Our mission is to support cultural awareness, service-based learning, and sustainable development through experiential and responsible volunteer travel programs that inspire a lifestyle of service.

International Service Learning (ISL) is a non-governmental organization that has been offering volunteers experiential learning opportunities in health care, education, ecology, and community development since 1994 while offering sustainable aid in developing communities.

ISL programs are open to volunteers, both students and professionals, interested in gaining valuable experience in their chosen field, exploring another culture, and assisting those in need.

Personal Statements from ISL Leadership

Since 1994, we have served hundreds of thousands of people in need across hundreds of communities around the world. This is our mission, our vision, our goal, and it defines what we call the ‘Heart of ISL,’ a heart for service. This heart motivates us to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that needs are being met and our service communities are able to grow.

ISL goes beyond the bottom line in defining our success. We don’t have annual financial goals to dictate our actions, we have community project goals and program quality goals. Our staff work long hours to achieve these goals. We have high professional standards that we expect all of our employees and contractors to adhere to in order to achieve the level of support and excellence that defines the ISL experience. We focus on providing a safe, quality experience for our volunteers and building capacity in our partner communities. I’m excited about what we have to offer, and I’m glad you are considering partnering with us!

— Jonathan Birnbaum, Executive Director

ISL has allowed many volunteers to see the world with eyes of compassion and solidarity and to discover or confirm their true calling. For me, ISL has done the same. I am so grateful.

— Sonia Hernandez, PhD, International Director

We hear regularly from patients and local government and health officials about the positive impact ISL teams make in our partner communities. We also hear regularly from ISL alumni inspired to further their educations and become volunteers in their own communities

Their stories leave us humbled. It is an honor and a privilege to serve those in need and to enable present and future leaders and professionals to become global citizens.

— Diannah Fields-Brown, Operations Director


Locations: Our administrative operations are based in Kellogg, Idaho, and Alajuela, Costa Rica. We provide programming in the Americas, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Structure: We are organized as an NGO in the US and operate as a non-profit within our service destinations.

Size: Our staff consists of 9 in the US, 14 in our host countries, and many, many contract staff in our partner communities. In 2018, we provided quality experiential learning experiences for 1,052 students and volunteers.

Impact: In 2018, we had the privilege to assist with the provision of health care for 2,106 patients in addition to providing hydroponics gardens for primary schools in Costa Rica, assisting with beach cleanup, turtle tagging, and planting mangroves on the Osa Peninsula, and providing gardens and playground equipment for primary schools in Cusco, Peru.

Marks of Distinction

  • There are areas of Belize where ISL is the sole provider of community health services.
  • Our Mexico programs are collaborations with local, regional and national government health agencies.
  • In Costa Rica, ISL provides health services to immigrants who otherwise have no access to health care.
  • ISL has secure alliances with medical schools in Costa Rica that enable Costa Rican medical students to serve vulnerable communities hand-in-hand with ISL volunteers.
  • ISL in the sole provider of support and training at Hogar Manos Abiertas, a shelter in Costa Rica for those with disabilities who have been abandoned by their families.

Statement of Best Practices in Global Community Health

We at ISL observe the Platinum Rule when it come to community outreach: We do our utmost to treat people the way they want to be treated. It is very important to us that we are not focused on meeting perceived needs nor imposing our needs upon those of other cultures, but rather building relationships in which our partner communities are encouraged to share their vision, and let us know how we can assist them in meeting their goals.

Over the past two decades, ISL has refined a system for delivering responsible care for populations in developing communities. In each of our service locations, ISL operates as the hands of local ministries of health, reaching out to communities they are unable to assist due to resource limitations. In addition to serving vulnerable citizens, ISL is often the sole health care provider for immigrants with no access to their host country’s health services.

In the clinical setting, no patient interaction takes place until the patient has signed a consent form. Diagnoses are made and treatment and prescriptions are given only by the local physicians who supervise every clinical activity in which our volunteers are involved. Each health care professional employed by ISL is fully licensed.

All services we provide must be in the best interests of our partner communities, not only immediately, but long term.