Volunteering in Southern Africa
VISA provides access to a network of organisations around Southern Africa committed to a wide variety of voluntary work initiatives. Its purpose is to facilitate communication between individuals and/or groups wishing to volunteer and local community development projects.
Volunteering has changed from large organisations placing volunteers in relief projects to the now popular Gap Year programs offered by private companies. This has led to the development of paid volunteering all around Africa. This approach has its benefits as it helps local communities access skills that they do not have. On the down side there are few bodies who monitor these organisations and often volunteers are disappointed by the organisation they booked through. To overcome this we have developed VISA.org.za as a monitoring body and we ask organisations to become members.
We encourage you to find organisations with a good track record and ex-volunteers that you can contact to confirm this. Southern Africa is in need of individuals who can commit time to projects and make them sustainable. Please read as much as you can about the country you are visiting so that you are informed about local culture and what is actually needed.
We list both paid volunteering and free volunteering programs. There is a big difference in how and why they are run that way so please read up on our info before you make your decision. The general rule is that paid volunteering offers you full support and a bit of luxury in terms of where you stay. Free volunteering programs on the other hand expect you to take the responsibility and you often have to organise your own accommodation, transport and food.
Please also consider the long term sustainability of a project, ask yourself whether the project would run without your help. There are various ways in which you can create a long term sustainability but this takes research and time and a lot of hard work. If you are just here for the experience then we recommend you go with a paid volunteer program that will carry on the project when you leave. For profit organisations have become the new ways of establishing a sustainability and often have a long term positive impact.
We strongly discourage the concept of handouts in any project as this causes a dependence that can break down the independence of a community and discourage entrepreneurs. If you have a monetary donation or an asset donation we encourage both volunteers and the organisation to introduce it in a constructive way that avoids the idea of a handout. The difference is handing out clothes in a village or creating a micro business that sells donated clothes inexpensively. The first creates an expectation that new volunteers will hand out clothes. The second creates an income and allows a new business to start and avoids the handout. Further measures can be taken to create a sustainable buying and selling market within the village.
Handouts also slowly create the concept of begging and this can be irreversible if it has started.
Please think about where you are and how you impact your surroundings.
We often have enquiries about volunteering in Wildlife projects. There are two choices when volunteering with wildlife, either you approach a large nature reserve or a privately run reserve.
The big game parks in Southern Africa do take volunteers and often pay them especially if they come through a university or training program. This can be a good option but is not open to everyone.
You can also apply to small game parks and private reserves, there are often organisations who work within these structures. Wildlife volunteering is often more expensive than social volunteer and the availability of projects is much lower. If you are looking for a wildlife program we suggest you do your research well as we have had a lot of complaints.
We hope that this information helps you in your choice and we welcome any feedback.
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