Friday, April 12, 2013

Soft Steps to Volunteering

Edge of Africa is the organization I volunteered with on my life changing African adventure. I am thrilled that today Dayne Davey, Managing Director of Edge of Africa, has stopped by to share some inspirational and educational information with us on volunteering.
Take it away Dayne...

Deciding to volunteer in another country takes a certain amount of bravery, trust and a generally good heart. Thousands of travellers from all over the world choose to spend their holiday or gap years, volunteering on one ore many of the available volunteer projects. 
But how do you know that you are not doing more damage than good to a local community when you are volunteering? How do you know you are not working against a countries customs and cultures? Or even, their wants and needs?
Here are three simple steps you can take to a successful Working relationship WITH the local community:
·      Make sure you know how your host organisation chooses its projects. If a volunteer organisation or NGO is geared towards community development and not just volunteer ‘entertainment’, they will initiate projects that are parallel to the community needs. Some questions you can ask before you go are: Are there locals working with the volunteers on the projects? Does the volunteer organisation accept local volunteers or have a channel for them to get involved? Am I integral in this project and when I leave, will it be completed or will there be someone to take over?
·      Another question you should ask is: Does the host organisation believe in HANDOUTS? Our organisation is based in South Africa and we often have the problem of young children expecting sweets or coins from tourists. Our ethos is Empowerment, and so we work to provide opportunities rather than hand outs. We believe that this works for the long term benefit of a nation, and all of our projects are geared towards this. Feel free to ask your chosen host organisation what they do to empower the local community. Always remember that giving with an open heart is important but it can also cause a sense of worthlessness for the person receiving.
·      When you are on a project, always ask yourself: Are you listening to the cultures and beliefs of the local people? Small things like wearing appropriate clothing on your project and understanding the customs are important. Many 3rd world countries are influenced by 1st world ideals and in many cases this can encourage upset in families and communities. Make sure your host organisation briefs you on local traditions and taboo’s before you start your work. Remember, even though you are a volunteer, giving time and money, you are also a visitor and an ambassador for your country.
If you have chosen to volunteer, then I congratulate you on making one of the best decisions of your life. It is definitely a case of you get what you put in, so put in your whole heart, and tread lightly!

For more information on volunteering in South Africa, visit

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