Why You Should Volunteer in Africa
Travelling in the 21st century has seen all new forms of 'voluntourism' emerge, providing backpackers and travellers with a way to get involved in conservation and local communities all over the world. Gap years have become less about the Full Moon Party and more about how to give and what you get back from volunteering abroad. Travelling ethically isn't limited to those on a gap year however, as more and more professionals are also choosing to volunteer on projects when taking time out of their careers.
With so many projects in the sustainable development of communities and wildlife conservation available internationally, the question for those eager to participate is where to begin?
As the second most populous continent after Asia, and with a geography covering roughly 6% of the world's surface, Africa is a good place to begin. With a troubled history Africa can be a difficult place in which to travel but numerous types of projects mean opportunities to travel safely and volunteer in Africa are endless. Whether you're looking to teach abroad or adventure travel opportunities, Africa can be an insightful and rewarding place to do so.
Why choose Africa?
Even before Bob Geldof started singing about it, Africa has been a continent plagued by difficulties with exploitation of its raw materials, civil strife, and difficult climates for agricultural growth preventing development. Projects in community development are helping rehabilitate communities, with volunteers often teaching young children and orphans, helping building projects within villages or even supporting farmers with their crops. Africa is the only continent that stretches from northern to southern temperate zones which means its range of climates creates diverse conditions. This means whether you're searching for a tropical marine conservation and diving experience in Tanzania or want to help improve the lives of the Bushman community with a medical internship in Namibia, Africa has something to offer you.
Sports coaching; music and art projects; core curriculum (English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies); community health awareness - all these activities come under teaching abroad. Often previous experience isn't necessary (just basic academic qualifications at GCSE level), but a can-do attitude is essential as it will be your job to motivate students and communities. With such limited resources creativity is vital in your approach. It's possible to gain the TEFL qualification while teaching abroad; Frontier participants receive a free TEFL certification worth £200 when completing a teaching placement of four weeks or more, with opportunities to advance to a BTEC qualification. You can also find placements offering teaching projects in combination with trekking or safari to help release your inner traveller.
Famous for its safaris, a visit to the African bush can seem like an episode of The Really Wild Show come alive. Many of the savannah species are considered threatened by extinction which is why projects to conserve the wildlife of the bush are so vital. Research programmes are often run in association with local conservation organisations to make sure that conservation is long-lasting and development within the local communities is sustainable. Part of programmes will involve surveying habitat and human populations to help understand the way the two interact. Previous field research experience is not often a requirement but a passion within the field is useful when it comes to learning new skills in scientific techniques.
Satisfaction in conservation comes from experiencing rare species first hand, travelling in developing countries, and ultimately knowing you are making valuable contributions to important ecosystems.
Africa's east coast along the India Ocean offers a wealth of marine wildlife to study. Tanzania and Madagascar are popular for their luscious underwater coral reefs and endangered species, both of which are in need of protection. Diving equally provides volunteers in Africa with unforgettable experiences visiting a whole other underwater world. You'll often be able to gain a PADI Open Water diving qualification, an internationally recognised certificate, alongside your research programme. Programmes can include monitoring species and analysing coral, as well as socio-economic work with local fishermen but the list is endless so as a volunteer you can face some hard choices trying to fit everything in.
Human Aid Work
Human aid work is necessary as communities often suffer from a lack of government funding. Volunteering can be exceptionally rewarding as it involves working with orphans, vulnerable children and adults as part of community care. Humanitarian aid takes many forms though activities are focused on rehabilitating communities after floods, famine and civil wars which have all caused devastating agony.
Education and health awareness are key aspects of aid work though your involvement in different areas will depend on your own skills and interests. Placements are often varied and offer the chance to get involved building and painting within communities, planting crops, cooking - the choice is up to you how to immerse yourself within the culture.
Medical internships can help students gain some of the hours of medical volunteering needed for those applying to medical school, but are also perfect for practitioners looking to make a difference in underprivileged communities. Raising HIV and AIDS awareness is central to many of the programmes as there are superstitions surrounding the disease which means there is often a stigma attached for sufferers. Volunteering means you can make a profound difference within communities as well as learn valuable skills in a specific career field that combines learning with hands-on activity.
As with many things in life, volunteering is what you make it and you get out what you put in, ultimately though it is the chance to make a difference. You can make sure you travel safely by informing yourself further with travel advice from the FCO.