round volunteer encourages individuals to assess themselves in the light of their experience and generates self-suffiency. Volunteer and research work present an extraordinary opening to a different way of life, as well as working and sharing skills and interests with others of various nationalities, ages, and walks of life.
Prospective volunteers should read the Volunteer Handbook 2012 to get an idea of daily and weekly life at the project, but a short synopsis follows:
A 9:00am post-breakfast meeting starts the day, where everybody lets the group know what they are working on, requests help or larger crews as necessary, and passes on news of interest. The projects inprogress determine your location, either in the forest or around the homestead.
After the meeting, volunteers are expected to put in 4-5 hours a day on whatever project they are involved in. Therefore, if you start work around 9:30 and take a ½ hour lunch at noon, you should finish between 2:00pm and 3:00pm. If you are not scheduled to be the chef, the rest of the day can be spent on personal enterprise or recreation. There is a project car- volunteers cannot drive the car, and must have one of the staff members drive them if they want to get “off the mountain”. Depending on the staffs’ schedule, this may not be possible on a given day. Volunteers contribute gas & travel expenses according to their use. If you are volunteering for a short time, like ten days, it is worth looking into a car rental.
Due to the fact that at present there is only one kitchen and dining area, during the busy youth groups summer season, a chef will take care of kitchen, all food buying and cuisine. In quieter seasons, there are three formal staff dinners a week.
Dinners are usually cooked by one person and the ambience is created by another, the “envirator”. Tuesday evenings are conversational evenings dedicated to documentary viewing, travelers reports, and relevant image presentations.Thursday dinners are silent, of a philosophic bent, and a reading and discussion follow after dinner.Sunday dinners incorporate toasts over the meal and short speeches by each individual, after the meal. Over the years this has been proved to be an excellent way to define where you are personally at, to learn how to formulate a speech, not to mention the essential confidence that grows with articulating in front of a group.
At all dinners, before serving dessert, the chef and envirator perform a short skit and on Saturday afternoon a theater class brings everyone together to participate in advanced theater exercises and facilitate theatrical expressions into shows for the benefit of friends and guests. There is a 45 minute sitting (meditation) on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
Please re-read very carefully the paragraphs above. If you feel that you cannot participate in any of the above, you should seriously re-consider applying to volunteer here. Our personal development as individuals, and as a group, is enhanced by our conscious lifestyle, and we expect volunteers to participate and explore every aspect of existence, and not grumble. Expeditions inner and outer!
At present, accommodations are in tents under roof cover. The facilities are rustic, but comfortable. There is a shared shower room with four showers and two toilets.
There is a research library, “the only library in Patillas”. Our shelves are filled with hundreds of books in numerous subjects- Fiction, Politics, Puerto Rican and Caribbean History, Biospherics, Biology, Theater, Woodworking, and Sustainable Building.
After the lightning struck our project during Hurricane Irene, our communications system has been severely limited. As such, we regret that we can no longer offer internet use to volunteers at the project, and incoming volunteers are asked to make other arrangements to keep in touch with friends and family during your stay. Cell phones work at our Sun Nursery, where you can chat with folks back home while sitting at a table and looking out at the view- that of the mountains below us and the Caribbean Sea.
The forest's elevation of 600 meters (1800 feet) provides year round temperatures averaging 71.7 F (22 C). With the prevailing Easterly trade winds delivering an average annual rainfall of 120 inches (3 m), the year-round humidity is high. There are seasons where it can rain for several days continuously, others that can be dry for more than several days or weeks. Volunteers can expect their schedules to change depending on the weather, when some tasks become impossible to fulfill.
Health & Safety
Puerto Rico requires no vaccinations upon entry.
Medical attention is accessible 45 mins away in the town of Patillas, and hospital one hour away. Please bring adequate supplies of medications that you might need. There are no dangerous animals in Puerto Rico and insects are the most common nuisance. Luckily, at our elevation, Las Casas does not have a significant problem with mosquitoes.
Please have medical and travel insurance taken care of and all visitors are required to sign a waiver, with the understanding that this is a forestry project and not a holiday resort. The rainforest can be a dangerous environment with steep slopes, slippery clays, and difficult work at times.
In certain project roles, like local educational outreach for example, Spanish is a necessity. However many Puerto Ricans speak English, and learning Spanish is a bonus of being here.
If you would like to come as a volunteer, our charges are $20.00 per day, or $600.00 per month, which covers all food, accommodation and utilities. This cost does not include transportation to and from the project. Our staff will be willing to pick you up and drop you off at SJU airport, but there is an additional cost. Due to increased wear & tear on the project vehicle, as well as increased gas prices and tolls, the cost of a pickup/drop off is $100.00 each way. Pickups/drop offs to other areas of the island must be arranged before your arrival.
In order to consider you officially “booked” as a volunteer, we require a non-refundable deposit of $100.00. This deposit will be taken off your balance once you arrive. Payment of the remainder is due on or before arrival in US cash, money order or check.
How to apply
Firstly, contact us by email with a brief, but thorough statement about yourself, your age, and how you feel that you can contribute to this project, as well as how you expect to benefit from it. Let us know your skills, talents, interests, websites, and dates you are considering to volunteer.
We look forward to hearing from you and welcoming you to Las Casas de la Selva.