Ethiopia, located in the Horn of Africa, is one of the most interesting places and unique places in Sub-Saharan Africa to volunteer abroad. As one of the oldest countries in Africa and the world, Ethiopia has a long national heritage, and a distinct culture -- especially in regards to the Christian history there.
However, it's still an underdeveloped country and volunteer support is needed -- especially with community development, basic healthcare, and education.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 29.2% of Ethiopia’s population is below the poverty line. Although 29% is small relative to neighboring African countries, it is enough to belittle the effect that political policies have. You can support the communities of Ethiopia that need the most attention in a variety of ways.
The inadequacy of the health care system and lack of doctors mean many Ethiopians resort to traditional home operations, such as female genital cutting (FGC), that increases the chances of disease cross-contamination. Poor sanitation and malnutrition also lead to poor health in Ethiopia. Working at hospitals or smaller clinics is but one way to engage Ethiopia’s medical field.
Deforestation has rapidly increased in Ethiopia, leading to soil erosion, a loss of nutrients, and a loss of biodiversity. Much needs to be done to save Ethiopia’s forests. Initially, volunteers can develop their own projects (e.g. solar-cookers, wood-saving stoves, or seed dispersal groups) to improve the overall environment.
There is little to no equality between Ethiopian men and women. Most cases of female-bias occur in rural villages where traditional customs dominate. What’s more, more than half of Ethiopian marriages arise out of female abductions. Volunteers can raise awareness of gender violence and encourage women to seek help.
Volunteers are needed to educate Ethiopians, especially the youth, whether in English studies, life skills, or sports development. Tutoring grammar and basic mathematics can help get more kids off the streets and into the classroom.
Planning Your Trip
What sort of NGOs / non-profits work in Ethiopia?
Many of the NGOs based in Ethiopia focus on improving health and promoting the rights of women. While the majority is headquartered in Addis Ababa, others are scattered throughout the country.
Where are the best places in Ethiopia to volunteer?
Focus your search on Addis Ababa, St. Paul, Dire Dawa, Hawassa, and Bahir Dar.
Visas for Volunteering in Ethiopia
An Ethiopian tourist visa requires an official application, a valid passport, an appropriately-sized passport photo and a copy of a green card, I-94, or work permit (except for U.S. Nationals). More information can be found at VISA HQ.
Health & Safety
Ethiopia’s medical facilities are scarce and offer poor services. The U.S. Department of State recommends that volunteers traveling to Ethiopia take Hepatitis A and B, polio, and meningitis vaccines. For those traveling to more rural areas, typhoid and malaria vaccines are nearly necessary. In terms of every day life, avoid eating fruits unless they’ve been washed in bleach and food that’s served cold.
Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital, is known for petty pick-pocket incidents in crowded areas both in the daytime and nighttime. Never carry more cash than you need and avoid shouting in English. Doing so highlights that you’re a foreigner and thus unaware of your surroundings.
Volunteer Programs in Ethiopia
InterExchange Foundation Christianson Fellowship
The InterExchange Foundation Christianson Fellowship awards up to $10,000 to young Americans who are passionate about helping communities abroad thrive and are eager to learn about the local culture. Fellows identify a project or an organization working on an issue they care about, and with the support of the Christianson Fellowship, contribute their skills and passion to that endeavor for at least six months on-location abroad. This intercultural experience is a meaningful way to help others, improve skills, and gain insight about another culture.
GoEco Volunteer Scholarships
To assist prospective volunteers in taking part in one of their programs, GoEco, an eco-tourism company, awards one flight voucher of $1,000 and waived fees for a two-week program, plus travel insurance to successful beneficiaries of their scholarships. To apply, you must be currently enrolled at an educational institution to be eligible for the award.
Omprakash Ethical Global Engagement Grants
The Ethical Global Engagement Grants, funded by volunteer platform Omprakash, are for those planning on volunteering with an Omprakash partner abroad and who also wish to enroll on the EdGE learning platform, but are financially unable to do so. They have a range of scholarships, including:
EdGE Gap Year Grant: Available to those aged 22 and under who plan to volunteer for six months with an Omprakash partner and completely covers the cost of the EdGE tuition, plus $2,700 towards travel and living costs abroad.