From incredible wildlife sightings on safari to friendly encounters with locals, travelling in Africa is an enriching experience, and it can make such a positive impact on your life that you’ll wish you could return the favour in some way. One of the best ways to give back is through volunteering, where you can use your skills to contribute positively to communities that need it. Volunteering can be a reason to travel in itself, or the perfect way to bookend an amazing trip. It’s a great chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and make memories for a lifetime, all while making a difference.
If you are considering including some volunteer work in your itinerary, that’s awesome! But before you start packing, know that this is not something you should do on a whim – it requires thorough research and preparation, as well as steadfast dedication and commitment, to make sure the work you’ll be doing helps local communities responsibly and ethically. If you’re wondering where to start, here are a few things to think about as you begin your research.
Travel on: A volunteering trip
Start with the right mindset
You’ll first want to put aside common misconceptions about Africa as a continent, and approach the role of the volunteer with an open mind. You aren’t there to make drastic changes that won’t be sustainable in the long run – you’re simply a visitor in their community who is looking to lend a helping hand within the infrastructure that is in place, and to bring home a better understanding of the social, medical, and conservation issues that might be affecting local communities. Equip yourself with a basic understanding of how international aid and volunteer tourism as an industry can pose potential conundrums when it comes to helping developing communities, and when you’re ready to head out, be prepared for a change in pace from what you may be used to – be ready to go with the flow.
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How do you want to help?
Africa encompasses five wildly different regions, each with different geographies, climates, and circumstances. This means each will have different needs to be met. Reflect on what you have to offer – do you have any special skills or passions? This can help you decide what program you choose to go with, as well as the volunteering role you want to do – you could be interested in wildlife conservation, community volunteering, or emergency relief and aid. How much of your time are you willing to give? Know that volunteering should necessarily be an investment of time and money. To that end, be wary of programs that claim to be “free” – the fees you pay to volunteer cover your basic living expenses, and without them, your presence might be putting a strain on the very community that you seek to serve. Be prepared to give a good amount of time to your chosen cause in order to be most effective in your volunteer role. Short-term commitments are from two weeks to six months, with anything longer than that considered long-term.
Which volunteer organization suits your needs?
Your first internet search into volunteering in Africa can yield a dizzying amount of results, which can undoubtedly be quite daunting. You’ll want to know how to distinguish between programs that do real good and ones that are only looking to sell you a falsely fulfilling experience without making any real impact. To anchor yourself, remember that your primary goal is to help communities in a responsible and socially meaningful way. Make sure you’re on the right track by reading about each organization you come across that looks interesting to you. Legitimate volunteer organizations should be locally run, and there should be proof that their work has started before your arrival and that it will continue long after you leave. They shouldn’t be taking jobs away from locals or looking to profit from voluntourism – instead, they should value transparency, welcome questions about how they function, be able to give you a good sense of where your money is going, and promote self-sufficiency in the communities they serve. The results of their work should be tangible and measurable, and you should be able to read reviews and testimonials from previous volunteers who have reflected on their own real experiences. From the minute you make your choice, the organization you pick should provide support every step of the way.
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Accredited volunteer organizations
International Volunteer HQ
With program fees starting at 10USD per day, International Volunteer HQ is one of the world’s most affordable volunteer programs. It offers a huge range of volunteer programs across Africa and around the globe, and supports its volunteers as well as the local communities they partner with. With 10 years of experience, International Volunteer HQ’s responsible volunteering programs boasts a great volunteer safety record and measurable results.
Named the World’s Top Volunteer Abroad Organization for the third year in a row, African Impact offers volunteer programs in 10 African countries with projects in fields like Big Five wildlife conservation, dolphin conservation, public health, girl empowerment, and social development and entrepreneurship. They’re upfront about how the work they do impacts local communities, and committed to making sure each volunteer feels valued and has a great experience.
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Low overheads and local partnerships help Love Volunteers offer one of the most affordable volunteer programs. Coupled with rave reviews from past volunteers and an approval rating of 96%, you can be assured that you’ll be working with like-minded people who value the same things as you in a wide variety of projects that include education, community development, and arts and music.
With a history of over 25 years helping match local communities with volunteers who want to make a difference, Projects Abroad is guided by UN Sustainable Development Goals in their commitment to achieving long-term goals identified by the needs of their local communities. They offer projects around the world in various fields like childcare, conservation, teaching, and construction that will help you get deep insight into local life.
GVI isn’t messing around when it comes to transparency – you can read all about their ethics, impact reports, and policies on their website. With a history of over 20 years, they are committed to offering a great volunteer experience, with projects in wildlife and marine conservation, teaching, healthcare, women’s empowerment, construction, and more.
If the prospect of planning your own volunteer trip seems too daunting or confusing, consider teaming up with a tour operator to get the best of both volunteering and adventure on your trip. There are several tour operators dedicated to bettering the environments in which they travel, and they’re often a great place to start!
Have you volunteered in Africa? Where did you go?