There is a reason why South Africa is one of the most popular destinations for volunteers around the world. From the wilds of its game reserves, to the amazing traditions of its tribal villages, to the dazzle of its cosmopolitan cities, South Africa is a country of real extremes and diversity. Since the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, bringing equality to the people has had limited success. The long history of under-education for black communities, the impact of HIV, and the extremes of wealth and poverty mean that community development initiatives remain a very important aspect of the nation’s growth.
Volunteering in South Africa shouldn’t be all about work, though — there is so much to do in your down time. Take a hike up Table Mountain in Cape Town, go kite-surfing in Chintsa, go ostrich riding in Oudtshoorn, kayak with crocodiles in St Lucia, or swim with penguins on the Cape Peninsula. Tour Robben Island and see the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for years, catch awesome live jazz in a shebeen, go whale watching at Hermanus, or just enjoy a brai (BBQ) as you look out onto the endless beauty of the African plains.
As a volunteer you can get involved with several different types of projects. Help bring needed health care and education to underserved people through health education programs and medical outreach projects. Care for children in orphanages and work with street kids to give them the attention, support, and encouragement they lack. Share your love of sports and teaching with low-income children who want and need teachers, mentors, and coaches.
As much as the people of South Africa need volunteer help, the big focus here is definitely the magnificent wildlife. Where else in the world can you chose between volunteering with great white sharks, Cape penguins, lions, rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, monkeys, or elephants? South Africa has it all. You can work on research initiatives on wildlife reserves and in the oceans, or volunteer at an animal rescue sanctuary in South Africa. You can get hands-on, helping wildlife you have only seen before on the Discovery Channel! For those who are seeking valuable career experience, working in the field or the lab — or who simply want to support conservation efforts and get up close and personal with some really fascinating wildlife — volunteering in South Africa makes perfect sense.
If you want to gain some valuable skills while you visit, there are some very unique skills development and volunteering options available in South Africa. Take your Field Guide certifications course and learn the skills of tracking, spoor identification, and game management on a real reserve. Or develop your photography skills, learning the techniques for capturing the best wildlife images on a Photography and Conservation initiative. Come back with a great portfolio of awesome images and another skill to put on your resume.
Opt to work in the townships of Cape Town, or the smaller communities of the unspoiled Wild Coast, such as St Lucia or KwaZulu-Natal. Expect the unexpected here: the people, the animals, and the landscape are incredibly diverse and unique.