Cultural Immersion & Community Service in East Africa

This program is no longer offered. View more programs from Operation Groundswell.

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Tanzania is most commonly known for Mount Kilimanjaro, idyllic beaches, and its vast wildlife reserves. It’s home to the Serengeti, Zanzibar, and Spice Island. But there is so much more just a few steps off the beaten path. The country is a cultural mosaic home to over 100 ethnic groups, creating a unique and dynamic vibe.

Meanwhile, Rwanda offers a picturesque landscape full of beauty and culture, but also a dark history. Over two decades after the tragic 1994 genocide, Rwanda is now the safest and cleanest country in Africa. Known as one of the new tech-hubs of East Africa, Kigali’s rising towers, paved streets, moderated transport system, and shopping malls are a testament to the changing times in Rwanda.

Our journey across this vast and unique region will give us deeper insight into the struggles and opportunities that abound, will unfold different perspectives and stories about everyday life, and will connect us to the real change makers pushing for and cultivating innovation.

  • Get an inside look at the hotbed of social innovation and entrepreneurship taking place in Tanzania’s urban areas.
  • Camp under the stars in Rwanda’s famous Akagera National Park where you’ll watch extraordinary wildlife and engage with local communities in their efforts to build a more sustainable form of tourism.
  • Run entrepreneurship and leadership workshops while getting a firsthand view of a women’s microfinance organization in rural Tanzania.
  • Work alongside the Jane Goodall Institute and community leaders working in animal and environmental conservation around Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
  • Swim in the warm waters of the Kikuletwa hot springs while engaging with ecotourism and social enterprise in Moshi, Tanzania.

Questions & Answers


based on 7 reviews
  • Impact 7.9
  • Support 8.6
  • Fun 9.4
  • Value 8.7
  • Safety 9
Showing 1 - 7 of 7
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Great month of organized travel

This trip was well organized mix of community engagement, outdoor activity and social.
Everyone on the trip was great. I think the people are the biggest variables for trips like these and i had an amazing OG group and leaders. We learnt about cultures, the language and experienced a trip of a lifetime. I liked the 10 free days in the middle. I liked the homestay we did. I liked the freedom we had. 100% recommend if you want to travel but not my first choice for people who are more focused on volunteering.

How can this program be improved?
Be cheaper and more accessible to everyone.
Yes, I recommend this program

My Tanzania Social Innovation Experience

Operation Groundswell allowed me to have a unique and educational backpacking experience that differs from any volunteering overseas program I have ever heard about. The trip itself was dedicated to culture immersion while still acknowledging the privilege we have as travelers and how we impact the places we travel. I enjoyed learning from the NGOs based in Tanzania that we visited, instead of simply attempting to make a lasting impact through a one-time charitable visit. Operation Groundswell is for travelers who are contentious of their global impact and who want to make a difference in themselves instead of blindly hoping that what they do will be the difference that saves the world. It was a truly eye opening and fun experience that I think back on every day.

Yes, I recommend this program
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My Crazy, Unforgettable Time in East Africa

My trip to East Africa was unforgettable to say the least. Let's start at the beginning, in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a bit of a culture shock at first, as Nairobi is a chaotic, bustling city. We stayed at the YMCA. I couldn't sleep for the first week because my body was adjusting to my malaria meds. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it's really important to keep taking them if it does. While in Nairobi, we visited a very cool art collaborative called PAWA254, walked through the slums of Kibera, and got thoroughly ripped off at the souvenir shops (at least I did - I recommend bargaining hard if you want to buy anything but be respectful of course). The slums of Kibera were truly eye-opening. Be prepared to have swarms of children run after you; they're very friendly! We visited Carolina for Kibera, an organization that does amazing work to provide healthcare and other services in the slums, and helped distribute sanitary pads to schoolgirls.

Next, we took a bus ride to Kimende. I should mention that most of the bus rides on this trip were extremely long and uncomfortable, but I kind of enjoyed the discomfort as part of the experience. Just try to stay mindful and positive. In Kimende, we stayed with local families and did a few activities like planting trees and weeding. The hospitality was incredible. We stayed here for a few days before taking off to Uganda!

In Kampala, Uganda, we worked with RWEYOWA to set up an HIV testing clinic. Our job was to walk around certain neighbourhoods and distribute flyers to promote our clinic. Again, people were very friendly. It was also very hot! The ground is covered in orange dust, so I recommend wearing shoes that you can wash or don't mind getting dirty. Kampala has a great nightlife, which some of us explored, but I loved that there was no pressure at all for those who didn't feel comfortable.

Next, we went rafting on the Nile! This was SO. MUCH. FUN! Highly recommend. Some people also went bungee jumping but I chickened out.

