Short-Term Voluntours – Can You Really Make A Difference?

  • Leanne Haigh, Acacia Africa
  • 6 July 2012

This article was published by our friends at The International Ecotourism Society, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Your Travel Choice blog.

Voluntourism has generated a new wave in travel, the growing feel-good factor creating opportunities for the everyday traveller and not just the career-minded charity worker. But the question remains: Can you make a difference when you’re a short-term tourist? Although the debate appears to be ongoing, it’s not essential to be on a three-month sabbatical or longer stint if you want to give something back to the country you are visiting.

building local schools

The building blocks of education - short-term voluntouring is often focused on building local schools. Photo courtesy of Acacia Africa

The African continent is a good place to start. Adventurers in search of the Big Five can now also help out on more practical projects.

Building and painting local schools in Uganda is valuable input. Of course, you might be visiting the project for just one day, but you’re still a much-needed pair of hands, and non-profit projects with little in the way of budgets will welcome that kind of practical assistance with open arms.

Your first step into the world of vouluntourism: On an overlanding tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit seven or eight countries in Africa, and along the way there are usually various community- and conservation-based programmes. Whether you decide to participate in an ethical project or simply gain some understanding from the local scheme on a guided tour, you’ll bring back some relevant insight that might help you decide on a more focused voluntour the next time you visit. Remember, even on a two-week experience, it’s a real commitment, and it’s important to invest your time in something you believe in, making prior hands-on knowledge invaluable.

Acacia Africa school visit

Meet, play and learn - Acacia Africa's school visits are always interactive. Photo courtesy of Acacia Africa

More specific voluntour itineraries will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of a project’s aims and build closer relationships with your fellow travellers and members of the local community who also help to make it happen.

Where to Head?

Zanzibar is often seen as a sun, sea and sand destination, but it’s now home to an exciting educational project. Illiteracy affects over 40% of the Spice Island’s population; then again, you don’t need to have a teaching qualification to get involved. The activities range from assisting with the education of primary-school students to adult education, and you will also have the opportunity to be involved in recycling and tree planting programmes. The scheme endeavours to engineer a more well-rounded approach to the needs of the community, whether its education or conservation.

With the Big Five being central to almost any itinerary in Africa, there’s the option to combine game viewing and volunteering on many tours. Undoubtedly, the wildlife is still the main draw for anyone choosing to travel on the continent, so organisations involved in the protection of endangered animals are becoming part and parcel of the whole voluntour industry. And, what better place to start than the Masai Mara, host of a famous annual animal migration. Volunteers coming on board in the area from July to October will certainly be assured of a little more excitement. There is also a two-way ethical scheme and thus the opportunity to learn from the Masai tribe: ethical travellers assist on conflict management programmes and help to improve educational facilities in the area.

Your Checklist for Volunteering

* If you’re not sure how to make the best of your skills, look out for one-day voluntour experiences within a tour. You’ll gain much needed insight when it comes to making a longer commitment.
* There are plenty of voluntour experiences out there, but quiz the company you are booking with. If the travel advisor is able to give you a detailed description of what’s on offer, it will speak volumes about their involvement.
* Check out the options in Africa, as you may well be able to combine a voluntour holiday with some additional sightseeing and game viewing.
* Ask about the ratio of local-to-tourist involvement. In general, voluntour projects that show a strong concern for local labour are rated more highly when it comes to their values and ethics.

For more information on Acacia Africa, contact info(at)acacia-africa(dot)com.

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The International Ecotourism Society

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is a non-profit association committed to promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities. Representing the voices of stakeholders from all corners of the world, TIES' global network supports and is supported by members from over 90 countries, who are leading the vital efforts to make travel and tourism more sustainable. Your Travel Choice Blog is an interactive platform supporting TIES' mission to engage, educate and inspire everyone to make travel choices that make a difference.
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Africa, children, cities, Eastern Africa, homelessness, local knowledge, opinion, personal experience, Tanzania, voluntourism, whl.travel,

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