Known as the “rainbow nation”, South Africa is famous for its stunning landscapes, amazing wildlife, vibrant cities and diverse cultures. No matter what part of the country you are in, you’ll find a mix of nature, culture, tradition and history.
Despite all its wonders, it’s a country with many issues that can’t be ignored. Even 30 years after the end of Apartheid, social inequality is still rife. Much of the population faces avoidable health issues, and important species are endangered due to unsustainable practices.
Sounds pretty grim when you frame it like that, but thankfully South Africa has many non-profit organisations committed to fighting the good fight to make a more fair, equal and sustainable place. All these causes need volunteers to fill the gaps and get closer to their goals!
If you’ve ever considered volunteering in South Africa, keep reading to find out what kind of programs you can be involved in.
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- Top 4 Volunteer Projects in South Africa
- What You Need to Know about Volunteering in South Africa
- Why Volunteer in South Africa
- Before You Volunteer in South Africa
- Costs of Volunteering in South Africa
- Choosing a Volunteer Project in South Africa
- Top Volunteer Projects in South Africa
- DIY Volunteering in South Africa
- What to Expect When Volunteering in South Africa
- Final Thoughts
Top 4 Volunteer Projects in South Africa
Big 5 African Wildlife & Conservation
- > Monitor and assist with game control, lion tracking, some gardening work
- > Eastern Cape
Organic farming and Alien plant control
- > Gardening, Planting crops, DIY repairs
- > Kenton-On-Sea
English and Maths Teacher
- > Teaching English and Maths
- > Transkei
- > Surf Instructor
- > KwaZulu-Natal South Coast
What You Need to Know about Volunteering in South Africa
Sure, volunteering is a great idea, but where the heck do you find decent projects?
Another important question to ask is: how do I know if this project actually helps and isn’t some gross kind of voluntourism? You all know the kind of tokenistic more-harm-than-good projects that I’m talking about. The kind that exploits the people they’re supposed to be helping… yep, glad we are on the same page! Those are not the kinds of projects we want to promote here.
If you aren’t ready to get down and dirty in the trials and tribulations of volunteering, let’s not waste anyone’s time and try backpacking South Africa instead – no shame! It isn’t for everyone.
We will get into how to choose your volunteer project in South Africa a bit later, but first, let me introduce you to some old friends of ours.
Introducing…Worldpackers and Workaway. These are online platforms where you can find a whole bunch of cultural exchange and volunteer projects all around the world. They have a review function, so you can read feedback from past volunteers to hear more about their experience and make sure they are the real deal.
How to use them? Sign up on either platform and enjoy access to projects all over the world. It only costs $45 USD (Workaway) or $49 USD (Worldpackers) for a whole year membership, and with our handy discount code, you can even save yourself a few bucks. You’re welcome, mate!
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
Why Volunteer in South Africa
It’s tough to narrow it down to just a few reasons why you might want to volunteer in South Africa. Of course, what motivates you will be completely different from the next person, but here are some more reasons to get you in the mood!
- Learn about new cultures: How boring would the world be if we were all the same? You’ll have the chance to be immersed in new cultures and experience the way of life in a place different from home. We say that’s pretty epic.
- Give back to the community: It feels good to do good, doesn’t it? Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community and leave it better than you found it.
- Meet new people: Volunteering is rarely only about the hard work, it’s also a chance to make connections with locals and other travellers!
- Support important work: Many organisations rely on the time and resources of volunteers and donors to keep doing their work.
- Learn new skills: Ever dreamed of starting your own sustainable community with your mates? Maybe volunteering in one will give you the new skills you need to start this lifestyle! Whatever project you choose, from Permaculture to teaching or graphic design, there are a lot of new things to learn!
- Have an authentic local experience: Do you really think you’re gonna have the most authentic experience in South Africa by sticking to the backpacker’s hostels? Let’s be real, that’s not how it works. Volunteering gives you the chance to experience a local lifestyle and really get to know how to locals do it.
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Before You Volunteer in South Africa
Brace yourself, my friends, we’re about to dive into the less exciting parts about visas and vaccinations that you need to get sorted before you head off. Yeah, all of us travellers know this is a necessary evil to address when you love exploring the world.
It is possible to volunteer in South Africa on a tourist visa for up to three month’s time, provided the work is unpaid. If you want to volunteer for longer, you will need to apply for a volunteer visa at a South African Embassy in your country.
Have a chat with your host organisation to see what visa their volunteers usually have.
