The nitty gritty about voluntourism — volunteer work — in Africa

1. How would one define voluntourism?

The term “voluntourism” comprises two words: to “volunteer” and “tourism”. That is to say, it combines traditional travel/tourism with volunteer work (usually abroad).

In theory, the idea is to contribute positively, to give back to communities and to get involved in a variety of projects. From educational ventures with the locals to conservation measures, the choice is yours really.

In practice nevertheless all of the above is not always the case, as voluntourism has become a huge business.

2. How voluntourism works

In a nutshell, you volunteer your time and assistance in a community or project that needs it.

Here’s how you can go about finding the appropriate voluntourism project:

* Choose an area of interest that you would like to get involved in.

* Do some research and surf the web looking for countries/organizations that might offer what you’re interested in.

* Pick an interesting project, based on the following:

–       Overall goal of the project?

–       Could I personally get involved in this particular project (can I do the job)?

–       Is this something that motivates me? If not, you may want to review your choices.

–       Does it give back to local communities (extremely important)? In other words, how will the locals benefit from your input?

–       What are the costs involved, and where does your money go? Are there any local costs to be added?

These preliminary steps are essential, as they will ultimately affect the outcome of your stay.

3. Voluntourism Opportunities in Africa

There are literally thousands of projects out there, which address a wide variety of different topics, so make sure you choose wisely. Would you rather get involved in conservation, or are you more of a social person wanting to get involved with people?

As an example, here’s a list of voluntourism categories you are most likely to bump into for Africa:

–       Building volunteering.

–       Teaching and community development volunteering.

–       Working with children and sports coaching.

–       Wildlife, conservation and rehabilitation voluntourism.

–       Internships in Africa.

4. Voluntourism: benefit or harm?

Not an easy question to answer… 🙂 😉

While in “most” cases (notice the emphasis here) voluntourism is used as a mean to “make a difference”, on a number of occasions it is done wrongly or is solely intended to make big bucks. Indeed, “as with sustainable tourism, the big question in volunteer tourism, McGehee says, is how to maximize the positive effects while minimizing the negative impact. It’s an issue that will be debated more, she says, as more people are drawn to the volunteer tourism experience”.

The impact of voluntourism, I believe, is twofold:


–       Voluntourism organizations give back to communities through effective planning and realistic projects.

–       Voluntourists get to interact, exchange with the locals and immerse themselves in local cultures.


–       Voluntourism can create a system of dependency.

–       The concept of volunteer tourism is used as an excuse by travel tour operators to expand their businesses and make extra cash.

–       Pricing is excessive and not much is passed onto local communities.

–       Voluntourism packages are based upon the tourists wants, NOT on the actual needs of the people/region concerned.

–       Time spent on site is extremely variable (from 1-4 weeks +), and is often not enough to achieve significant and measurable goals.

5. Voluntourism Organisations/Websites

General Voluntourism Resources

I to I

Volunteer and Adventure Travel!

Responsible Travel

World’s leading travel agent for responsible holidays!


THE resource on all things voluntourism!

Volunteer Abroad Search

Search engine for “volunteer type” work!

Voluntourism Africa

African Conservation Experience

Make a difference as a conservation volunteer!

African Impact

Explore, inspire, impact!

Enkosini Eco Experience

Conservation work on wildlife projects and reserves in Southern Africa!


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