Matador community expert Colleen Blaine lays out seven voluntourism projects she recommends in South Africa.
Conservation / wildlife projects

Conservation and wildlife rehabilitation are big priorities here in South Africa. The responsibility to protect the many endangered species for future generations is in our hands.

1. Wildlife ACT
Wildlife ACT are endorsed and supported by high-profile organizations such as the WWF, and they work with critically endangered and priority conservation projects across four different game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal. These guys know what they’re doing, and they only take five volunteers at a time. This is one of the reasons they’d top my volunteer project bucket list — you WILL get the chance to do important and cool stuff like tracking, monitoring, radio collaring, data collecting, and endangered species conservation.

2. Daktari Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage
Daktari combines both wildlife conservation and education, two issues close to my heart. Volunteers work with animals at the orphanage, helping to rehabilitate them, and assist in educating local schoolkids on environmental issues. This project may not put you on the frontline of the war on poaching, but you can really help the kids understand the importance of protecting the environment in which they live.

Penguins really do seem to have their own unique personalities.

3. ORCA Foundation
The ORCA Foundation is based in Plettenberg Bay, one of South Africa’s ‘holiday hotspots.’ They focus on research and conservation of the bay, and your activities will be both land- and boat-based. Those prone to sea sickness should have food in the tummy and keep an eye on the horizon when on the water. The volunteer house is almost like being with a bunch of mates on spring break, and even the beach cleanups are fun. You aren’t contributing to marine conservation on a global scale, but you’re definitely doing a good thing for the local area.

4. The Penguin Conservation Centre (PCC)
The combination of “penguins” and “Cape Town” means the PCC is popular with local and international volunteers. You work with injured seabirds, mainly the African penguin, and learn how to catch, handle, and feed them back to health. Penguins really do seem to have their own unique personalities, and if you stay long enough you’ll get to see them released into the wild after their full rehabilitation. The center is run through Enkosini Eco Experience, and the project forms an integral part of a much bigger conservation initiative. Check out their other programs.

Community / education projects

There are scores of community-based volunteer projects in South Africa, from orphanages to education to development. I believe with these projects it’s important to honestly assess the lasting impact you will have on the community.

5. Willing Workers in South Africa (WWISA)
There are plenty projects around that deal with house building initiatives. I recommend this one. When I volunteered, instead of spending the whole holiday building one brand-new home, we spent our days fixing up and repairing the shacks and homes of Kurland Village, a local township in the Western Cape.

Many people in rural South Africa have never seen a computer, let alone used one.

Initially, I was concerned I’d be left on my own wielding a trowel at a pile of cement, but we worked alongside skilled and friendly personnel. The work mainly involves basic refurbishment, and sometimes — my favourite — planting a garden. You also take part in some education, sports, and environmental projects with the local schools, and stay at Rocky Road Backpackers, complete with hot tub and bar.

6. Wild Coast Schools Project (Volunteer Africa)
This was the first Fair Trade Tourism-accredited volunteer project, and I find it inspirational in its simplicity. The “Big Green E-Machine” is a 4×4 truck (essential on the Wild Coast) fully kitted out with laptops and other computer-oriented educational equipment. Many people in rural South Africa have never seen a computer, let alone used one, and this project gives you the chance to teach computer literacy to kids in the area, who are super eager to learn. We stayed in Chintsa, which is a small town with a big beach. When we weren’t teaching the kids, we were playing sports with them, horse riding, or swimming. I feel that as volunteer organizations go, Volunteer Africa is one of the better ones.

7. Khaya Volunteer Projects – Sports development for township schools
I studied sport science at university and am a big believer in the links between healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy life. This project is based in Port Elizabeth and emphasizes the use of sport as a transformational tool and way to teach life skills. I believe it’s had a big impact in shifting the community’s outlook on topics like health awareness and drug abuse. You’ll need to be into sports and coaching (and it’ll help to be fit), since you have to organize sports games and other activities, and get really involved with the kids. It’s a small-scale and personal project, but with a positive and lasting impact. Just make sure to pack your trainers.