A Beginner’s Guide to Voluntourism…

Mandela Day calls on all of us to play a part in making the world a better place every day.

It is a global call to action that celebrates the idea that we all have the power to transform the world.

Voluntourism is a meaningful way of celebrating Madiba’s legacy by volunteering in one of the many conservation and community-based programmes that can benefit from your time and assistance while you are in South Africa.

At the same time, voluntourism gives travellers the opportunity to interact with the South African landscape, people and culture in a personal and meaningful way – providing a new perspective and deeper understanding of South Africa. This can provide travellers with the sense that they have received far more than they have given to the destination and its residents.

What is Voluntourism?

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Broadly speaking, South African volunteer work falls into two main categories − helping to uplift impoverished communities, or nature conservation.

Within these categories, however, are endless possibilities, depending on your own skills, time limitations or inclinations. You could find yourself helping to identify resident and migratory schools of bottlenose dolphins. Or you may turn your hand to fixing mountain bikes so that children in remote areas can get to school.

You could tutor primary school children in rural areas in, say, mathematics or English. What about getting behind the scenes at a game reserve and helping with game capture or animal rehabilitation?

The best voluntourism operations funnel most of the money to the host community or project, have a structured and positive relationship with the host community, and are transparent about how their funds are spread. They also have specific insurance covering volunteer work.

Before you start…

Before you even start looking for a reputable operator, give your voluntourist dreams plenty of thought. Define for yourself where you think you can most benefit other people or projects. Skills transfer, for example, is very highly prized.

But you should also be clear about what you want to gain from the experience.

Bear in mind that the longer you stay, the better your chances of making a meaningful difference. Most responsible volunteering operators recommend four to six weeks. More is better. If you have only two weeks to share, you will have to tailor your expectations, but can still make a valuable contribution (and have fun).

Volunteer teaching

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Volunteer teaching is one of the most popular forms of voluntourism worldwide.

Volunteer teaching opportunities in South Africa exist across the age spectrum and extend far beyond the classroom. Education needs in historically disadvantaged communities range from pre-school tots needing developmental stimulation and job-seekers needing to learn conversational English, to old age pensioners for whom literacy is a long-awaited gift.

Wildlife volunteer projects

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Wildlife conservation is a major focus of these volunteer programmes and often includes the opportunity to assist in the research of endangered species.

From marine projects which focus on learning about the behaviour of sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and the endangered African penguin to monitoring tracking, feeding and caring for the ‘big 5’ volunteer wildlife projects offer authentic, responsible voluntourism experiences where you can actively contribute to research and conservation programmes.

Find out more…

Fair Trade Tourism, Southern Africa’s leading responsible tourism NGO has implemented a certification program for all volunteering projects and their website is a great first step to planning your perfect voluntourism adventure. Alternately, visit our Facebook or Twitter pages where we would love to hear any questions you might have about responsible voluntourism.