Volunteer Opportunities in Africa?


Feb 10th, 2006, 07:44 AM
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Volunteer Opportunities in Africa?

Dear Fodorites:

I saw a post re helping Habitat in Humanity build house in the Copper Belt somewhere in Africa. We are going on our first visit to Africa, to Kenya, in August.

However, it would be great to return to Africa next year, volunteer someplace for a couple of weeks, and then go on safari to some new place for us, such as Tanzania, Zambia, or Boswana.

Anyone have any other ideas or info?


Kevin from California
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Feb 10th, 2006, 09:14 AM
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It may help if you post your skills here. Are you a medical doctor, engineer, environmental geologist, pharmacist, computer whiz, writer, school teacher, veterinarian or similar? These are the kind of skills that are in high demand!

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Feb 10th, 2006, 09:30 AM
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I am an estate planning lawyer. Probably not too much need for that in the bush. However, I am pretty good with computers, and am in excellent physical shape. Would love to help dig wells or build houses.
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Feb 10th, 2006, 10:11 AM
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OK! 2 weeks are a bit short to help someone set up an estate planning practice!

BTW, I applaud you for wanting to help!

The locals are pretty good with labour-intensive work! They have the manpower and they know how to build houses and such that are designed for their conditions!

While you can certainly join in and help build houses you can most certainly make a bigger difference by helping them monetarily!

For example, during your safari ask your guide to take you to the school where his kids go. Talk to the teachers and principal and ask them what they need. Then commit to raise funds to help build that school hall or school gym or art center or similar! When you return you can help dig the foundation if you want but your contribution will be huge!

A simpler but very effective idea is to sponsor your guides' kids at school. Or sponsor him or his family to get medical attention for cataracts, arthritis or whatever medical problems they may have. Since the family structure is so important in Africa, if you can help someone live a better quality of life you are actually helping his/her whole family!

Anyway, these kind of things are IMO of more value than trying to help with physical labour!

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Feb 10th, 2006, 10:12 AM
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Remember, Africa has no shortage of manual labor, so many volunteer programs require the participants to pay a reasonable stipend.
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Feb 10th, 2006, 10:27 AM
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Any recommended schools/educational organizations to visit or simply sponsor in the Arusha area? The friend I travel with is a second grade teacher here and as such has a particular interest in primary education. I used to teach at the college level, so of course that's of interest to me.

Yes, I'll Google and ask our tour op, but if you or anyone here has firsthand rec's I'd love to hear them.

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Feb 10th, 2006, 10:45 AM
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Leely, I can tell you where to go but then you would never come home! Those kids are so adorable...

Just drop me an email: [email protected]
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Feb 10th, 2006, 01:43 PM
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Thanks, Eben. I will be sending you an email.

I think this may be the first time I've seen you use a smiley. And such an advanced smiley at that! Those children must be awfully cute.
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Feb 10th, 2006, 05:31 PM
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Kevin, unless you are a medical professional or have an ongoing relationship with an ngo (nonprofit) that is working with Africa, drop-in volunteerism (the type associated with a week or so connected to your holiday is not very feasible--or helpful.

As others point out, the money that you would spend to travel to and stay at a place would pay for several local people to have those jobs--which is, of course, a much better way for this to happen.

So if you really want to help, there are two things that you can do: (1) find a nonprofit doing effective work in Africa and begin to volunteer with them now, in the US. They will undoubtedly need help with fundraising, perhaps even with legal work, possibly with computer, website, office work etc. Once you get to know them and what they do, you may be a big help to their work...and you may even be able to add some value to what they are doing on your trip to Africa. (The key here is adding value: participating is nice, but,as others have pointed out, the economics rarely work for onsite volunteers in a region that has lots of labor, many of whom work for $1 per day. How much would you be spending to get or stay there? Will you (an untrained volunteer) likely be 15-50X more productive than them?

The other possibility is that before you go, you do some freelance fundraising for a project in the area: schools are good and so are clinics, because they always are underfunded. Enlist some of your friends in donating money to buy supplies (in Africa) for a school or clinic or womens training center, or whatever. Just make sure you find a good organization who knows the local area and can make sure that the supplies are not siphoned off or wasted. As they often are if you just drop them off without doing homework and establishing connections. (Are you beginning to see how acting on your good impulse is going to be complicated if you really want to see something improve, rather than just making you feel good?) Anyway, then on your trip, you can visit the school/clinic/whatever, take some photos and bring them back to your donor friends...if you are lucky and have done your job well, you could have a circle of people who want to stay involved and will continue to donate to this area.

