Although Africa tends to be talked about as though it were one, large, homogeneous country, the landscapes and people are as multifarious as the continent is vast. From the centuries-old mosques, desert cities, and ancient intellectual traditions of the North; the colorful cultures and extroverted personalities of the West; to the lush jungles, wide savannas, and untainted beaches and reefs of the East, each region possesses a character distinctly its own.

It's also a continent with many opportunities for volunteers to get involved, and -- though often underlooked as a travel destination -- frequently looked at as a volunteer destination. From general projects working with healthcare and education, to more niche opportunities teaching art to deaf children or helping to build a Kenyan startup's website, Africa volunteer opportunities are as varied as the continent itself.

Unfortunately, post-colonialism and political corruption has perpetuated much of the continent into a vicious cycle of aid-dependency and poverty which in turn has made international volunteers an essential part of development. Although some countries are faring better than others, NGOs and aid organizations have a strong presence in nearly all African countries. Both foreign and locally-run aid organizations depend on the time and skills volunteers have to offer.

Education

Although governments technically require students to attend school up through a certain age, many children drop out early or never attend either because there are no schools nearby, they can’t pay fees (which are commonly required even for public schools), or due to an unexpected teenage pregnancy. On top of this, political corruption and a shortage of motivated teachers have added to the need for education reforms and volunteer teachers to fill in the gaps.

Numerous opportunities for volunteer teachers exist, both with teaching ESL and other academic subjects, such as math, science, or IT. If you don’t speak a foreign language, don’t worry -- English is the primary language of instruction in many countries, such as Ghana or Kenya, where volunteers interested in teaching a subject other than ESL may wish to focus their search.

Healthcare and AIDS Awareness

Knowledge about and access to basic health care is a problem for a large portion of the African population. Easily preventable illnesses and infections brought on by lack of personal hygiene, clean water sources, or health education, all too often cause serious complications or death.

Volunteering to help people understand and gain access to even the simplest healthy habits can go a long way – especially in rural communities far from any clinic, hospital, or doctor. Of course, with over 23 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa recorded to be living with HIV, numerous volunteer programs focus exclusively on building AIDS awareness and promoting prevention.

Volunteer programs working with orphanages in Africa are also prevalent, thanks to the HIV epidemic that has left almost 90% of all children in orphanages without parents.

Environmental Conservation

The biodiversity within Africa is incredible and remains one of the main draws for visitors to the continent. Unfortunately, liberal poaching and harvesting of natural resources has taken a detrimental toll on Africa’s environment – running some species into extinction and others close to it. Those wishing to help preserve these landscapes can easily find volunteer positions working with wildlife on reserves, environmental conservation with marine life, or environmental education with youth.

Popular destinations for volunteer programs with wildlife and the environment are Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. The World Wildlife Fund is an excellent place to seek out more information on environmental issues in Africa.

Small Business Enterprise

Industrialization and modernization on a large scale is largely absent from African nations, as visitors may notice in the lack of recognizable mega-chains. Instead, family-owned stores and individuals peddling goods along the stalled cars in congested African cities attest to the fact that much of the economic development that has popped up in the past few decades has come about in the form of small-scale, grassroots enterprises.

For volunteers interested in or experienced with business, they may wish to seek out a volunteer program that assists local communities to set up small businesses. Most times this means working with small-scale artisans or agriculture, organizing micro-finance loans, or running workshops that give entrepreneurs the skills necessary to make the most of their ventures.

Lifestyle and Culture

The lifestyle and culture of African countries, as well as what is considered acceptable and unacceptable, can vary strongly between countries and tribal groups. Muslim-dominated countries in the north and west tend to be more conservative than their Christian neighbors in dress and behavior. For example, drinking alcohol or wearing revealing clothes would be frowned upon in an Islamic nation whereas in other parts of Africa, drinking is an integral part of any large event and breasts are desexualized and it is common to see women publicly breast-feeding.

Other aspects of African lifestyle and culture do hold true throughout the continent. Almost across the board, family bonds are a significant part of daily life in Africa and ethnic group allegiances can be a strong part of a person’s identity.

