Volunteer in South Africa

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South Africa is an extremely diverse country, with 11 official languages, and various cultures and life styles. There is the amazing Kruger Park, the Table Mountain in Cape Town and amazing wine vineyards. It is not surprising therefore, that Desmond Tutu started calling this nation the rainbow nation. The major diversities that exist in the country make South Africa as beautiful as it is.

Behind these beautiful elements, a lot of problems become visible, for which volunteers are definitely important. Poverty, economic disparities, major health problems like HIV/AIDS, human rights violations and gender based violence are part of daily live in South Africa.

Photo Credit: South Africa Tourism.


South Africa is currently the country with the most cases of HIV/AIDS, which is still increasing due to tribal medicine campaigns and a lack of knowledge for many people, who thinking that showering after unprotected sex will prevent you from getting HIV/AIDS. Volunteers with a medical background are therefore very much needed in South Africa for actual care and awareness raising programs.

Community Development

South Africa has many townships, where the people and communities are experiencing immense difficulties due to their poverty. In 2000, 50 percent of the population was living below the poverty line. Volunteers are needed to increase the quality of life of these people, by for example building projects or projects where skills are shared in order to teach people how to run a small business, like a farm in the areas around Cape Town.

Youth Development and Education

As said, there are many economic disparities in South Africa and the divide between rich and poor is immense, which has consequences for the development of youth and the education of youth, especially in the townships. In townships there is a lack of teachers, but also a lack of materials. In addition, the townships are a place where the youth starts getting involved in crimes, due to the fact that they don’t have money or because joining a gang is all that is left to do. Therefore, it is very important to have volunteers that are willing to provide a better future for the youth, by assisting teachers or by organizing after school activities.

Gender Equality

In South Africa many women are affected by domestic violence; an estimate is that one out of every four women in South Africa is or has been suffering from domestic violence. Even though there is a Domestic Violence Act, nothing is really happening in South Africa, partly because women are not aware of their rights. It is therefore, very important that volunteers can empower these women.


South Africa has beautiful landscapes and reserves, with beautiful nature and wild animals. Volunteers are necessary in order to preserve these beauties of the country and make sure that they stay as beautiful as they are now.

Volunteer Tips

Volunteer Support: 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.

Volunteer History in South Africa: South Africa is a very popular place to volunteer and it is not surprising therefore that there are so many NGOs present in South Africa. These NGOs do work in very different areas, like teaching, human rights, environment, women empowerment, community development, care, medical help, etc.

Know Before You Go: South Africans are generally very fond of barbecues and eating meat, which is something to take into account when you are a vegetarian. Also, if you are going to work in a township be prepared for a situation in which poverty is immense, which is a shock at first sight.

How Volunteering in South Africa Will Help Your Future: Volunteering in South Africa will be an unforgettable experience, because you are able to actually do something for the people that live there and by doing this you get a look insight the culture of this country. In addition, you are able to experience the beauties in landscape of South Africa and meet many new people and make friends. Future employers also will appreciate it if volunteering work is on your CV.

How to Save Money While Volunteering: Try to find out which banks do not have ATMs 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, since South Africans generally love barbecues.

Best Places to Volunteer: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and if you want to work in environmental conservation perhaps Kruger is very nice.

Questions to Ask: What does an average working day look like? What will the weather be like when I get there? 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 as many things as you want.

Health and 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.


A tourist visa is not required for (most) European countries, the US, 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 months, so be in time. Check out Visa HQ for more details.

Contributed by Mariska Neefjes

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