In Gulu, Uganda, we worked with United Youth Entertainment (UYE) to produce and screen a silent film. I found this leg of the trip to be quite long and slow. This is where you really start to experience a different pace of life but be patient and try to relax. The extra free time lets you do some exploring. Gulu's nightlife is also great.

Then, everyone had ten days off to do what they wanted. Three of us decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I could go on about this part forever but let's just say this was one of the most challenging and rewarding weeks of my life. It's a little pricey but 100% worth it. We finished off our trip with some camping in Kenya before heading back to Nairobi. Overall, this experience is perfect if you're looking for adventure and not afraid of feeling a little tired or outside your comfort zone at times. Our program directors made all the difference; they were always there to listen and help us adjust. Thank you, Shamira and Julius!

Since returning home, I've discussed my experience with many: friends and family (of course), job interviewers, and I even wrote about it in my (successful) applications for graduate programs at the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics. If used properly, this experience can be an asset to boost your CV. However, expect that some people will be critical. Voluntourism is controversial - for good reasons, in my opinion. But I've always felt that my experience with Operation Groundswell was not a classic voluntourism trip. We didn't go in and build a school where there was no need for a school. We partnered with local organizations on projects that were already underway, for which there was real demand. It's useful to emphasize this if faced with criticism. I would also keep in mind that this program is not the most effective way to help communities in East Africa. You should be clear that you are doing this for yourself as well as to have a social impact. With that in mind, I do think we helped!

How can this program be improved?
Perhaps there could have been more information ahead of time about our options on the 10 days off. I ended up climbing Kili with two others, but none of us had enough warm clothing. I also didn't have enough cash with me (and the ATMs weren't working for me), so I had to embarrassingly ask my parents to wire some money from my account.
Yes, I recommend this program
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This Is Africa!

Volunteering in East Africa through Operation Groundswell was an invigorating, eye-opening and life changing experience! Their collaboration with local NGO's allows you to truly integrate into the local culture and community while making a real positive impact. By working with these local NGO's you ensure that the projects you are working on are not only helpful and useful, but something that the community truly needs.

Our Program Leaders Shamira and Julius unified our group and allowed us to explore what it truly means to volunteer abroad. The operations team at the OG headquarters made sure everything was in order and were very helpful when it came to answering questions and concerns. Given the chance, I would take another trip with OG in a heartbeat.

How can this program be improved?
I wouldn't change anything about the program but I would want to see a more thorough break down of the extra expenses we might incur abroad as well as how the program fee breaks down.
Yes, I recommend this program
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I was nervous about traveling by myself to a different country, but the minute I stepped off the plane I felted welcomed and secure. I got to meet amazing people, both in the program and along our travels.

Some of my favourite experiences where meeting different groups in the region who were passionately working to create change. For example, the Young County Change Makers (YCCM) is composed of some hard working individuals who are really inspirational! They helped us settle in and were really nice. We were able to help them build a community library that brings books, education, and recreation to the youth living in Kisumu.

The play part of the trip was also wonderful. For example, biking through Hell's Gate National Park (think Lion King) and being so close to wild animals. Zebra ran right past me! I also got to climb "Pride Rock" and walk through the gorge.

Overall, this is an experience that is well worth your time and money. I wouldn't be able to express in full how awesome it is on this website. It is something you really need to experience to understand, and trust me, you'll love it!!

How can this program be improved?
The long bus rides aren't the funniest, but that's something you have to deal with when you are backpacking. In the end, it was always worth it. Anyway, little thing that might have bugged me is completely forgotten and only the good memories live on!
Yes, I recommend this program
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What backpacking should look like

This is an incredible program. They really attempt to help you understand and become part of East Africa. You stay in a variety of living conditions from camping, to a guest house, and many different kinds of hostels to show us the many way you can travel. They also provide you with the skills you need to get around despite cultural or language barrier and they teach you how to do it as cheaply as possible. I had never backpacked before this program and I felt comfortable traveling and staying by myself during our independent travel time. I never wanted to feel like I was a tourist looking at the sights while never actually seeing the country I was really in. This program provides you the opportunity to become a part of the culture while constantly changing you to ask yourself what your impact is and why your there.

How can this program be improved?
This program assigned us with host families whom we stayed with for a night and two days. I personally would have liked to stay an extra night or too. I do not think I was able to truly bond in that short amount of time.
Yes, I recommend this program
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OG is the best!

I can't express how truly life-changing a trip with OG is. My trip to East Africa was an incredible learning experience and was soooo much fun! Please please go! It's worth every penny in the world and as a student, I know the reality of being a poor student.

Yes, I recommend this program


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About Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell is all about backpacking with a purpose. With ethical travel at the crux of our philosophy, Operation Groundswell designs financially accessible programs that tell a story, addressing key challenges unique to each region and...