South Africa is an extremely diverse country, with 11 official languages, and various cultures and lifestyles. There is the amazing Kruger Park, the Table Mountain in Cape Town and amazing wine vineyards which make it a desirable place not only to visit but also to volunteer. The diversity and history of South Africa, make it a country to see and learn from first-hand.
Every country needs volunteers (short and long-term) to fill in the gaps. Poverty, economic disparities, major health problems like HIV/AIDS, human rights violations, and gender-based violence are part of daily live in South Africa. Read on to learn about volunteer programs available, places to live work, and the logistics of volunteering in South Africa.
South Africa is a very popular place to volunteer and it is not surprising that there are so many NGOs present in South Africa. These NGOs work in different sectors, like teaching, human rights, environment, women empowerment, community development, care, and medical help. Here are a few popular types of programs you'll find when searching for volunteer work in South Africa.
South Africa currently has over 7 million people living with HIV/AID, the highest in the world. Unfortunately, there are tribal medicine campaigns and a lack of education for many people about what causes HIV/AIDS and how to protect yourself from getting infected. Volunteers with a medical background are therefore very much needed in South Africa for actual care and awareness and education programs.
South Africa has many townships, where the people and communities are experiencing immense difficulties. From a survey in 2015, 49.2 percent of the adult population were living below the poverty line. Volunteers in South Africa can help increase the quality of life by working on building projects with local populations (but making sure to choose volunteer programs that do not take away paid work from local residents). Another option is volunteering your time and knowledge by mentoring small businesses owners or teaching skills that can provide sustainable change.
Youth development and education
As said, there are many economic disparities in South Africa, and the divide between rich and poor is immense due to apartheid. This has consequences for the development and education of youth, especially in the townships. In townships, there is a lack of teachers, but also a lack of materials and a lot of crime. Volunteering in townships is an opportunity to fill the gaps through teaching and mentorship. Volunteers can find placements assisting teachers or by organizing after-school activities.
In South Africa, many women are affected by domestic violence; an estimate is that one out of every five women in South Africa is or has been suffering from physical violence. Even though there is a Domestic Violence Act, many women are not aware of their rights. There are opportunities to volunteer in South Africa with women and facilitate gender equality discussions, help with workshops, and professional training.
Conservation & environment
South Africa has beautiful landscapes and reserves, with beautiful nature and wild animals. Volunteers can visit for several weeks to months to help preserve the country and help with wildlife conservation.
Planning your trip
If you're considering volunteering in South Africa, you're probably wondering: What does an average working day look like? What are the costs of the program? Will I be working together with other volunteers? Where will I be staying? Will I be living close to my work or will I have to travel a lot? Do not be afraid to ask your program coordinator as many things as you want. We hope to answer at least a few of these questions below:
Volunteer Support in South Africa
The organization that you will volunteer for will usually have resources for support in place. In addition to this, most countries have an embassy/consulate either in Cape Town, Pretoria, or Johannesburg where you should be able to find support in case of problems, like losing your passport. One thing that makes it easy to ask for help is that English is one of the official languages in South Africa.
How volunteering can help your future
Volunteering in South Africa will be an unforgettable experience. You will learn a lot from the organizers, the local community, and the population you work with. You'll be able to get insight into the culture, daily lives, and history of South Africans. You'll be able to work on communication and other soft skills while meeting new people and making new friends. Plus, volunteering work can provide talking points during future interviews and can look great on your CV.
Best places to volunteer in South Africa
Cape Town is one of the most well-known and popular places to volunteer in South Africa. Being in an urban environment while also near nature provides a host of different volunteer opportunities in marine conservation, education, and animal care.
Durban and Johannesburg are also good options for volunteer work. And, if you want to work in environmental conservation, Kruger can be a great place to consider.
Costs of volunteering in South Africa
Most volunteer programs have fees that pay for training, staff, housing, and meals. Costs for volunteer work in South Africa are about $700 - $800 per week. You should also account for flights to and from your home country, which are not included in the program fees. Some volunteer programs may provide financial aid, and you can apply to volunteer scholarships and grants.
To save money while in South Africa, try to find out which banks do not have ATM fees and try not to eat in restaurants too often, since most cities in South Africa are not really cheap. So, enjoy a good dinner at home or organize a barbecue (South Africans generally love barbecues!).
A tourist visa is not required for (most) European countries, the U.S., Canada, and Australia if you are staying up to 90 days. This tourist visa can be obtained at the airport where you will arrive. If you are staying longer than 90 days, it is advisable to go to the embassy and apply for a visa there, do remember that this can take more than a month to receive it. Check out Visa HQ for more details.
South Africans are generally very fond of barbecues and eating meat, which is something to take into account if you're vegetarian or vegan. However, you can usually discuss with your volunteer program if there are opportunities to accommodate your dietary restrictions.
Health & safety
The kind of vaccinations that you need sometimes depend on the country where you are from, therefore it is always recommended to ask your local health-care provider. Some vaccinations are however recommended by South Africa, namely hepatitis A and B and diphtheria. A test for tuberculosis is also recommended before and after your stay. Malaria vaccinations are only needed in certain areas of South Africa, mainly the Eastern part. However, to be sure it is advisable to ask your local health-care provider. It is also suggested to bring pain relievers and diarrhea medicines.
South Africa has a high crime rate and therefore you should be aware that theft, robbery, and armed assault are a major problem in South Africa. Therefore, you should always be careful when you are traveling alone and it is strongly recommended not to go outside at night on your own. In addition, it is recommended not to display valuable things like cameras, jewelry, and laptops and make sure you do not carry around too much money.
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.
Is it safe to volunteer in South Africa?
In short – yes, it’s safe to volunteer in South Africa. It's actually on the list of top 10 countries to volunteer in Africa. Yet, as with any city or country, there will be some crime. When traveling overseas or to unfamiliar cities, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, hide valuables, and secure documents. By volunteering with an organization, most programs will provide information and a safety briefing before arriving in South Africa.
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 is the need for volunteers in South Africa?
The most common areas where volunteers can help in South Africa include community development, healthcare, youth education, gender equality, and wildlife conservation.