This probably isn't what you had in mind, but I hope you will seriously consider how you can add value and not just have a good vacation "volunteer" experience for yourself.
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Feb 11th, 2006, 03:10 AM
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Hi Kevin,

I think it's great that you want to volunteer in Africa. Whilst donating money or helping with fundraising is a great idea, it seems like you would like to contribute on a more hands-on level.

I'm not an expert, but it seems like your computer skills will probably the most useful in this regard. It might be a good idea to get in touch with one of the organisations which sends computers to schools in Africa. Unfortunately, many of the schools receive very little support once they get the computers, which rather diminishes their value...this is one area where you can help. If you were to combine a donation of computers from your community with a few weeks as a volunteers setting up the system and getting it running, that would be a fantastic contribution.

Here are a few links which may help you find an organisation which can use your skills:




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Feb 11th, 2006, 04:16 AM
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It's amazing how far a twenty dollar donation can go to a village school far from the beaten path. But even better take out a supply of pencils and pens, a stack of exercise books. Or some English grammar books - when I was in TZ I met some youths learning from English books that looked to be decades old. I am lucky in having remained in contact with some friends near Manyara and when I return later this year will be taking various things that the local school needs. If twenty dollars make a difference, imagine what 100 dollars will do.

Why not have a look at this site:


Mto Wa Mbu is a town that you may pass through on the way to Ngorongoro and SNP: it shows how money made from tourist benefits the schemes including schools in the town.

And here's a link to a volunteer program that may interest you:


Take care,

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Feb 11th, 2006, 05:00 AM
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Dear Friends:

Thanks for the insights. I appreciate the ideas. If any more have comments, I would love to hear from you.

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Feb 11th, 2006, 09:48 PM
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The Habitat post was mine, and our 2 weeks of work in June will be in Zambia. While Habitat is housed in the US, it is international and has local groups around the world. Habitat Zambia sponsors the work crews, the houses are built according to local specifications, and ptojects are very much a joint effort. Of course you can also take school supplies and books, donate money, pay school fees, and help the economy by staying in camps or lodges and spending money.
However, in my experience- whether it was in the Peace Corps, with Fulbright, or while teaching in quite a few countries in between- there's value in spending time working with people on projects that they have identified as worthwhile. That connection really can't be measured in dollars and is the reason many Habitat volunteers cite for their continued involvement.
Since you're talking about 2007, you have time to investigate and see what's out there that is worth your time and effort and just might make a difference in someone's life- including your own!
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Feb 12th, 2006, 04:29 AM
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Leely -

My best experiences on our last trip were visiting two villages and spending time with the children and women.

We left money for the purchase of mosquitos nets at the village along Lake Victoria... only wish we had more with us (had left the bulk of our funds back at our camp).

And when up in Laikipia/Loisaba visited a school that was already being supported by Americans who were visiting when we were there. The funds gathered/donated had already rebuilt two or three new school classrooms, a girls dormitory w/ensuite bathrooms and showers, bunkbeds. The best was the photos of the school children - yes, the cutest faces, greatest smiles (I made a collage of these photos showing children of all ages, colors, both boys and girls), and their willingness to learn. A donation can be put towards the purchase of school uniforms which the children really appreciate.

When Oprah visited South Africa she brought tons of stuff for boys and girls - sneakers, backpacks, soccer balls for the boys and "black" dolls for the little girls... surprisingly, many of the children removed the sneakers, walked home barefoot; the little girls really wanted school uniforms.

Remember - the Nobel Prize was won by a Kenyan woman who started a program to plant trees.

So money for mossie nets, school uniforms and supplies are very much appreciated.

These are all rather simple ideas, but much appreciated and go a long way.
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Feb 12th, 2006, 08:54 AM
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Poor Oprah. Her good intentions sometimes lead her to imperialism and/or buffoonery. But hey, I can do that without all her gazillions!

Yes, Sandi, I agree, simple is key. We were thinking of contacting Eben's recommended school primarily because my friend who's a teacher spends soooo much out of her own pocket on her classroom needs here. Can't imagine how hard that might be elsewhere.
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