Voluntourism has had its fair share of controversy. Why do we go travelling abroad to make a difference instead of making a donation that essentially can make more of a monetary difference? We had a chat with Greg, co-founder and co-director of African Impact - a volunteer and intern travel company. With African Impact he creates tourism experiences in Africa for people that do good.
Why Africa though?
Greg who is originally from the UK,
came to Africa on a family holiday and fell in love with the continent and especially the safari side of it. He came back during a gap year a few years later and backpacked from Ethiopia in the east down to Cape Town in South Africa. Then he spent 4 months volunteering at a game reserve in South Africa doing research and taking care of lions. During his experience in the game reserve, more volunteers arrived to make an impact but Greg discovered that they were watching him work more than they were making an impact. So that’s when he realized that volunteering can make a difference if it is done correctly and it allows volunteers to actually work and make a difference.
Who goes to volunteer in Africa?
People who book an experience with African Impact are usually students on a gap year. It has been the most traditional volunteer tourist but nowadays they see more people from an older age range that are taking a break from their career and are looking to do something different with their life. With African Impact you can travel to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Gahna, Botswana and more to do work with projects in conservation, healthcare, lion research, elephant research and more.
What about the planet? Why can’t I just make an impact from home?
There are many discussions whether voluntourism (people who travel internationally to do voluntary work) is having a massive impact on the planet. Should we really be traveling to other countries instead of making a donation for instance?
Voluntourism is limited - which means that there are other types of tourism that have a larger impact on the planet. Having a drive and a passion to make a difference can do things that money can’t do. Why not use the drive to make a difference?
The future of voluntourism
The corona virus is making a real dent in the tourism sector unfortunately. Mass tourism destinations are being affected to a greater extent than rural places in Africa. The infection rate has been low in Africa in general so let’s hope we can start traveling there again soon.
Remote voluntary experience.. Yes it is a thing!
If you had to cancel your volunteering experience abroad, you don’t have to worry. Travel might not be on the table for a while. Though this opens up opportunities for virtual volunteering. For instance doing remote marketing work or fundraising, which means you can still get that experience and make an impact but without leaving your home.
Tangible learning and key takeaways
Having a desire to travel and giving back to the world is awesome, but what if we could incorporate a learning element into the experience so that volunteers have something more tangible to take away from the experience? This is something that African Impact are considering. The learning element might be in health care or medical. But it can also be in skills that you learn, team work, people skills, organisational work. How can they have participants take part and understand the massive development process they are taking away from these kinds of experiences?
You probably forget by the time that you get home that you learnt haggling skills from negotiating the price of a mango in the local fruit market in Zanzibar. Hence why it would be good to put it down into a more tangible way than just a cloudy memory that disappears with time.