Tell us a little about Edge of Africa and your role at the company.
Jo: Edge of Africa was founded in South Africa in 2007 by Dayne Davey. Dayne was born in Zimbabwe and has always been passionate about Africa’s people and environment. Through her own personal experiences Dayne was motivated to initiate a volunteer organisation that truly benefits local communities and the environment.
Edge of Africa branches have now also been opened in Madagascar and Zimbabwe and our organisation boasts the involvement of volunteers from over 20 different nations globally.
We are a non-government organisation offering volunteers the opportunity to contribute to Africa’s communities and environment. We provide ethical volunteer and internship placements in Africa for those taking gap years or career breaks, university students looking for internship opportunities, and school groups. We don't receive any funding from the government or any other organisations and rely solely on the goodwill and hard work of our team members.
We believe our organisation not only helps satisfy some dire needs in our communities and environment, but also provides exposure to the colourful heritage, cultures and traditions Africa has to offer, with the valuable benefit of making an actual, tangible difference in the lives we touch.
My role includes assisting with the general management of our Knysna (South Africa) Branch and its team members; however my main role in Edge of Africa is Project Development. My responsibilities include identifying projects that align with the ethos of Edge of Africa and outlining clear aims and objectives for those projects; monitoring and evaluating the progress of our projects to ensure that we are in line with our objectives; ensuring that our volunteers have a clear understanding of the objectives of our projects and their role within our projects; and communicating with and maintaining good relationships with community members and any other stakeholders.
How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?
Jo: I initially became involved with the volunteer industry through my passion for conservation. I have a degree in Animal Conservation Science and during my free time whilst at university I chose to volunteer on various conservation projects. Through one of these volunteer opportunities I discovered Edge of Africa and I never looked back! Within days of volunteering with this organisation I knew this was my calling and I couldn’t imagine ever not being a part of Edge of Africa and so I went from being a short term volunteer, to a long term volunteer, and eventually became a permanent team member!
In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?
Jo: To me the number one most important requirement of a volunteer is that they share the vision of the organisation and the projects that they plan to be involved in. For example many people who consider volunteering (often with good intentions) hold a belief that they are going to come in and “save Africa” – the problem with this is that the very suggestion that Africa needs “saving” instils a sense of self-worthlessness in the community and does not align with the vision of Edge of Africa which is to empower local communities.
I think that other characteristics that make a good volunteer are willingness to get stuck in with all aspects of a project; the ability to take initiative and go the extra mile in order to benefit the project they are involved in; an understanding that they are often contributing to a bigger picture (“Rome wasn’t built in a day!”); and the ability to show sensitivity and open-mindedness towards all cultures and traditions.
I think that a good volunteer puts the needs of the project first – choosing to volunteer is rarely an entirely selfless act, for most people part of their motivation to volunteer is because they want to experience new things and meet new people and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this at all, gaining something for yourself is part of the experience but I believe that the number one priority of a volunteer should be to benefit the projects they are involved with.
What does the future hold for Edge of Africa?
Jo: We are currently working towards the establishment of the Edge of Africa Academy. To have a local academy has always been a dream of the Edge of Africa Team - the key aims of this Academy are to provide a safe and inspiring space where children can learn, develop and have the freedom to excel; to provide a channel for business empowerment opportunities for adults; and to form a trust which will enable Academy members to apply for bursaries for tertiary education or to further their career path.
Although we do not yet have the Academy building (this is something we hope the near future will hold!) we are putting the model for the Academy into practice. For example we have developed business models for small businesses that will employ local community