GoAbroad Interview

Sarah Corley - Volunteer Travel Program Manager

Sarah Corley - Volunteer Travel Program Manager

Sarah was born and raised in London, England and has a master’s degree in human resource management. Although her role primarily places her at All Out Africa’s headquarters in Swaziland, she manages all projects, staff, and volunteers across all four locations. Sarah is well versed in volunteering, with experience throughout Africa and the UK that spans multiple decades. Through her role, she enjoys inspiring others to volunteer abroad and embark on life-changing programs, which contribute to improving the lives of orphan and vulnerable children.

You have been volunteering for the past two decades throughout Africa. How has your own volunteer experience shaped your life (professionally, academically, and personally)?

Volunteering gave me a greater insight into myself and has allowed me to move away from the fast-paced lifestyle of England to a role where I am influencing people’s lives daily. It has inspired me and given me the confidence to make choices and live a life that is personally rewarding and helps others.

I get to live and visit our four stunning destinations, Cape Town, Mozambique, Botswana, and Swaziland, and also get to share how wonderful these places are with our volunteers. Volunteering and living in other countries enables you to really connect with countries, cultures, and people, and experience the fun of travelling whilst making a positive and meaningful contribution to reduce poverty and conserve our environment.

All Out Africa staff

The All Out Africa Team

What inspired you to work for All Out Africa specifically?

Volunteer Travel is a big industry with many competitors. What stood out for me about All Out Africa was its ethical and responsible approach, with four main factors: 

  • We have long-term relationships with our project partners that are constructive and not dependent on the presence of volunteers.
  • The research we conduct has been published or shared with international organisations and is actively contributing to conservation efforts.
  • Our volunteer placements are structured, enabling volunteers to make a meaningful contribution and feel supported by our staff
  • We run our business responsibly, employing local staff, minimising impact on the environment, and sourcing products locally

How is All Out Africa different from other volunteer organizations in Africa?

Our responsible and ethical approach is one of the things that makes us stand out from the crowd. But, our most unique aspect is how we truly value our staff, partners, and volunteers. All Out Africa is like a big family and we all are passionate about what we do, and dedicated to make our own contribution to make the world a better place. This passion drives us to make meaningful environmental and social impacts, it means we value and support all our volunteers, and do all we can to support project partners to meet their aims. We take our work seriously, but you’ll find a warm, genuine heartbeat pumping throughout everything we do.

Jumping shot on a beach in Mozambique

Fun in Mozambique

What is it like working for All Out Africa as the Volunteer Travel Program Manager?

I think I may have the best job in the world! Yes it can be hectic and there is so much to organise behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly. But I get to live and travel to spectacular places, meet new and awesome volunteers every month, and work with dedicated people; these all inspire me to keep up the good work!

How do you use your own experience as an international volunteer to ensure All Out Africa provides the best volunteer programs available?

I am in the unique position of understanding the cultures of our clients having lived and travelled in Europe, Australia, and North America, and of our staff and projects partners. I see my role as blending the culture and expectations to create products that are rewarding and enjoyable for volunteers, and create satisfaction and growth for our staff and partners.

I remember how vulnerable it can be landing in an unknown location, and that is why we meet all new arrivals at the airport proudly wearing the All Out Africa brand and giving volunteers a warm welcome into our family. It’s these small touches that can make a volunteer feel safe and welcome. Our customer service and dedication is also at a level expected by international clients, really putting our hearts and energy into supporting our volunteers. I also remember my passion for making a sustainable contribution, so designing placements that have a clear role for volunteers is important in achieving the feeling of having done something worthwhile.

All Out Africa volunteers and staff

Some of my volunteers and team

What do you think surprises volunteers most about volunteering in Africa?

The Africa many people see on TV is so different! People come here expecting just gravel roads and poverty, so they are surprised to see cinemas, roads, and shopping malls! Africa is a continent, and each country has a unique environment and culture.

There are challenges faced, which include poverty, poor quality education, HIV/AIDs, and damage to the environment, and volunteers can be surprised how these issues change their perspective and their desire to continue to make a difference after they return home.

You are an expat living in Swaziland, as you are originally from the UK. How do you help volunteers learn how to immerse in the local culture effectively?

Understanding the culture and managing expectations are key to this. Recently I changed our orientation process for volunteers, which we believe helps get to grips with where you are and why you are here.

Our orientation program includes meeting all the staff, so you know who are here to support you, and also a walking tour around the National Museum and a local village, which is a great opportunity to delve into history and culture. We discuss the challenges that people face in the country and highlight how All Out Africa and the volunteers are contributing to bringing about change to improve lives. Having a thorough understanding and first-hand experience of culture and understanding life challenges gives a solid base from which to explore, as getting out there and meeting new people is how to deepen your immersion and have the most authentic experience possible.

Volunteer with child in Africa at Christmas time

Sharing the Christmas spirit with our kids

What is the most rewarding part about your job?

Seeing our volunteers grow with confidence, experiencing the world, and learning gives me such a great buzz. Knowing that every day we are conducting work that impacts developing communities or conserves the environment inspires me when I’m tired. Having an amazingly dedicated and knowledgeable team makes me so proud.

If you could participate in any placement with All Out Africa, which one would you choose?

I’d choose our Kruger to Cape Program; this 12 week adventure focuses on volunteering with orphaned and vulnerable children in both Swaziland and Cape Town, enabling you to connect and understand the culture and life in these two different places. Assisting teaching at pre-schools and primary schools is rewarding and brings smiles to everyone’s faces. Added to the experience are tours to the palm-fringed beaches of Mozambique, the spectacular coastline of South Africa and its adrenaline activities, and spotting the big five in Kruger National Park. This is a unique way to travel with a meaning, combining helping others with experiencing stunning sights.

Where do you see All Out Africa expanding in 2016?

We are considering expanding into a fifth country in Southern Africa to increase the opportunities available for volunteers and also make All Out Africa’s impact felt in more communities. Watch this space for the announcement!