Of course, the specifics of visas vary for people of different nationalities, so it’s worth checking with the South African Embassy in your country to see if this information applies to you.
The World Health Organisation recommends travellers in South Africa are vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid and rabies.
While South Africa itself isn’t a high risk for yellow fever, it does require travellers coming from countries with yellow fever risk to show proof of vaccination. Keep in mind that many of the countries surrounding South Africa require proof of yellow fever vaccination for entry, so if you plan to travel to other countries in the region, you need to get this sorted!
Stay alert but not alarmed about mosquitos in South Africa. Malaria is present in some regions of the country, though it’s not something you can take a jab against. Your best bet is to use mozzie repellent, loose clothes and netting. You may even consider taking antimalarials if you are travelling to these high-risk areas.
All this information is separate from any pandemic related health advice. For that, and all the other health-related stuff, go and have a chat with your doctor or a qualified travel health specialist to see what they recommend for you.
South Africa At A Glance
- Currency – South African Rand
- Conversion – $1 USD = 16.14 South African Rand as of December 2021
- Capital City – Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative)
- Official Languages – Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu
Costs of Volunteering in South Africa
A lot of people get surprised to hear that you might actually have to pay money to volunteer. That’s not just the case if you want to volunteer in South Africa, but it’s commonplace around the world.
Think about it like this: many non-profits and volunteer projects need to use all of their resources to support their work. Volunteer fees allow them to cover costs like administration, volunteer coordination and, of course, accommodation and food. So yes, you might be donating your time to support their work, but money helps the world go round. Fees to cover your necessities make sure the projects can keep ticking over and have an impact.
If you choose a project through Workaway or Worldpackers, you don’t usually need to chip in a huge amount per day, if at all. Some projects are able to host volunteers without asking for a contribution. That information should be clear on their project page.
If you take the DIY route of finding a volunteer project, the cost may set you back a wee bit more. There are a lot of third party sites that charge pretty hefty fees to volunteers wanting to get involved. While charging a fee isn’t a bad thing perse, it’s worth considering where that money goes and if it’s actually going to the project you want to get behind. More on this later!
Of course, another cost you’ll have to factor in is the cost of things like flights, spending money, travel insurance etc.
To give you an idea of the cost of living for a traveller in South Africa, a pint of beer will set you back 30 Rand (less than 2 bucks) and a night in a hostel dorm in Cape Town will start at $10 per night.
Choosing a Volunteer Project in South Africa
The best way for you to choose your South African volunteer project is to start thinking about what you’re actually interested in. Whether it’s a cause that you’re passionate about (e.g. education, conservation, social causes) or a type of work or skill you have (e.g. teaching, construction, administration, copywriting etc). If you’re into it, that’s where you’ll have the most meaningful impact. That’s the whole point of volunteering after all, right?
Something we will bring up again – make sure you check the organisation or project is the real deal and not just some type of problematic voluntourism. More often than not the projects will be transparent and genuinely impactful, though remember there are some people out there who get a kick out of exploiting vulnerable people like poverty porn. We volunteer to support vulnerable people and places, not to exploit them.
To avoid these kinds of projects, you want to make sure it’s a reputable group or organisation. Reviews are good for this.
There are many different types of projects around the country, but these kinds are the most common types.
- Hostel and Hotel work – On Worldpackers and Workaway, you’ll find a lot of volunteer projects in hostels, hotels and guest houses. This kind of project is better suited to people who want a work exchange, rather than a project with social impact.
- Teaching – You’ll find a lot of volunteer projects around South Africa looking for teachers, mostly for English language and maths! Some are run in structured classrooms, while others take a more creative approach. Check out if you need additional qualifications for these teaching abroad roles.
- Content creation – Many non-profit organisations, local businesses and hostels are on the hunt for people with content creation skills to boost their profiles. Writers, developers, marketing social media pros, we are talking to you.
- Agriculture assistance – This could be working on a family farm or some kind of sustainable permaculture community. Your skills will be especially welcome if you’ve already got a green thumb, though many places will be happy to show you how it’s done.
- Conversation and animal projects – From habitat protection and reforestation to invasive species management, many conservation projects work with the biodiverse South African landscapes and the animals that call them home.
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Top Volunteer Projects in South Africa
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top volunteer projects in South Africa. Stick around if you are looking for independent organisations!