Outside of the cities, where the influence of the western world has not been as strong, daily life has changed slowly and many people still live in more rustic, traditional housing, and hold on to long-held customs – both ritualistic and mundane. Not so positively though, women tend to be looked at as secondary to men and the harassment that comes with it can be difficult (though not impossible) for women volunteering in Africa to deal with.

Languages

As estimated by UNESCO, over 2,000 languages of various language families – most of which you have probably never heard of – are spoken throughout the African continent. Nigeria alone has over 500 different languages, earning it “one of the highest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world” (source). It is not uncommon for Africans to speak multiple African languages as well as a European language fluently.

Generally, volunteers can get by using Swahili, Arabic, or an official European language – such as French, Spanish, English, or Portuguese – but learning a few basics in the local language will help volunteers tremendously with community integration and simple tasks like going to market.

Africa is home to some of the poorest countries in the world but also several burgeoning metropolises, such as Cape Town and Luanda, with living costs on par with a mid-sized city in the West. Overall, cost of living varies drastically from country to country, and even within the same country costs of food, housing, and other personals can totally depend on if you are volunteering in a rural or urban setting.

In general, living costs tend to drop outside of urban centers and any service catered towards locals (transportation, entertainment, etc.) are more affordable than those intended for foreigners. According to xpatulator, Luanda, Angola; several Nigerian cities; Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa; and Jamestown, Saint Helena rank among the top 15 most expensive cities to live in, while Tunis, Tunisia; Victoria, Seychelles; Nouakchott, Mauritania; and Kampala, Uganda are on the bottom end of the spectrum.

Mass media has painted a skewed picture of the African continent; giving off the impression that it's all around a dangerous place to visit.

Yes, some areas aren't safe, but others are debatably safer than home. Make sure to read up on the security situation of the country you're visiting and get as realistic as possible of an opinion on the safety of that area (also, try not to confuse Senegal with Somalia... ya know?)

For health, malaria is an issue in much of sub-saharan Africa and it's a good idea to get a prophylaxis before leaving home. Pack bug spray with you, and be most vigilant at dusk and night, when the mosquito that carries malaria is active.

Also make sure you're drinking clean water -- water that is filtered and boiled or bottled -- eating washed produce, and sticking to freshly cooked food if eating street food (which you shouldn't shy away from!).

Stomach issues are likely the most common problem you'll encounter. It's recommended to pack Oral Rehydration Salts, pepto-bismol (or, my personal favorite, smecta) just in case. Others will recommend packing imodium, but since stomach issues could be anything from worms to giardia to plain old "what on earth did I just eat?" -- not all of which imodium will cure -- it's better to consult a local doctor before taking medication for serious stomach issues.

For more advice, read our article on how to stay healthy and safe while volunteering in Africa.

Contributed by Jessie Beck

Volunteer Programs in Africa

Displaying 1 - 15 of 1157 programs
International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable South Africa Volunteer + Gap Year Programs | IVHQ
South Africa
9.64 •59 reviews

Trusted by 113,000+ volunteers, IVHQ offers the most popular volunteer...

GVI
GVI: Volunteer in South Africa
South Africa
9.76 •41 reviews

South Africa is often referred to as the Rainbow Nation, for...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Ghana from $270
Ghana
9.61 •88 reviews

Are you ready for a meaningful adventure in Ghana? Then join...

GVI
GVI: Volunteer in Seychelles
Seychelles
9.59 •32 reviews

As a country supporting 115 islands, Seychelles is ecologically...

Projects Abroad
Projects Abroad Volunteer Programs in Ghana
Ghana
9.15 •47 reviews

Projects Abroad has been placing volunteers abroad since 1992. As a...

Volunteering Solutions
Volunteer in South Africa | Most Affordable Projects From $350
South Africa
9.71 •17 reviews

If you're looking for an adventure where you can make a difference at...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Tanzania from $270
Tanzania
9.7 •56 reviews

Are you ready for a meaningful adventure in Tanzania? Join...

African Impact
Volunteer Programs in South Africa with African Impact
South Africa
9.07 •45 reviews

There is a reason why South Africa is consistently rated one of the...

GVI
GVI: Volunteer with Children
Zambia
9.83 •12 reviews

GVI offers a carefully selected range of projects in different...

