With rainforests, mountain ranges, and beaches, Sierra Leone contains a vast amount of natural beauty, but the true beauty of this country lies within its people. Characterized by their emphasis on community and vibrant handicrafts, volunteers can expect a warm welcome from locals. Leaving behind their war-torn past, Sierra Leone is eager for international support. There is much to be done in Sierra Leone, including infrastructural restoration, disease prevention, and the eradication of poverty, so volunteering in Sierra Leone might not be easy, but it will most definitely be worth it!
The geography, infrastructure, and societal makeup of Sierra Leone is incomparable to most Western nations. Towns and roads are typically irregular, and each community tends to be sporadically developed around its own markets, restaurants, and activities, which in turn leads to more close-knit communities. However, that is not to say there are not distinct locations in which to volunteer in Sierra Leone. The following two cities are the most common places to volunteer abroad in Sierra Leone:
Freetown is the capital of Sierra Leone. Known for its color and energy, this city is unquestionably rough around the edges, but makes up for it with natural beauty. With white sand and mountain ranges all around, Freetown is home to a vast majority of volunteer placements in Sierra Leone. As a developing city, there are many specific populations of people in need of volunteer support, including orphans and those suffering from AIDS. While Freetown is more established than other surrounding towns, volunteers should be no means expect to see skyscrapers or luxurious malls within the city’s limits.
The town of Makeni is known for its historic football club, and consequently, a prevalent soccer culture. The most popular volunteer placement in Makeni takes place at the town’s School for the Deaf, but there is also a significant handicraft market and museum worth exploring. Makeni varies from other locations for volunteer in Sierra Leone in that there are multiple hotels, and most more luxurious than those available in other parts of the country. Most volunteer placements in Makeni revolve around education and medicine.
Volunteer Programs in Sierra Leone
Most volunteer work in Sierra Leone is focused on serving underprivileged populations, as the country continues to struggle with civil violence, infrastructure issues, and poverty. Those who volunteer in Sierra Leone will no doubt learn a lesson in empathy as they are able to reach out to underprivileged and underserved populations and provide vital support.
Orphanages. Sierra Leone has a sizeable population of vulnerable youth and children. Therefore, there is a critical need for volunteers to work alongside these precious children in a number of capacities. Volunteers can work directly in orphanages helping staff to meet the children’s most immediate needs, but responsibilities could also include marketing, administrative, education related tasks. For example, volunteers might have the chance to work together to raise funds to support the orphanages and empower the children through special programs.
Teaching. Sierra Leone is home to a range of academic institutions, which provide many opportunities for foreigners to volunteer their time and skills. Those with a love for children and a desire to see the fruits of their work daily will likely find volunteer teaching in Sierra Leone to be both challenging and rewarding. Most volunteers will spend their time teaching local students a range of subjects, such as math and art. In addition to teaching, volunteers will usually be able to plan extracurricular activities for students.
Health. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone has the highest death rate in the world. Putting war mortality aside, malaria is the largest cause of death in Sierra Leone. With a severe lack of general practitioners, the average citizen often goes without proper medical care. Individuals with backgrounds in global health, medicine, and international development, among others, should not pass up the opportunity to volunteer in Sierra Leone; they will be able to help locals who lack appropriate health education and access to medical advice and treatment. Volunteers interested in reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention will also find volunteering in Sierra Leone to be particularly beneficial.
Daily life in Sierra Leone varies greatly from life in the Western world. Although the beautifully simple way of life in Sierra Leone may be very foreign to incoming volunteers, this only means that volunteers will have even more to learn. The local people put a strong emphasis on etiquette and manners. Therefore, to ensure positive relationships, it is crucial that volunteers treat all people in a polite, respectful fashion.
Costs & Affordability
It may be called "Freetown," but volunteering in Sierra Leone is hardly free! Although, your daily cost of living as a volunteer in Sierra Leone will be considerably lower than what you're likely accumulate back home. Yet, Sierra Leone is not the cheapest destination for volunteering abroad on the planet. Average costs of goods and services are actually higher than what you'd find in Buenos Aires, Beirut, and Rome!
Check with your program provider to learn what is included in your volunteer program costs. Oftentimes, meals and accommodations are provided, leaving your out-of-pocket expenses to cover transportation, medical bills, extra popsicles, and souvenirs. Your overall costs will also be determined by the lifestyle you choose to adopt while volunteering in Sierra Leone. It's easier to forego western amenities and comforts while volunteering in rural Sierra Leone, but we won't blame you for trading in your Krio for more familiar fare every now and then.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodations offered to volunteers in Sierra Leone are diverse. However, volunteers should keep in mind that the average home in Sierra Leone is made up of straw and clay, as opposed to the cement and steel more common in the Western world.
Long term volunteers are often placed in apartments, to allow them to feel more at home and live independently, but are sometimes required to coordinate their own housing. Shorter term volunteer programs in Sierra Leone will typically provide volunteers with group living arrangements, which allow volunteers to share a common community building that is in close proximity to their placement.
Homestays are also commonly offered by volunteer organizations in Sierra Leone. Homestays allow volunteers to experience the culture on a deeper level, develop more intimate relationships, and enhance their language skills at an accelerated rate. Although, all accommodation options provide volunteers with the opportunity to experience the local culture.
In order to obtain a visa to volunteer in Sierra Leone, one must begin the process multiple months in advance. However, getting a visa is rather effortless and inexpensive in comparison to many other countries. To begin the process, volunteers should visit their local Sierra Leonean embassy’s website for more detailed information and requirements. All volunteers should be prepared to submit their passports, processing fees, and proof of their volunteer program plans. Once in Sierra Leone, visa extensions will be possible through a notably simple process.
Benefits & Challenges
Political Unrest. Sierra Leone is currently experiencing a state of relative stability and peace. However, many surrounding countries present ongoing threats, leading Sierra Leone to experience ripples of political unrest. International volunteers are highly advised to research the political state of the surrounding countries and the exact city where they will be volunteering in before arrival, in addition to creating an emergency plan.
Simplicity. Due to a number of factors, Sierra Leone has experienced economic uncertainty for decades. This trouble has resulted in a life of simplicity overall. For some volunteers cultural and lifestyle adjustment can be unsettling and difficult; however, living amongst these beautiful people will provide volunteers with many life lessons and opportunities for learning. Volunteers will walk away from volunteering in Sierra Leone as better stewards of their possessions and more able to live a highly conscientious lifestyle.
Disease. Sierra Leone is no stranger to disease, even the kind that put the entire global community in a flurry. While Sierra Leone has been officially declared Ebola-free, for some volunteers, the risk of disease outbreaks remains a particularly difficult pill to swallow. In this case, it is important for volunteers to have ongoing dialogue with their volunteer program provider or host organization to ensure they are aware of safety measures, evacuation plans, and general hygiene tips to mitigate the potential for contracting any diseases.
Impact. Locals, cheerfully referred to as Creole or Krio people, have limited resources and deal with many challenges. Therefore, volunteers can have a real impact on the lives of locals.
If you want to volunteer abroad somewhere truly in need of help, where you can make a real difference, look no further than volunteer programs in Sierra Leone.