- Opportunity: Lion tracking assistance, fence maintenance, alien plant control, game counting
- Location: Eastern Cape
If you’re a fan of animals, this is an absolutely fantastic project where you’ll get the chance to see the big 5, perhaps all in one day if the stars align for you.
This Global Work and Travel Volunteering Program in South Africa puts you right in the middle of a private game reserve. Help assist in the daily running of the reserve and see lions, elephants, giraffes and rhinos and water buffalo!
The best thing though: you hardly have to plan anything. Global Work and Travel offers fully guided volunteering trips as well as a 24/7 support line. You’ll get help with sorting visas, airport transfers and finding accommodation.
Your volunteering spot at the game reserve includes all meals served by reserve staff and every weekend off which means lots of time for additional adventures.
The program itself can take anything between two to twelve weeks.
- Opportunity: Social media and marketing support, hospitality work
- Location: Cape Town
This Cape Town craft cafe offers employment opportunities to people with disabilities. The concept of the cafe allows customers to enjoy crafts like painting in a cosy and relaxed setting, all the while providing a fun and accepting workplace for people living with disabilities who face many barriers to employment.
They are on the lookout for social media guru’s who know their way around Facebook ads, Instagram and video content to help spread the word. If you’ve got experience in hospitality, they also welcome volunteers who can support the staff with their on the job tasks, like serving customers, working in the kitchen and with arts and crafts.
You’ll be based in a family home in the vibrant city of Cape Town and even hit the jackpot with your own private room. You can head to explore all the best bits of Cape Town in your time off.
- Opportunity: Surf Instructor
- Location: KwaZulu-Natal South Coast
Are you a surfer? If you’ve got the experience and you know how to teach your skills, you could show people how to hang 10 in exchange for meals and a place to rest your head at night. Of course, you’ll have to show you’ve got the experience, but otherwise, this volunteer position sounds like a pretty sweet way to live a chill life at a surf camp and soak up good vibes.
Sure, this isn’t the kind of project that has a humanitarian impact, but it will give you a unique and fun experience on the coast of South Africa, and the chance to live in a small coastal town.
- Opportunity: Gardening, Planting crops, DIY repairs.
- Location: Kenton-On-Sea
This project is on an organic aquaponic farm on the South Coast of South Africa. As a volunteer, your job will be to help take care of the plants, work in the garden and tend to various DIY tasks around the property. You’ll also be working on removing invasive plant species from the area to protect the indigenous plants. If you have an interest in sustainable food systems, this is a cool opportunity to learn about different kinds of horticulture and how to protect areas with native plant species.
You’ll also be living in the beautiful seaside town of Kenton-On Sea, with time to explore the beauty of the Coast.
- Opportunity: Teaching English and Maths
- Location: Transkei
If you’re a teacher with a passion for cultural and knowledge exchange, check this! It’s with an education centre in a rural town in the Transkei district.
The main task for teachers is to assist with one on one reading programs with local schools in the morning and give interactive English and maths classes in the afternoons.
A teachers degree or TEFL certificate is desired for this project, though if you’ve got the skills and a passion to share knowledge, you may just be the right person for the job! There will be plenty of time for interaction and immersion in the traditions of Xhosa culture.
You’ll be based just a short walk from the beach and the surrounding hills too, so there’s a lot to soak up and enjoy in your downtime. It is one of the most beautiful places to stay in South Africa.
Not sure how to start your volunteering journey?
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DIY Volunteering in South Africa
Did those projects fail to catch your attention?
As much as we love Worldpackers and Workaway, sometimes they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, and that’s okay.
You can find other volunteer projects in South Africa by doing your own independent research. Ir may take a little longer, but if you invest your time into the research you’ll end up with a project that you really want to be a part of!
If you have something specific in mind, start by chucking a few words into a search engine – that should bring up some cool options. Something like “conservation volunteering in South Africa” should do the trick. Don’t be afraid to spend some time scrolling, many amazing non-profit groups don’t have the resources or SEO to pop up in the first search results. Realistically, the ones that are the hardest to find are the ones that need help the most!
Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram can also be great for finding volunteer opportunities too.
Here are some organisations that are doing awesome work in South Africa, and they are accepting volunteers to help them achieve their goals.
HOPE Cape Town is a non-profit organisation that works to improve the quality of life of people affected by HIV, and help them reach their full potential. As a volunteer, you’ll be helping out with HOPE’s grassroots projects in their community, supporting healthcare workers and assisting with the NGO’s administrative work. While you don’t need to have specific skills to volunteer with HOPE, they ask for a minimum of three months commitment and of course, an invested interest in the fight against HIV/AIDS in underprivileged communities.
