Voluntourism: see SA, do good

[Image] Volunteering in South Africa is a richly
rewarding experience. (Image: Aviva)

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Volunteering is an increasingly popular form of responsible tourism, otherwise known as voluntourism, and in South Africa opportunities abound for those who wish to do good while they enjoy the local sights and sounds.

Volunteering in South Africa falls into two main categories: community- or conservation-based. There is an abundance of worthwhile projects located across the country.

Organisations such as Aviva, All Africa Volunteers, Cross-Cultural Solutions and i-to-i, to name a few, facilitate volunteering trips to the country. Most are based locally. Some run their own programmes, while others merely suggest volunteering options – either way, with projects already screened and selected, it could not be easier.

Invaluable experience

Volunteering not only gives tourists an opportunity to experience the country as a useful member of the community, but offers a host of other priceless benefits: self-growth, tolerance and understanding of other people and other cultures, new skills and new friends.

Many travellers have been able to settle on a career through insight gained while working as a volunteer.

“When I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2004 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,” wrote Hallie Stover of her South African experience with Willing Workers in South Africa (WWISA). “When I found the WWISA website I knew that this place [South Africa] would change my life.”

After her return home, Stover was inspired to go back to university, where she submitted a thesis based on her experience with HIV/Aids youth prevention programmes. She now has a Master’s degree in International Politics and Human Rights.

Stephen Thornburgh of Ireland, 23, spent his time with Aviva’s six-week penguin rehabilitation project. He described it, in a testimonial, as a “unique experience”.

“With the project itself you get to do pretty much everything from cleaning and feeding to giving medication and learning about penguins and other coastal birds … it was the greatest time of my life which was really made by the people you meet and the activities you can do, like safari and shark cage diving.”

Volunteers leave a legacy in indirect ways too – as they explore the country outside of their project, their support of local businesses, crafters and tourism operators results in upliftment for families and the community.

Volunteer organisations agree that pitching in to do something tangible is a far better approach than merely donating money, which can lead to reliance on aid, corruption and financial instability. Volunteers, by donating their time and energy, help to set up a sustainable solution that outlasts the short-term effects of financial donations.

Nuts and bolts

Volunteer fees vary between organisations. The average price is around US$528 to $660 (R4 000 to R5 000) per week, but this is an inclusive fee which covers all programme-related costs such as airport transfers, accommodation, meals and transport.

In most cases, once the host organisation has deducted their expenses, the rest of the fee goes to a local charity.

The duration also differs from project to project, but most offer a stay of between two weeks and three months. Individuals as well as groups can be accommodated. Volunteers are responsible for arranging their own travel documentation, but host organisations provide all the information required.

WWISA oversees a number of short- (two weeks) and medium-term (three weeks or more) projects. Short-term projects range from building new houses and renovating old ones, to children’s camps and environmental programmes.

Medium-term projects include teaching at a nearby primary school, assisting at a daycare facility, teaching English as a second language, and microorganic farming in community gardens.

All Africa Volunteers, based in the Eastern Cape province, has a wider range of projects covering wildlife, marine, sport, community and cultural issues. A wildlife sanctuary, great white shark and dolphin research, penguin rescue, a community surfing school and a pre-school are just some of the choices on offer.

The Volunteer Centre in Cape Town takes volunteers into the townships, where they work amongst impoverished communities. The organisation also arranges six-month youth exchange programmes in partnership with Mozambique-based Ajude and Canada World Youth.

UK-based i-to-i offers a variety of volunteer tours, mostly involving community and wildlife work. These include teaching children to read or working in a children’s hospital, animal rescue, and helping raise lion cubs.

A number of travel organisations offer their own programmes, such as Cape Town’s Backpack and Africa Travel Centre which runs a football coaching and teaching volunteer project, or Dyer Island Cruises which gives volunteers the chance to learn about shark conservation.

These are just a sample of the rewarding tours on offer for those willing to devote a slice of their time to uplifting the lives of humans or animals.