Where Should I Volunteer In Africa?

It can be tough deciding where to volunteer in Africa. Africa is a vast continent and bigger than the area of the USA, Europe, India and the whole of China combined.

The United Nations recognise and no less than 54 countries and it is no less culturally and linguistically diverse with an estimated 1500 – 2000 languages, compared to just 24 in Europe.

Eight major physical landscapes dominate its land mass which is divided almost in half by the Equator. This can make choosing a country in Africa a challenge.

In addition there are other factors to consider when flying thousands of miles to help. Volunteers often base decisions on the following:

  • Poorest Countries
  • Safest Countries
  • Physical Location
  • Tourist Attractions
Woman volunteering in Ghana, Africa.

Poorest Countries Option

Some intrepid volunteers may prefer to work in the very poorest countries but they are not without their challenges.

The top 10 Poorest Countries in Africa ranked by nominal GDP:

  • South Sudan
  • Burindi
  • Malawi
  • Central African Republic
  • Mozambique
  • Niger
  • Madagascar
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Gambia
  • Sierra Leone

South Sudan and Burundi are at the top of the list where local people struggle to survive on around £250 a year. However, travel is no longer advised by Western governments due to conflict and sporadic unrest.

Smiling volunteer in a Masai village, Kenya.

 

Safest Countries Option

Many travellers choose their destination of preference then check the country’s safety record for travellers and other potential risk factors.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office website provides information for travellers to make informed decisions.

Destination pages include information about what to expect and advise against travel when appropriate. Non-British nationals should follow the advice of their own country’s official advice.

Travellers following government advice should be aware that some advice may only apply to one isolated part of the country. This is usually displayed on a colour-coded map.

Safest & Poorest Countries Option

Excluding unsafe countries the four remaining countries on the top 10 poorest list include Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Gambia and Sierra Leone.

However these countries are less popular with international volunteers and fewer projects are available.

There may be recent historical conflicts or health epidemics which put travellers off, unrest in neighbouring countries, flights may be more expensive, visas more bureaucratic or simply they are not destinations which are currently being advertised and talked-about.

Poorest Region Within A Country

According to World Bank data, the number of people living in extreme poverty in Africa has decreased. However, there are still major poverty challenges remaining with a still-rising African population, especially in rural areas.

Volunteer programmes away from major cities can provide plenty of opportunities to help where needed most.

City-based programmes and charities should not necessarily be ruled out. They may cater for specific vulnerable groups such as special needs children, street kids or a marginalised city community. It is always worth asking the organisation which community is served by the programme.

original volunteers kenya

English Speaking Countries

An English-speaking country will be a good starting point for anyone who speaks native or fluent English. There are more than a dozen countries on the continent where English is an official language. These are: Zimbabwe, Uganda, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Nigeria.

English will make it easier to work alongside local people, share information, give instructions, discuss, learn more and ask questions.

Volunteers in schools can teach subjects other than English, for example, Maths, Science or Health education.

According to a report by the World Linguistic Society, Uganda is the best English speaking country in Africa. Ugandan people can articulate English words more fluently than any other English speaking country in Africa.

However volunteers working in rural areas in any African country will find speakers of many other regional languages. In Uganda there are five additional languages spoken: Bantu, Central Sundanic, Nilotic or Kuliak.

A recruiting organisation can advise on any potential language challenges for a specific location. Projects and programmes where there is usually a large group of English-speaking volunteers working together should have no problems.

Physical Geography

Whilst many volunteers do not mind the location they will be working in, some people have a clear idea and have a preference between:

  • City
  • Coast
  • Countryside

Each location has its advantages and disadvantages and for volunteering projects, extra caution should be exercised.

Cities are popular but not all cities offer tourist attractions and may suffer from petty crime.

Swimming may be impossible on coastlines with strong waves and undercurrents.

The countryside is not always clean and beautiful and may offer no public transport.

By contrast a city placement may be in a quiet and attractive residential area, there may be opportunities in the countryside to swim in rivers and lakes and the countryside may offer cheaper facilities and entertainments or the village may be closer to the city than expected.

It is worth asking an organisation about the everyday advantages and disadvantages of your project’s location. Comparisons to other locations can sometimes be helpful to weigh up your final choices.

Tourist Attractions

Each country has its top 10 list of attractions on a Tripadvisor website page. This can be one way to shortlist countries. A volunteer organisation can advise on the practicalities of visiting these and the costs.

Many volunteer organisations escort their volunteer groups to national parks which may be difficult otherwise as  natural wonders may be a full day’s travel and hard to reach with public transport.

Some activities may be eye-wateringly expensive. Gorilla trekking is one reason many volunteers choose Uganda, however permits and guides for a two day trip can cost £600. Glamorous safari lodges in prime viewing positions may charge upwards of £300 a night.

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