Famous for its wildlife and diamonds, Botswana is a gem worth visiting. The country has began to flourish economically in more recent years, but even so it continues to face social issues, like high rates of unemployment and dangerous HIV infection rates. In combination with rich game reserves and national parks these troubling social problems provide numerous volunteer opportunities in Botswana.
Geography & Demographics
Botswana is located in the center of Southern Africa, sharing borders with Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. There are ten main ethnic groups in Botswana, including the Tswana, Kalanga, Basarwa or Bushmen, and Baherero. The largest ethnic group, Tswana, is even further divided into eight subgroups creating extensive ethnic diversity in the nation. An increase in the number of Zimbabwean settlers in Botswana has occurred more recently, because of the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. All these ethnic groups are collectively referred to as the Batswana, or the people of Botswana, while an individual from Botswana is called a Motswana.
The fast-paced growth of the economy is changing the lifestyle in the country, with a growing number of people moving to the urban areas. In this way, Botswana is becoming known as an African success story. The country’s economy began to escalate after Botswana achieved independence, mainly due to the rich diamond-bearing formations within the nation’s borders. Botswana has a steadily increasing tourism industry, partially owing to its well-stocked game reserves. Game reserves and national parks cover almost 20 percent of the country’s total land area.
December to May constitute the country’s rainy season, filled with thunderstorms and cloudy skies, with occasional touches of sunny moments. Yet temperatures still fail to drop lower than the teens (in Celsius). In areas outside the Kalahari desert April and May can bring some of the most beautiful days of the entire year. From June to October the country slowly dries during the days and cools more and more in the evenings. Some evenings between June and October reach below freezing, while the sunny days of October can become absolutely scorching. Volunteers who aren’t a fan of the heat should avoid Botswana in October, and those that despise rain should steer clear of the nation from December to May.
Food & Culture
Communicating with the locals in Botswana is not difficult for English speakers because the nation’s official language is English. One of the local dialects, called Setswana, is also widely spoken among about 90 percent of the population. Known for being easy on the lips and pleasing to the ear, learning the Setswana language while volunteering in Botswana offers a delightful challenge for foreigners.
The nation’s cereal crops, sorghum and maize, typically served as porridge or bogobe, are the basic staple of almost all meals in Botswana. Bogobe is often served with milk and sugar for breakfast and with meat and vegetables for lunch or dinner. One of the traditional meat dishes called the Seswaa or Chotlo, is prepared by boiling beef, goat, or lamb until tender; then the meat is cooked with only salt as seasoning, shredded, and pounded before served. Another popular dish is called Serobe, prepared by cooking the intestines and other insides of a sheep, goat, or cow. Barbeques are also quite common in the country, specifically on special occasions. Lunch is usually consider the main meal of the day with dinner generally consisting of bread and leftovers served with tea. More exotic delicacies can be found in more remote areas to fulfill adventurous eater’s aspirations. The morama bean (an underground tuber), edible fungus, and the Mopane worm, which is a multi-colored caterpillar, are all eaten in rural areas.
Resourceful, strong-willed, and proud, the people of Botswana remain the soul of the country. Close to three-fourths of Botswana’s population subscribes to Christianity, mostly in affiliation with the Methodist Church, United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, and Anglican denominations. Overall, religious services tend to be well-attended throughout the country’s rural and urban areas. In the past, almost all ethnic groups lived through pastoral means, finding a permanent settlement in hilly regions or in areas with reliable water sources. Chiefs called kgosi looked after the affairs of the village settlements. Each village had a traditional meeting place called the kgotla, which was seen as the most important spot in the community. The traditional village houses were called the ntlo, round thatched huts supported by mud bricks plastered with cow dung and soil. Due to the recent economic growth, urban life is attracting more and more rural dwellers. Houses in urban Botswana are mostly rectangular and are made of breeze blocks and cement with tile or metal roofs.
The currency of Botswana is called Pula, further divided into 100 equal units called the Thebe. Pula is a Setswana word that literally means rain, which is considered highly valuable as it is a very scarce resource in Botswana; coincidentally, pula also means blessing in Setswana. Thebe, on the other hand, means shield.
Things to Do
Whether it is the craving for lush, alluring greens or the warm appeal of the red desert dunes, volunteers will find something that will delight their eyes and minds. Vast areas of wilderness, from the Okavango Delta in the north to the deserts of the south, are well-preserved allow volunteers to experience nature in its truest form; some areas of national parks even allow camping.
Volunteering in Botswana
With a tourism industry built on wildlife, it is not surprising that several volunteer programs in Botswana focus on conservation and wildlife. Established volunteer programs in Botswana aim to protect not only the animals but their habitat as well. Though Botswana has seen a steady improvement in its economy, it is still plagued with social issues, most notably one of the highest HIV infection rates in the entire world. Multiple volunteer organizations help place volunteers in programs that attempt to address these issues through various avenues, including healthcare, childcare, and education based placements.
Kaya Responsible Travel allows international volunteers to help the children of Botswana in a variety of ways, from teaching sports, caring for infants, organizing fundraisers, and teaching them basic lessons.