Whether you wish to volunteer at home or overseas, the motive in undertaking a volunteer project may be quite personal, however most people who choose to volunteer share the general sentiment of “giving something back”and helping a community. “Volunteers are the roots of strong communities. Just like roots are essential for trees to bloom, volunteers are essential for communities to boom.” So say Volunteer Benevoles of Canada, who is this week celebrating National Volunteer Week.
There are many different opportunities available in Africa where you can offer your skills to a community, such as teachers, medics, nurses and vets wishing to use their professional knowledge to assist in schools, medical centres and wildlife conservation.
However, if you don’t have these skills, you can still get involved and be a part of a project. Much of the important work done day to day on a project, regardless of your skills, will be practical work to assist with the running and maintenance of a particular centre, such as a school or hospital.
At Soft Power Education based in Jinja, Uganda, there is the chance to work in the preschools, children’s centre and educational centre, including helping children with special educational needs. The school infrastructure programme is also a key part of the project, making the classroom buildings a more inspiring learning environment for the children and teachers, whilst also letting loose your creative side with murals and sign writing!
This is similar on projects in Kenya (with Madventurer) where physically assisting with the building of new classrooms, sanitation blocks and water facilities is the main objective. Volunteers here live inside Hell’s Gate National Park and work alongside local communities of the Rift Valley to improve their school environment to help aid learning. Volunteers can also help out in the classrooms too and can add their own skill set here – be it teaching a particular subject or offering after-school clubs in their own areas of interest and expertise for example.
In East Namibia we offer projects based at a local healthcare centre primarily for the San community who are outcast in society and where high numbers of HIV, TB and alcoholism are of particular concern.
Regardless of your background, you are able to provide primary healthcare to the local community and surrounding areas by assisting the full-time doctors and nurses. There is the opportunity to provide hands-on support at the clinic, including checking measurements such as blood pressure, haemoglobin levels and mid-arm upper circumference, as well as helping run reception and helping in the dispensary. Recording test results, helping with family planning and assisting with would dressings are also daily jobs. As with the East African projects, the centre itself requires general maintenance and cleaning and there is also a vegetable garden to tend around the clinic.
The foundation, N/a’an ku se, who set up this clinic, are keen to have specialist input from all volunteers, whatever their particular area of expertise may be and they welcome suggestions of beneficial activities for the clinic. As a volunteer, you are a valued member of the community for the time you are there, for both the local population and the project staff.
N/a’an ku se also has a wildlife sanctuary in East Namibia as well as two carnivore research centres in Southern Namibia. A wildlife conservation volunteer at N/a’an ku se will have the opportunity to have a great amount of interaction with the animals at the sanctuary – whether the animal is a permanent resident or in rehabilitation. Depending on which animals have been released, relocated or rescued, the species at the sanctuary will vary.
Day to day jobs range from food prep and feeding all the animals to providing enrichment by interacting with the animals, for example on as bush walks, and even intensive care for youngsters including sleepovers with the baby baboons to make sure they don’t feel frightened at night.
Research and tracking carnivores, such as cheetah, and other animals in the wild is also possible either whilst working at the sanctuary, in combination with a sanctuary program, or you can make this the focus of your trip by staying at one or both of the research centres at Neuras or Kanaan. The research aims to lessen the conflict between human and wildlife in Namibia to help with the conservation of these carnivore species, of which many are endangered. As a volunteer you can get actively involved in capture mark release, camera trapping and tracking the carnivores using radio telemetry, as well as data processing and exciting night drives and sleep outs as part of the programme!
Zimbabwe and Zambia
Other projects focus on large carnivores, specifically the lion, as populations are rapidly decreasing. These are based at Gweru and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and at Livingstone, Zambia, where the focus of the project is on lion rehabilitation and release. To assist with the ongoing work here, you will have the opportunity to walk alongside lions as part of the pride and enjoy the exhilaration of being part of a hunt as the young cubs learn to stalk their prey in the bush. You can help take care of younger lion cubs (should there be any in camp at the time), undertake important research on the behaviour of the African Lion and assist with numerous activities related to the care of these majestic beasts, as well as conservation activities such as clearing alien plant species in the area. Conservation education in primary schools is also covered to try to protect the future generations of lion and this is also something that is on offer to volunteers.
LIFE AS A VOLUNTEER
The focus activity of your volunteer project, be it wildlife conservation, education or medical, is of course of high priority, but there are also other aspects that will impact on the overall fulfilment of your trip. Integrating into the community as much as possible is often key for volunteers, or perhaps you want to really get a sense of day to day life in a village or the hustle and bustle of a local town and so choose to stay in these locations.
For a local town or village you may then travel daily to your placement or you can instead stay “on site” at the place you will be working, for example, camping, in guest rooms or in a house with the resident staff, or even “camping out” in a classroom block. Other projects may offer homestay options, to live with a local family as a family member for your time away.
And there will be free time on any project, often over the weekend, when there will be options to maximise your time in a particular area. Get involved in horse back rides in the bush to explore your surroundings, swimming, paintball, adrenaline activities such as white water rafting at Vic Falls and Jinja and visiting Windhoek or the Ancient San Skills Academy in Namibia. In Kenya, you are just two hours from Nairobi and there are other National Parks you may wish to explore, or even take a trip to the coast for a dreamy weekend by the Indian Ocean! As a volunteer, you are dedicating your time in one area, so make the most of seeing this very different part of the world and what it has to offer on your days off!
BENEFITS OF VOLUNTEERING
Working to assist charities without government funding to achieve an aim to improve conservation, education or health is something worth doing. By supporting local, permanent staff with hands-on aid, as well as bringing in personal, relevant expertise and interests you will help these organisations towards their goals.
And on the flip side, it is the benefits that volunteering gives to the volunteer that can have just as much of an effect, if not more. You are highly likely to learn completely new skills on your time away, which you had never had the opportunity to get involved in at home. This may assist in the future, such as going to medical school after a conservation project. Or it may just present a new ways of doing things. You will meet new co-workers who may have grown up within a particular culture or have adapted to it, as well as undertake new work tasks, and so you will learn to adjust to different practices in a relatively short amount of time as well as benefit from seeing different approaches to tasks. These are indispensable tools in life which can allow us to grow and look at the world in a new light and from a different perspective.
Perhaps more than anything else when you volunteer you get to spend time away immersing yourself in a world so different from home to enrich yourself with a total different perspective on life.
Talk to us about your volunteer placement now!