Did you know?
Some experts say voluntourism is something of a misnomer and should rather be called participatory tourism.
Voluntourism in South Africa sounds like one of those win-win scenarios.
As a traveller, you come out and work with orphans, or schools, or animals (for example). The institute and individuals you are helping benefit immensely from your efforts. And the money that you pay enables them to get important work done without having to find large budgets.
You, in turn, leave after a few weeks or months, knowing you have made a positive difference in the world, probably having gained invaluable experience that will help your sense of self or even your career.
The world, in some tiny way, is a better place.
But to make your voluntourism stint in South Africa a success for all concerned, here’s some advice.
Before you even start looking for a reputable operator, give your voluntourist dreams plenty of thought. Define for yourself where you think you can most benefit other people or projects. Skills transfer, for example, is very highly prized.
But you should also be clear about what you want to gain from the experience.
Bear in mind that the longer you stay, the better your chances of making a meaningful difference. Most responsible volunteering operators recommend four to six weeks. More is better. If you have only two weeks to share, you will have to tailor your expectations, but can still make a valuable contribution (and have fun).
To find a reputable operator, ask around. Speak to previous voluntourists. Once you’ve decided on an operator, don’t be afraid to ask questions. How much of your money will be going towards the actual project? Who runs the project? Where will you stay?
Make sure that your self-subsidised labour is not taking someone else's possible job. Also, carefully consider what your ‘legacy’ will be. For example, it’s tempting to go and assist orphans for a month, but is it really helpful if they suffer separation anxiety after you leave?
Many problems can be avoided by choosing the right operator. In South Africa, seek out those that are accredited with Volunteer South Africa, the South Africa Youth Travel Confederation, and perhaps Fair Trade Tourism South Africa.