Volunteering Solutions
Volunteer in Kenya | Most Affordable Projects Starting From $270
Kenya
9.2 •20 reviews

Volunteering Solutions offers incredible and amazing volunteering...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Zambia from $270
Zambia
9.78 •32 reviews

Trusted by 110,000+ volunteers, IVHQ offers the most popular volunteer...

Volunteering Solutions
Volunteer in Morocco, Rabat | Most Affordable & Trusted Projects
Morocco
9.76 •21 reviews

Volunteering Solutions offers affordable & meaning volunteering...

African Impact
Volunteer Projects in Zambia with African Impact
Zambia
9.69 •32 reviews

Rich culture and adventure are abundant in this African nation...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Victoria Falls with IVHQ
Zimbabwe
9.91 •47 reviews

Trusted by 113,000+ volunteers, IVHQ offers the most popular volunteer...

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ
Most Affordable & Trusted Volunteer Programs in Uganda from $280
Uganda
9.23 •39 reviews

Trusted by 110,000+ volunteers, IVHQ offers the most popular volunteer...

New Programs in Africa

Looking for something new? Check out these new volunteer programs being offered in Africa
  • 3 new reviews
    Little Light
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    10 •3 reviews

    Little Light is an NGO working with the community of Namuwongo, one of...

  • Mantis Impact Experiences
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    A unique opportunity for anyone interested in conservation, Kestrel...

  • Golden Aya Corp
    Volunteer STEM Teaching Assistant
    Tanzania

    Golden Aya's STEM Teacher Assistant volunteer program is one of Golden...

  • Jesse Halliday Global Initiative
    Together We Can Help Local Communities When You Volunteer
    Nigeria

    JHGI is a Non-Profit Organisation looking for Volunteers from around...

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    4S Volunteer Corps for Blessed Village Mission Project Uganda
    Uganda

    Blessed Mission Village Project Uganda is hosting both individual...

  • Heritage Charity Foundation
    Volunteer Placement in Ghana
    Ghana

    1. Teachers (interested qualified teachers will teach English and...

  • VolunteerVacations
    Volunteer Vacations: Angola
    Angola

    Early childhood education and community reconstruction in Angola...

  • 1 new review
    Change Volunter
    Big 5 Safari Conservation, South Africa
    South Africa
    10 •1 review

    Gain hands on experience on a wildlife reserve, assisting the team in...

  • 3 new reviews
    Global Work & Travel
    Tanzania Community Volunteering | The Ultimate Volunteer & Travel in Tanzania
    Tanzania
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    Anyone can see Africa, it takes someone special to live Africa. To...

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I volunteer in Africa?

    The top 10 countries to volunteer in Africa in 2020 are Tanzania, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, Madagascar, Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique. However, you can find volunteer opportunities in over 25+ African countries on Go Overseas.

  • Can I volunteer in Africa for free?

    It’s possible to find free volunteer programs in Africa that exchange volunteer work for room and board. However, transportation (such as flights) is usually not included. Keep in mind that the quality of the organization does not stem from program fees. “Free” programs may sometimes have a catch, such as asking you to fundraise your program fee.

  • How can I volunteer in Africa?

    Decide how you want to help and what skill you can contribute, choose a country in Africa, research and read reviews to find legitimate program providers, apply to the volunteer program, sort out any medical, financial, and visa requirements, book your flights, and go!

  • Why volunteer in Africa?

    There are many reasons to volunteer in Africa: to make a positive impact, to help protect wildlife, to have the opportunity to travel around beautiful countries before or after your volunteer trip, to experience rich and welcoming cultures different than your own, to enjoy a slower lifestyle, and to stand out during a future job search. Africa has a lot of diverse volunteer opportunities in various industries.

What People Are Saying

I spent a month on Curieuse island just after graduating university and had such an amazing time that I then went back again a year later! You get stuck in from the word go and it’s amazing to be able...

The team working up a female turtle who had come up onto the beach to neat

Having never volunteered abroad before I was unsure of what to expect but my whole experience with GVI was excellent. Everything was very clear and well organised from beginning to end. Although my...

2 White Tip Sharks at BTC dive site

I had a great opportunity to volunteer at One World Center for 18 months, It was an amazing experience ever in my life, I had so much fun meeting people from all over the world and I also had the...

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