Finding the right volunteer projects in the right location can be difficult when there’s so many to choose from. We’ve tried to cover some common questions about volunteering in Africa on this page.
If you don’t see your question below, please do get in touch!
What types of people volunteer in Africa?
Our volunteer projects attract volunteers from around the world, of all ages and from all walks of life. Everyone has their own story to tell and experience to share. The diverse mix of people include gap year students, career breakers, retired people exploring the world, university groups and even honeymoon couples! Everyone is welcome whether you can only volunteer for two weeks or if you’d like to stay longer and really immerse yourself in Africa.
Is volunteering ethical?
Volunteer tourism has a critical role to play in conservation in Africa. Unfortunately not all volunteer projects are good ones, so we do advise all volunteers to check out the projects they are interested in carefully, and ask lots of questions about the role of volunteers and how their project fees are being used. Take a look at our relevant articles:
- When is a wildlife sanctuary not a sanctuary
- Volunteering myths busted: you’re taking jobs from locals
- 7 ways to choose an ethical volunteer programme
- Volunteering myths busted: volunteering is bad for communities
Why do I have to pay to volunteer?
It’s a tricky concept – paying to work. However, volunteering abroad is a two-way concept where in exchange for a wonderful overseas travel experience, you donate your time, energy and funds to a responsible organisation. Chances are, the organisation you are working for has precious few resources and will not be in a position to cover the (significant) costs of feeding, housing and transporting volunteers, without using money that should be earmarked for the work they are doing.
See our related article:
What type of volunteer projects will I be working on?
What you will be doing depends on what type of project you choose. The foundation of our programmes is conservation, which could be conservation through working with wildlife, or conservation through education and community projects. If you are working on one of our community volunteer projects, you will work alongside community leaders, on projects identified by communities, according to the specific needs of their area. This could include agriculture and horticulture projects, skills training, early childhood development through literacy; family support in the form of meals and homestead work; or practicing conversational English with older children.
If you are working on our conservation programmes, your role will be diverse. The volunteer work could include working alongside permanent research staff; data collection; tracking and monitoring game; tagging wildlife (on land and in the ocean!), or working with animals due to be released into the wild.
Do I need experience or special skills?
Our volunteer projects accommodate all levels of skill and expertise. We ask that you come with enthusiasm, ideas, flexibility and patience (this is Africa and time is different here!), and be ready with an open mind to participate in all the activities. Your skills and experience from living in the first world usually mean you can help in most situations, whether it is card tricks, building or computer skills, teaching children new songs or drawing. Every skill is valued and useful.
How long are volunteer work days?
Schedules are designed to be enjoyable and fun, and allow some down time over lunch and the heat of the day. Most projects will start early, around 6am and some, like the Endangered Wildlife Conservation Programme, will begin before the sun comes up!
Do I get any time off?
Most projects will have a 5 or 6 day working week, with one day off to relax. However, for projects where animal care is involved, e.g. Primate Conservation or the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary, the animals need to be fed every day, so volunteers will work on a rotation basis to ensure that everyone gets at least one full day off per week.
What locations can I visit?
Our volunteer projects are based in South Africa (Waterberg and KwaZulu Natal), Zimbabwe (Harare, Bulawayo, Hwange and Victoria Falls), Mozambique (Inhambane and Vilanculos), Malawi (Lilongwe) and Namibia (Windhoek, the Namib Desert area and Damaraland).
Read our related blog posts:
Will I get to interact with animals
At our animal care volunteer projects, (Primate Conservation and the Namibia Wildlife Sanctuary), volunteers are responsible for the care and feeding of animals which are either to be rehabilitated or are permanent residents of the sanctuary. However, there will still be some animals which are not handled – perhaps because they are preparing for release, or because they should not be habituated.
On our Rhino & Elephant Conservation and Horse Riding & Rhino Conservation Programmes, some of the rhinos and elephants are habituated, so volunteers are able to get close them – which is useful for observational and behavioural studies. At our wilderness projects (Big 5 Conservation, Zimbabwe, Endangered Wildlife Conservation, Large Carnivore Conservation, Marine Conservation, Wildlife Warriors and Elephant Conservation & Community Outreach) the animals you will encounter are most definitely wild and cannot be touched or approached at all.
Are your volunteer projects safe?
It is extremely unlikely that you will encounter any security or safety issues while you are in Africa, and we advise that you exercise the same levels of caution as you would in any poor, third world country – don’t wear excessive or expensive jewellery, keep hold of your bags and don’t travel after dark (more because of animals, potholes and people in the road, than for personal safety reasons). Be aware of your surroundings and try not to venture out in high density areas on your own.
At our wildlife and wilderness projects, volunteers are housed in secure areas within the reserve or conservancy. While you are at your placement, you will be supervised by project staff and receive a full orientation into the local area, places to visit and how to behave. All our staff have first aid training and are fully prepared for medical emergencies. If you have any concerns before you travel, please get in touch and we can talk you through any specific issues you might be worried about.
Is working with wild animals safe?
At our wilderness volunteer projects (Big 5 Conservation, Zimbabwe, Endangered Wildlife Conservation, Large Carnivore Conservation, Marine Conservation, Wildlife Warriors and Elephant Conservation & Community Outreach), staff are fully trained in interpreting the behaviour of wild animals and most are also qualified field guides. However, it is important to remember that when you are in the bush there are dangerous animals around, both large and small. Just about any animal can be dangerous if it feels threatened, so it is imperative that volunteers listen to project staff at all times. In wilderness areas you will usually monitor wildlife from a vehicle, driven by project staff who are trained to keep volunteers away from dangerous situations.
If you respect the bush and the animals, and follow the instructions of project staff, there is no reason why it is not safe to volunteer around wild animals.
Can you help me book tours and excursions?
Absolutely! We love to help volunteers see more of the country they are visiting. We are based on the ground in Africa and have built up a network of local contacts and off-the-beaten track destinations, known only to locals and those in the know!
Our recommendations of add-ons are:
- Namibia – Sossusvlei and Etosha, Luderitz and Damaraland
- Zimbabwe – Matopos National Park, Great Zimbabwe and Hwange
- Mozambique – Gorongosa and Bazaruto Archipelago
- South Africa – St Lucia, North Kruger and Waterberg.
How many other volunteers will there be?
Volunteer numbers will depend on the time of year you choose to book and which project you want to join. June – September is usually the busiest time of year to join.