To benefit the lives of people in disadvantaged communities, you need to give back to make a difference. But where do you start? Type in the phrase ‘volunteer projects’ on the internet and there are more than 260 million hits. The voluntourism industry is now overflowing with organisations that promise a life changing experience, but not all of them go about their work in a sustainable and responsible way.
Here are the top five things to consider before signing up for a volunteer project in Africa.
This should be the number one question asked by prospective volunteers. While volunteering is about your participation and your physical input, it's important to know how much of your project fee is actually reaching the community. And it varies widely.
The company you choose should be transparent, and will be more than happy to give you a breakdown. Keep in mind that not all the money goes directly to the project, as there are costs involved with marketing online, producing brochures, staff salaries and paying the lease on an office.
However, the local communities should be receiving the bulk of these benefits, as that is the sole purpose of the organization you are booking with, right?
With so many volunteer programs out there, you should be asking detailed questions about the work you will be participating in, and especially what long-term benefits to the communities/environment your work will have.
We need to take responsibility here, volunteering is not about ‘saving the world’, it’s about the skills that we can pass on to aid long term sustainable development, and your contribution to a longer-term plan which will continue to change lives even long after you have made your contribution.
There are so many volunteer organizations offering a variety of exciting projects, but do your research carefully. Thoroughly review their social media networks, blogs and website information, and do a quick Google search to see if any news or media have revealled questionable details about their operations. Just because someone says they are 'responsible and sustainable', it doesn't mean they are.
Here are a few important questions to ask:
It's important for you to understand the ethos of the company that you are booking with – are they really committed to working towards making a difference with your help? Or is their underlying motivation profit?
Avoid any volunteer work that involves short-term work with children, orphanages, handling wildlife, or work that locals could learn to do themselves. Instead of this, find work where you can teach locals how to do the job or where you can use your skills to teach them better. That way, when you leave, the power is in the communities hands to continue doing good things with the knowledge you have passed on.
Attention to this detail is paramount. A company should completely prepare you on what to expect from your project, and everything that you should know before you go. This will include extensive pre-departure information, such as kit lists and medical/heath precautions. It’s also important to understand what is included and what’s not in order to manage your own expectations.
One of the major benefits of undertaking volunteer projects is that you will be looked after. You should be met at the airport and transported to your project site, a full orientation program should be included and you should feel safe at all times while on your projects and in your accommodation. Make sure you are happy with all these elements to ensure maximum fulfilment from your time volunteering.
The organization should never ever put your health or life at risk. If you are asked to do anything that you think is dangerous, you have the right to question this and say no. At the end of the day, you are there to help, not put yourself in any unnecessary danger.
Have you volunteered in Africa? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.