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Nine of the best volunteer programs in South Africa

Article by Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

Posted: March 19, 2021

If you can’t choose between the best volunteer programs in wildlife conservation, community development, public health or teaching, why not travel to South Africa where you could do it all? 

With its sought after scenery, smorgasbord of cultural influences, and a south-easter that could sweep you off your feet, South Africa is a destination that offers adventure and the chance to make a meaningful contribution to sustainable community development. 

Take a look at ten of the best volunteer programs in South Africa, and see how you can set out to experience the country as a volunteer. 

1) Early Childhood Development in South Africa program

You can volunteer in South Africa and gain even more insight into the country’s culture and attractions than a long-term tourist. 

How? Well, getting to know this land of fynbos and world-renowned fauna can’t be done by just snapping a picture or watching five minutes of a Cape Town festival. 

If you’re spending time in South Africa, volunteer work can help you learn about the country from the local people, and see and experience parts of the city of Cape Town and its surroundings in a way that you never would as a tourist.

Work with children from local informal settlements, and add to their sports and social skills by engaging with them in physical activity sessions and drama lessons. Add to the access that these future leaders of South Africa have to quality education, and build on the well-being of the broader community by contributing towards the empowerment of its children. 



And, while you’re teaching a child how to project their voice, or refereeing your classes first soccer match of the season, you’ll get to know about South Africa from the local children, parents, teaching staff, and community members that you interact with on a daily basis. 

2) Wildlife Research in South Africa expedition

Now, let’s get to the other obvious drawing card of travelling to Africa. 

If you’re volunteering in South Africa, you could experience the African savannah while adding to projects aimed at conserving the Big Five, or the many other species of animals who find sanctuary amongst the tall grasses of this region.

With wisps of fresh air wicking the sweat off your forehead, and the sun keeping you a couple of degrees above cool, being in the African wild is an adventure you’ll feel on every inch of your exterior.

And, it’s also quite likely that the thrill of the distant roars, or first close-up sighting of a hefty savannah creature will set your insides aflurry, and give you a true sense of how small we can seem in the greater scheme of things. 



What makes this one of the best volunteer programs in the country? Living the life of a field guide or safari guide becomes a reality. You’ll stay in the heart of the African bushveld, alongside an international research team that’s working towards the conservation of the savannah’s plants and animals. 

As a South African wildlife volunteer, you’ll not only be adding to the research done by these professionals. You’ll also learn how to identify and track megaherbivores like elephants and rhinos, as well as large predators like lions and cheetahs. 

In your free time, you can navigate your way across the sea of golden grasses to experience even more of the Karongwe Private Game Reserve. Or, venture further away from base and explore the Kruger National Park.

3) Volunteer Public Health Project in South Africa

Can’t chase the idea of the South African coast out of your mind? Well, lucky for you, you can volunteer in South Africa and live in a seaside town while contributing towards global public health initiatives.

For any volunteer, South Africa sets the scene to gain a deeper understanding of the social and economic factors that feed into health and well-being. In Cape Town, aspects like the history of apartheid governance and the booming tourist market, add to the complex health setting seen in this city.

So, what do South African citizens need to build on their own health and well-being? Well, they would know best wouldn’t they?

Public health programs look at preventative measures that can be taken to stop the spread of disease and promote the health of local communities. 

And, the best volunteer abroad programs in public health are developed in collaboration with local people. While volunteering in South Africa, you’ll play an important role in adding to the community’s health. 



But, South African citizens are the ones who’ll take charge of this project in the long run, which is what makes for a sustainable community development solution. 

Working with local primary schools in South Africa, volunteer work on our global health projects focuses on adding to children’s understanding of what affects their health and how they can build on their own well-being.

You’ll be part of sustainable community development projects that include:

  • facilitating physical activity workshops that encourage exercise among primary school children
  • engaging with girls and women in reproductive health workshops 
  • working with nursery children to build on their hygiene practices.

4) Women’s Empowerment project in Cape Town 

The best volunteer abroad programs in South Africa are those that focus on addressing the world’s biggest challenges. Our women’s empowerment program in Cape Town is one of the South Africa volunteer programs that aims to improve the access that women have to equal educational, healthcare, and employment opportunities. 



If you add to this program as a volunteer in South Africa, you’ll be building on achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in a big way. 

Be part of a team that facilitates workshops on health, gender equality and income initiatives. Build on the empowerment of local women by engaging them in sessions where they can speak openly with other women about their goals and their development. 

5) Volunteer Teaching in South Africa

Take your contribution to UN SDG 4: Quality Education to a new level when volunteering in South Africa in teaching.

