Volunteering, Donating, Getting Involved…
Is it a legit organization?
While volunteering in Africa can be an incredibly rewarding experience, Shaun and I were surprised how many un-happy volunteers we met in our travels. We heard so many stories of people from the West who were disappointed. They had either paid a LOT of money to come and volunteer in Africa, only to learn that the money they were charged went to a middle-agency (and not toward the community/ project they were volunteering with), or discovered that the project was not actually what they thought it was.
We heard how short-term volunteers often increased the work-load of already over-worked employees, or took jobs away from locals, or how culturally-ignorant foreigners could actually do more damage in a community than help. There are entire books written on this, and if you’re considering doing a short-term volunteer stint somewhere, I’d recommend reading more about this.
Here’s a few tips when researching an Organization or Community Project:
- Read their mission statement, values, operating and ‘business plan’ (i.e. how is the funding spent…is it sustainable, realistic, and culturally- appropriate?)…and most of all, be sure all of these things fit with your OWN values!
- Contact the NGO or Project organizer directly (don’t use a “recruiter” or middle-agency)
- Consider the benefits of longer-term volunteer work vs. short work-terms (eg. We found 3 months just barely long enough)…and cultural training/ orientation is very helpful!
- Find a project that is community-led and based (i.e. the need for the project was identified by the local community members…not a foreigner from an office on another continent!). Believe me, this happens…
- Give yourself LOTS OF TIME to prepare (eg. 6-12 months) prior to your intended time… to confirm arrangements, travel visas, work visa (if needed), travel immunizations, international drivers’ license, cultural orientation etc. This prep takes a LOT of time!
- Consider volunteer work in your OWN community that could also benefit an Overseas Project that you’d like to support (eg. Collecting/ sending used soccor-jerseys to an African community soccor team, or having an elementary school Partner with a school in Africa, collecting unused medical supplies/ medications [with permission!] to be taken to a needy community etc.). Or fund-raising/ donating toward a particular project you’d like to support.
Having said all this, Shaun and I did visit and see some projects and Non-Government Organizations that were fantastic (mostly in Zambia, Malawi and Canada). Here’s some of our favourites in no particular order:
1) VIDEA (Victoria International Development Education Association). Yep, it’s Canadian. This is the organization that connected us with the Zambian Women For Change (who connected us with the Lundazi District Health Director). I can’t say enough about how wonderful this organization was to partner with, and we really respect their values and projects. Check out their website (or visit in person – based in Victoria): www.videa.ca
2) Women For Change. This is an organization found in many African countries, and I cannot speak for all the offices…however, the WFC in Zambia were fabulous. They really helped us when we arrived in Zambia in preparation and ‘paving the way’ for our arrival to Lundazi. We saw some of the community projects they are involved with in Eastern provence (Zambia) and we liked what we saw! Check them out on-line…
3) The Book Bus – travels to schools and orphanages in cental Africa (Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana), providing some school supplies and doing “arts and crafts” with the kids. I heard about this from an orphanage I visited…and also met a vollunteer who helped with this. They LOVED it (both the kids/teachers and the vollunteers)! I don’t have the contact details, but they are apparently on-line…
4) Kuthangata. A grass-roots Computer/Internet Training Program for youth in rural (poor) communities in Lundazi area (East Zambia). I actually proof-read their Mission Statement and Business Plan/Proposal, and really hope this project progresses. There is such a need for affordible and accessible computer/ internet services here (I know from personal experience!). Stanley Manzi is spear-heading the project, and plans to register Kuthangata as an NGO (and thus be able to provide tax receipts for anyone who wishes to donate). He emailed me this week letting me know that the project is moving forward. In the mean-time, here is his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
5) UCZ – Mission Partners of United Church of Zambia. This project is really cool, though they’ve not actually given the project a name yet (it’s been running 6 years). They accept volunteers to help build thatch houses for widows/ elderly and families in the small community in western Zambia. Shaun spent a week building a house with their small team and LOVED it. Paula and Dan provide accommodation and meals for $20/ day – proceeds go toward the community projects – and they give you a tax receipt for this. They also host a Safari into Botsawana every 6 weeks (amazing wildlife apparently, and Dan has grown up in Africa and is great at track wildlife). Proceeds from these Safari’s go to the community projects (much more than just building houses). Other volunteer opportunities are also available in this friendly little town – I helped with a few Outreach Nursing excursions, and there's a Preschool and school that also accepts volunteers.
Email: email@example.com (it’s better to email Paula directly, though there’s a (UK-based) website: www.mwandi.co.uk
6) Cool Runnings, Senga Bay, Malawi.
Shaun and I stayed at this gorgeous lake-side guest house, and only after meeting the owner (Sam Ludick) did we learn of all the community projects she has going on. Sam grew up in central Africa and is such an amazing woman. We would have loved to stay longer and get involved (we really like the little fishing village and lake too!). She accepts volunteers who can teach/ share any skill. No website, but a google search of “Malawi Project” should give you more info. There’s also an article in AA Auto Fucus Jul-Dec 2010.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: 0 999 915 173
Here’s a few of the Cool Running projects:
-Mobile Clinic (she’s a nurse); Mukuti pre-primary school; Disabled Tailors (teaching disabled people how to sew and earn a living); Hampton Safe Haven (orphans learn practical/ life skills); Cool Boys Youth Soccor Club/ Leagues; Library (local kids raised $ for this by collecting garbage from their town/beach in exchange for recycling deposit…also foreign schools have donated used/ new books etc); Community Tractor (shared use for widows/ elderly small-farms in the area); crafts; computing etc.
7) Lusabi Home, Livingstone Zambia. This is an orphanage I visited…I liked the way they treated the kids and their wholistic approach, though they always have needs (even food/clothing/ school donations). If visiting the area, it’s worth a stop in. Here’s the digits: www.lusabihome.org email: email@example.com or phone: 260 213 23222232
8) Tikandani Community Center, based in Katete, Zambia. We spent a weekend here (stayed in their community-run guest house) and saw some of the (many) projects that run out of this place. This community center is striving to be self-sufficient, but still relies partly on foreign donations. There is a big write-up about TCS in Lonely Planet Travel Guide, and I’ve been told they're on-line, and is a great place to visit if not stay…
9) CARE International – we cannot speak for or against this organization, but we did SEE this organization based all over Zambia, and met one of their volunteers who seemed to have a positive experience…
I hope this helps those of you interested in donating/ volunteering/ travelling/ getting involved in Cental Africa! Shaun and I had a wonderful (and challenging) experience...
We realize more than anything, though, how we can also help from home...and perhaps be more effective in some ways. Our eyes and hearts have been opened by the incredibly beautiful people we met, and wow! WE have a new appreciation for how fortunate and blessed we are...