Some experiences, like encountering wildlife in its natural habitat, are meant to be experienced in person. After all, watching thousands of wildebeest cross the Grumeti River in the Serengeti can only well and truly be appreciated when seen face to face. There is nothing quite like coming up close and personal with these majestic animals in what is known as the Great Migration.
Of course, traveling extends beyond being a tourist going on safari holidays. There can be much more to your travels then that, if you so wish. An increasingly common way to travel the globe is to now participate in volunteer programs.
Volunteer programs, whether big or small, are abundant in Africa. The overall cost to volunteer in Africa depends on numerous factors – amongst them, the size of the organization, the duration spent volunteering, the cause that the program champions and many more.
To help you make the best out of your volunteering experience, here are 7 easy tips that you can do!
Do Your Research
Do extensive research – more than you would do for a normal holiday abroad – before you go on a volunteer program. The volunteering industry is extremely large with many organizations, large and small, genuine and not. Before you commit yourself into any volunteer program, research it as much as you can. Look at the background of the company or non-profit organization that runs the program. Check reviews online, be it on their websites or on forums. Where possible, speak to past volunteers on their experience in the program and the company.
When researching for a volunteer program, always keep in mind that the program you join should be ethical. Ask yourself whether the work you or the organization is going to do will help to ethically develop the community or will it exacerbate existing problems.
Choose a cause that is nearest and dearest to your heart. It can be a program to do with wildlife, a building project or even a social project. Whatever you choose, be sure that it is something that you’re interested in. Otherwise, you’ll find that you’ll be dragging your feet to work everyday.
Packing for an African volunteer program is slightly different than packing for a casual African safari holiday. While you should pack a camera to document your experiences, you don’t need fancy telephoto lenses and large equipment. Save that for a wildlife photography safari. Instead, be sensible when you pack. Pack light where you can so as not to take up too much space. You may be sharing rooms with other volunteers.
Aside from the usual, here are some extra things to pack:
- Comfortable shoes
- Non-perishable comfort food
- Family photos
Immerse in the Culture
Aside from the impressive wildlife, there is much more to see and experience in Africa. Africa is a culturally rich territory, with more than 3,000 tribes, speaking over 2,000 different languages. As a volunteer on the ground, you are in the best possible position to experience the culture of the local people. Embrace it and immerse yourself in it.
It is also helpful to learn the culture and customs of the people you are going to visit. If you are volunteering in Uganda for example, do know that it is respectful to eat on a mat at mealtime. If you are a woman refrain from wearing shorts or skirts above the knees as women are expected to dress modestly.
Learning about the different customs of the places you will be based in will help you anticipate what is expected of you in your day-to-day life there. You can always find out about these through your program provider or previous volunteers, but a little research online will go a long way too.
Learn the Language
When volunteering in a completely different country or locale, it is normal to feel like fish out of water. The best way to overcome this feeling is by learning the language of the locals and understanding how they communicate with each other. Learning the language, or at the very least, the basics of it not only eases your communication with the local people, but also strengthens the bonds between you and local volunteers.
Learning common words and phrases will paint you in a positive light with the locals, helping them form a friendship and trust with you and therefore making your job on the ground easier. Learning a new language also means that you are adding a new skill to your resume, which may come in handy for career prospects later in life!
Spend Longer Time
Depending on the project you are involved in, the longer you stay, the greater impact you will make. In general, most organizations require a minimum of two weeks stay in a volunteer program. Building projects can range between short to longer times, depending on the scale and size of the project. If you are teaching English, the longer you stay, the more impact you will see as language can only be learned sufficiently over a lengthened period of time. The same is true of animal projects – the more time you spend there, the more likely you will see your work successfully make a difference.
Make An Impact
Now it can be quite easy to feel frustrated and helpless knowing that you are only a small part of a larger movement. However, do know that your actions, however small they may seem, can make a great impact on the communities that you serve. With this in mind, take the time to tread carefully. Practice mindfulness in all that you do and constantly examine yourself and your actions – are they beneficial to the people?
While volunteering, think also of other ways you can help make a difference. This includes caring for the wildlife and protecting the ecosystem they are in. Remember that Africa as a nation thrives on eco-tourism. Help them preserve their wildlife by reducing your carbon footprint in any way that you can.
If by the end of this article, you’ve chosen to take the plunge and go on a volunteer program abroad, then congratulations! You will see a change in perspectives like never before! Volunteering is a life-changing experience. After all, you are stepping out of your comfort zone into unknown territory. As challenging and daunting as it may get, do allow yourself to have some fun while you’re there.
While it’s important to get the work done, find some time to also explore the area. Go on local tours to see the rest of the country. Scale Mount Kilimanjaro if you find the time. Take time to relax and enjoy yourself in Africa. Make the most out of your volunteer program and you’ll find that you will have no regrets at the end of it!
A great way to make an impact without volunteering is to doing your part in preserving the environment. Go green today and embark on a walking safari!