Paarl Youth Sports Social Club is a project that works with unemployed and disadvantaged youth, engaging them with sports and social programs while they wait for job opportunities. The program is run in Paarl, which is a town about 60kms east of Cape Town.
They are on the hunt for volunteers who have got a way with people, and are passionate about social engagement, inclusion and equality. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, they need volunteers who are happy to coach sports such as soccer, netball and cricket, workshops, work training and social activities.
This project in Kruger works to protect Africa’s big five, and support local communities with conservation efforts. As a volunteer you’ll be involved in a hands-on way with research, collecting and analysing data that is shared with conservation agencies and authorities to protect habitats, endangered species and educate humans on harm reduction. You’ll not only learn a lot about the big five and the environment they call home, but you’ll also be immersed in local culture. This is a cool opportunity if you’re interested in or studying conservation, human/nature interaction or want to improve your research skills PLUS you get to make a difference while you’re at it.
Attention all musos and theatre kids! If you want to harness your skills and love for the arts to have an impact, this is a volunteer project in South Africa you should get behind. Performing Arts Abroad runs a program for young adults in Kabokweni to help them discover a love for music and performing arts. Since the start of the project, there has been a huge increase in the number of community music groups, bands local performances and festivals. As a volunteer, you’ll help local youth get involved with the arts, and no doubt have a ball while you’re at it.
What to Expect When Volunteering in South Africa
Okay, so we’ve seen a bunch of epic volunteer projects in South Africa, but what does day to day life look like for a volunteer?
Hint: don’t expect a definite answer for these bits, but we will try and paint a picture!
Some volunteers in South Africa will be hosted in a family home, others will have a dorm-style set up with other volunteers. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you might end up with your own private room!
If you choose to volunteer in a remote area, don’t expect luxuries like wifi and hot showers, or you may be disappointed. If you’re volunteering in a South African city, you’ll most likely have the usual amenities.
If you choose a project through Workaway or Worldpackers, the accommodation is often organised for you by your host, same with other projects that you pay to take part in.
If you’ve gotta organise your own accommodation, ask your host organisation for local suggestions, otherwise, try out Airbnb and HostelWorld for some options.
Your best bet is to ask questions to your hosts so you know what to expect, and ensure your safety in South Africa too!
Work hours and Days Off
Again, this one is gonna vary from project to project. Most volunteer opportunities in South Africa will ask for between 20-30 hours of your time per week.
You should have between one and three days off in a week to explore. As per usual, we say have a chat with your hosts so you know how much is expected of you. Also, be sure to make the most of your host’s local knowledge on how you can best spend your days off!
South Africa is a big country, but getting around is pretty straightforward in most areas.
The public transport is pretty good if you’re travelling from region to region. The downfall of the public transport system is the big cities, where it tends to be unreliable and a bit dangerous. It’s worth considering some private transport like a rental car or private car if you don’t like to navigate the unknown.
There’s a big range of car rental companies around the country, and renting a car won’t break the bank either. A car rental or private car is definitely the best way to explore areas like national parks.
There are over 90 airports in South Africa if you include both international and domestic services. You can track down some pretty well-priced flights around the country if you’re a fan of air travel.
Whatever region you’re travelling to, it’s worth asking your host for recommendations to get their local perspective.
Do’s and Don’ts
Before we send you off on your own, we’re gonna leave you with some do’s and don’ts while volunteering in South Africa to make sure you don’t forget the point of it all.
- Do embrace the local culture. Things may be done differently from how they are at home. That’s part of the fun! You’ll get a lot out of the experience if you are immersed in and embrace the local way of life.
- Do have fun. Sure, you’re there to have a positive impact, but don’t forget to have a bloody fun time!
- Do say yes to new opportunities. This means yes to new friends, new skills, new foods, new traditions.
- Don’t forget to ask lots of questions before you arrive .
- Don’t stick around if you’re not comfortable or agree to things that are outside your comfort zone.
- Don’t forget to pull your weight on the project. No one wants to be that team member who doesn’t do their fair share of work. You’re there to help out, not for a holiday!
- Don’t forget to have a ball! This is an amazing opportunity, have fun!
That’s all from us friends.
We hope we’ve helped unravel some questions about volunteering in South Africa, and set you on your way for an amazing and impactful trip!
Get off your backside, get packing and book your flights.
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