Get to build on local childrens’ numeracy and literacy skills, and add to their confidence in school, which will spill over into their everyday lives.

In South Africa, volunteer work like this draws on volunteers’ comprehensive grasp of English and allows local communities to sharpen their English speaking skills. This builds on local peoples’ ability to engage with English-speaking tourists, and gain access to the economic opportunities that come from tourism. 



If you’re headed for a career in teaching, this is one of the best volunteer abroad programs for you to get involved in. Not only will it introduce you to what working as a teacher is really like, it’ll also help you gain the types of skills that will add to your CV in a meaningful way. 

6) Camera Trapping and Data Collection

And, if you’re keen to get a closer look at African wild animals, then you should consider becoming a South Africa wildlife volunteer on our Camera Trapping and Data Collection program. 

On this all out adventure experience in the wild, you’ll see and contribute to the conservation of lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, elephants, and some of the savannah’s most elusive species.



Get comfortable with setting up and monitoring camera trapping equipment in the field, learn how to analyse remote motion-sensitive shots with help from field professionals, and gain experience in tracking African animals using telemetry equipment. 

And, don’t forget that all of this will take place against the rugged backdrop of the Drakensberg mountain range, with the scent of South African wildlife seasoning your everyday adventures. 

7) Childhood Development and Wildlife Conservation in South Africa 

As a volunteer in South Africa, you can be part of making a positive impact in the development of young children by facilitating craft and sports lessons, assisting with English classes, and engaging children in storytelling sessions. 

You can also get involved in educational workshops with local children that will build on their environmental awareness and equip them with the knowledge they need to make a positive contribution to the conservation of plants and animals. 

And, after experiencing the culture of a South African community, you’ll get to travel to the Limpopo province and learn more about the animals that call this country home. 



Living in the city, communities may not see the direct effects of human activity on natural environments or wild animals. But, this doesn’t mean that activites like the overdevelopment of natural spaces don’t have an impact on life in urban areas. 

In fact, by clearing more and more green spaces for construction, human beings are reducing the overall oxygen production of plants, and adding to global warming.

In the stillness of the savannah, you’ll have the chance to reflect on your experience in the city, and gain a deeper appreciation for how cities and wild spaces are interlinked. 

8) Elephant Research in South Africa

If you have your heart set on seeing elephants up-close and working towards their conservation in South Africa, volunteer work is the perfect choice for you. 

You can spot this creature for yourself, trunk raised to pick fruit off a tree, unaware of the wildlife conservation volunteer lurking nearby. All you need to do is sign up for one of the best volunteer programs in South Africa, GVI’s Elephant Research in South Africa program. 

You’ll be volunteering in South Africa in collaboration with Elephant’s Alive – an international elephant conservation organisation – as well as GVI’s field experts. As a South Africa wildlife volunteer, you’ll get involved in practical work in elephant conservation. 



Working as part of a team, you’ll track elephant populations around the Karongwe Private Game Reserve. You’ll be responsible for keeping records of elephant numbers, ages, sexes, and the behaviour and characteristics that they display. 

This work builds on international efforts aimed at achieving UN SDG 15: Life on Land, and is part of ongoing elephant conservation efforts.

9) Hyena Conservation and Research in South Africa

While you may not have travelled to South Africa just to see a hyena, hyenas are savannah creatures that can tip what you think you know about this country on its head. Why?

Well, these animals are part canine, part feline, and contrary to what we thought we knew about hyenas, they’re one of the world’s most successful hunters. 

In South Africa, volunteer work on this program adds to hyena conservation, and lets you learn all about this creature’s behaviour. 

Get involved in hands-on activities aimed at rehabilitating their natural habitat, or take safari conservation drives where you’ll track and keep records of the hyenas you spot around the savannah. 



Why is this one of the best volunteer programs out there? Because it’ll broaden your knowledge of the species that live in the South African wild, and give you insight into what makes hyenas an important part of local and global ecosystems. 

And, after your South Africa wildlife volunteer experience, you may leave feeling that getting to know hyenas better has taught you heaps about the country too.

You see, at first glance, you may think you’ve figured out all there is to know about the country – just like with hyenas. But, dig a little deeper as a volunteer in South Africa, and you’ll leave with an even more meaningful understanding. 

Uncover GVI’s sustainable community development projects in South Africa, and pick from some of the best volunteer programs around.

By Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

Tasneem Johnson-Dollie is a travel writer living in South Africa. She has experience in public health nutrition and worked as a dietician before launching her writing career. She loves bringing her passion for public health and sustainable development to every article she writes. Her travels around South Africa as well as to India, Australia, and Saudi Arabia have fueled her passion for exploration.
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