You’ve decided to volunteer in Africa, but you don’t know how to begin.
If you’ve never volunteered abroad before, here are a few tips to help you get started.
The first thing you will need to decide on is what kind of support you want to offer. What is your skill set? What are you good at? What do you feel will bring the most value to the local community or area? What do you love doing? You should answer these questions before anything else.
If you don’t have a specific skill set, then consider teaching, as there is always a need for teaching assistants in Africa.
Choosing the right organization can be tricky. Scams are an unfortunate part of life today, and you need to be cautious when choosing an organization to work with. Try getting recommendations from previous volunteers, and perhaps choose a social enterprise not a charity.
Once you have chosen an organization, it is time to decide on a program. Try not to choose a program that keeps the locals dependent on foreign aid. Instead, look for community outreach or empowerment programs. The ones which teach locals to do things for themselves, are usually the best option.
Popular programs are: teaching, agriculture, conservation, building, healthcare and sport.
This is essential. Research everything that revolves around your chosen organization and program. Speak to previous volunteers that travelled to the same region and did similar projects – and not just the volunteers that the organization puts you in touch with. Speak to volunteers who used other organizations as well, to get a real understanding of what you can expect.
This is especially important if you are paying to volunteer; ask them what the money is for. You should also ask the organization about the positive effects that they have on the community. Don’t be afraid to question everything. You can only make a proper decision, if you are properly informed.
When communicating about the program with the organization, make sure to ask how soon you will be involved once you arrive. Find out what they expect of you, and how your days will be planned. Will you be working alone, with other volunteers or with the community itself? These are important things for you to know.
Depending on the program you choose, your role could be varied or singular. Make sure that you at least have a brief overview of what you will be doing for the duration of your program.
While I know how wonderful it may sound to work with orphans or animals, there are some very important ethics to consider. Orphanage tourism is quite a big enterprise, and you need to consider if this may be exploiting the children.
If you want to volunteer at an orphanage, you don’t really need to leave your country to do it. Remember, if you choose a program such as teaching or social work, you will still be able to help children in Africa, but not in a way that might possibly exploit them.
The same applies to wildlife. I’m sure you’ve heard of programs that involve feeding or playing with lion cubs or something similar. These programs do not always have the best interest of the animals in mind, and you need to be extremely cautious if choosing one of these.
Hand rearing wild animals is rarely a good thing unless they have been abandoned or orphaned, as they will be too domesticated to ever set free. If you really want to work with wildlife, try connecting with a national park or wildlife reserve, and see if they are accepting volunteers.
As always, it is important to remain aware and vigilant while travelling. The volunteer program itself is likely to be very safe – it is getting there that might pose some risks. Please follow the basic travel safety guidelines, such as never travelling at night.
Don’t wear excessive and expensive jewellery either, as that is just tempting fate.
Hopefully the tips I’ve provided will help you make an informed decision. Now, go change the world.
Kayla studied Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) in Management Marketing at Boston Business College in Cape Town. She is currently on a very exciting journey of becoming a travel writer through enhancing her skills by writing about safaris, adventure and travel tips.