In the world of international education, Africa is one of the fastest growing destinations for volunteering abroad. From developing towns lacking basic necessities to well-developed cities with a desire for English education, individuals who volunteer in Africa will find placement opportunities in nearly any field, regardless of their background. So, the only thing you have to decide is where and how to volunteer in Africa, because the need is surely there.
Why Volunteer in Africa
It can be both a richly rewarding and globally strategic decision. Africa not only offers the chance to serve and help communities in need, but also has a number of venues to hone skills for your resume and network internationally. African nations fall widely across the spectrum of economic development, which means volunteer opportunities to both provide basic services in developing countries or further build infrastructure in more developed countries exist in Africa. The continent has also drawn interest from nonprofits around the globe, making it the perfect place to volunteer abroad and meet global leaders.
There are volunteer programs in Africa in every single country. Just as the cultures differ across the continent, the needs of each nation or project location vary greatly. Africa is typically divided into five regions, North, West, Central, East, and Southern. While some debate exists about which countries belong in each region, there is some general consensus and therefore basic knowledge volunteers should have about each.
North Africa is typically a very safe destination to volunteer in Africa. Political unrest has been known to occur in the western parts of the region, but as a whole this region is quite stable. Most volunteer placements in North Africa are in urban areas, specifically capital cities.
If you are looking for a more rural experience as a volunteer in Africa, West and East Africa are better options. The risks for volunteers are similar in both of these areas. Both regions have a history of civil violence, the West in the form of human trafficking while the East has experienced civil war, and recurring epidemics of disease. However, many nations within these regions safely welcome plenty of tourists and international volunteers every year. Volunteer program providers in these African regions typically offer some degree of safety training and protective measures for the benefit of international volunteers too.
South Africa is a blend of both urban and rural volunteer work in Africa. From big coastal cities to inland villages, there are a variety of options when it comes to geographical location, which should depend most greatly on your interests as a volunteer in Africa. South Africa is perhaps the most stable region on the continent, with many long standing government units and rarely any political or civil demonstrations.
It is also possible to volunteer in Africa in the rural areas of Central Africa. Conflict in Central Africa is frequent, unfortunately, but so is the need for international volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering in Central Africa, be sure to check with your program provider to find out what resources are available to you in case of emergency or there is a sudden change in the political environment.
Volunteer Programs in Africa
Many volunteers choose to volunteer in Africa because of the opportunity to work with children. Most of the time volunteering with children in Africa occurs in an orphanage setting, where volunteer needs range from English education to basic health care. Additionally, volunteers may be asked to play sports, tutor, or practice hygiene skills with the children.
Education, specifically in the arena of public health, is in great need when it comes to volunteering in Africa. As a developing field in much of Africa, there are lots of opportunities for education volunteering both in the classroom and in the administration of education (specifically in encouraging students to stay in school).
One of the top ways to volunteer in Africa, in many countries, is through wildlife conservation projects. Volunteers are needed in this field to help with game management and research most prominently. Conservation volunteering in Africa is great for volunteers with an interest in science, agriculture, and environmental sustainability.
With large scale disease outbreaks occurring frequently in certain regions, the need for medical volunteers in Africa is high. In addition to working with orphans who have lost parents to disease or helping to educate locals about specific disease prevention or treatment methods, medical volunteering in Africa often includes the actual treatment of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
Many nonprofits in Africa attempt to tackle or improve social issues, such as human trafficking and gender discrimination. These nonprofit organization provide great opportunities to volunteer in Africa, including work in human rights, gender empowerment, and micro-finance projects.
It is possible to volunteer in Africa for anywhere from six to 12 weeks. English speakers are in high demand in most locations in Africa, so foreign language experience is rarely required of volunteers. Certain placements may have educational requirements, but most individuals who volunteer in Africa are current students or students on a gap year, although many programs provide placements for people of all ages, educational backgrounds, and interests.
Benefits & Challenges
Economic Boom. Many African countries are experiencing rapid growth and incredible rates of development, therefore opportunities to volunteer in Africa in a variety of placements and fields are popping up all the time.
Diversity. The cultures encompassed in Africa are incredibly diverse. From languages to religions, there are many unique lifestyles and beliefs that are found only in Africa.
Cost of living. While volunteering in Africa obviously won’t make you rich, many African countries are very affordable to live in. This makes it easy for volunteers—even recent graduates—to live comfortably while volunteering abroad.