Some images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.
Africa is one of the most exciting volunteer destinations in the world. It’s also a travel destination that’s much safer than you may have thought.
The African continent can be intimidating. It’s huge, and home to some of the harshest climates and most dangerous animals on Earth. But, it’s not as scary as you may have been led to believe.
If you’re considering volunteer opportunities in Africa but are concerned about safety, here’s what you need to know.
Why are people afraid to visit Africa?
No matter where you go when you volunteer abroad, there’s always some risk involved. The COVID-19 pandemic has made travelling to any part of the world seem more daunting. And when it comes to Africa, news reports and stereotypical views only add to travellers’ trepidation.
But, most of what people know about Africa is based on news coverage – not real life. Media coverage tends to focus exclusively on the challenges faced by people in Africa, giving the impression that all life in these countries is a constant struggle.
The challenges being faced by many people in parts of Africa are real, and the continent still needs plenty of support to reach its goals.
But, negative, one-sided reportage has led to the widespread misconception that the entire continent is one large homogenous area riddled with famine, disease, conflict and poverty. And this means many people, including international volunteers, will be discouraged from visiting the area.
In reality, Africa is made of 54 distinct countries. No two countries are the same, and everything from cultures to COVID-19 restrictions, to resources and safety and security, vary widely from country to country.
When considering the safety of volunteer trips to Africa, or anywhere else in the world, remember that context is important.
What you really need to know is whether it’s safe to travel to the specific countries you’re considering visiting, at a specific time. Research the specific travel warnings, if any, for the country you plan on going to.
What it’s really like to volunteer in Africa
One of the main concerns about travelling to Africa right now has to do with how the continent has been affected by COVID-19. To give you some context, the COVID-19 cases in South Africa and Morocco (the African countries with the highest number of cases) are comparable to the number of cases seen in European countries such as Poland and Greece.
And, the highest number of recorded cases in an African country is almost 16 times lower than the number of cases seen in the United States.
While it’s true that some African countries don’t have all the healthcare resources seen in more developed countries, GVI has made significant efforts to adjust our health and safety protocols to allow international volunteers the chance to make an impact safely.
So, while you may want to be more cautious while visiting Africa, COVID-19 safety is factored into every travellers’ journey.
There’s also huge potential for volunteers to have a sustainable, long-term impact in Africa. GVI’s focus areas are carefully chosen to meet communities’ needs and build towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
You could volunteer in Africa with animals, contribute to gender equality initiatives, or lend a hand at local education centres.
Overall, you can have a very different experience based on the project and location you choose.
Safety tips for Africa travel
During your volunteer work in Africa, the best way to stay safe is to follow the guidelines given to you by the organisation.
Here’s our best advice on staying safe while travelling in Africa:
Do your research and stay informed
Doing your research and making sure you’re informed of any potential risks is the best way to prepare for your trip abroad. This is one of the great things about volunteering with an organisation – you’re not leaping into your adventure alone.
Before you leave home, you’ll have the help and guidance of one of our support coordinators.
When you arrive at one of our field bases, you’ll get comprehensive health and safety training, which includes advice on how to conduct yourself in your host country, and any specific safety concerns to be aware of.
Be discreet with your valuables
As always, having items such as cameras and smartphones on display, while travelling abroad in any country, can draw attention and invite opportunists.
To avoid becoming the victim of pickpockets and con artists, we recommend that where possible, you leave valuables in your accommodation to make sure you and your belongings are safe.
Know where you can get help when you need it
It’s important to keep emergency information like the contact details for your country’s embassy on hand. Although you probably won’t need to, it’s useful to know where to go for help if something does happen.
One way that GVI supports you with this is by helping you access local medical professionals.
Adapt to your surroundings
Doing your best to blend in makes you less of a target for potential pickpocketing. Adopting local styles of dress can also be a great way to show respect for people’s culture.
The best way to stay safe: choose an ethical volunteering company
The best possible way to feel confident when travelling to Africa to volunteer is to select your program provider carefully. An ethical volunteering company would never willingly put you in a dangerous position.
GVI makes the safety and security of all program participants a top priority, so you can explore our volunteer opportunities in Africa, and the rest of the world, with peace of mind.
From your personal support coordinator, who will make sure you have all the essential information before you leave, to our field staff with emergency and safety training, you can be sure you’ll be in good hands on our volunteer projects in Africa.
Browse our volunteering programs in Africa to find out where you can travel to and how you can make an impact.