• Animal Care
  • Community
  • Healthcare

Nine of the best volunteer programs in South Africa

Article by GVI


Posted: May 1, 2023

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 and wildlife conservation. 

Take a look at nine 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

When you volunteer in South Africa you can 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

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 a flurry, 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) Public health

Can’t get the idea of the South African coast out of your mind? Well, lucky for you, you can volunteer in South Africa and live in Cape 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 communities. 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

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 contribute 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

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

From our base in Cape Town, you’ll 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) Rhino poaching awareness

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 rhino poaching awareness program. 

On this program you’ll live and work on a private game reserve in the Greater Kruger area which is home to various endangered species, such as black and white rhinoceros.The reserve has teamed up with Rhino Revolution and Endangered Wildlife Trust. As a volunteer, you’ll learn about poaching prevention, fundraise for the cause, and promote awareness. 

By using notch identification and tracking techniques, you’ll work alongside the local anti-poaching programs to help preserve the rhino population. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to support environmental projects that align with the UN SDGs and experience an unforgettable safari adventure.

7) Big cat conservation research

Are you looking for an adventure that will take you into the heart of the South African wilderness where you can contribute to big cat conservation and wildlife initiatives? If so, get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you’ll work with an international research team to track big cats, including lions and leopards, across the savannah in South Africa. Here you’ll assist with collecting information on spatial utilisation, inter-species interactions, and prey preferences, make a substantial contribution to the preservation of these amazing and vulnerable animals, and help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #15, Life on Land.

But it’s not just about the work. You’ll also have the chance to witness these majestic creatures up close in their natural habitat and get the full safari experience. And as a volunteer, you’ll work alongside local conservation partners and professionals to ensure your efforts are ethical, meaningful, and sustainable. 

This is a unique opportunity to expand your conservation knowledge, gain new skills, and venture outside typical travel itineraries to explore remote habitats, rare species and unique ecosystems.

8) Elephant, rhino and buffalo research and conservation

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

You’ll be working with an international team of staff and volunteers on various research projects alongside partners like Elephant’s Alive, Endangered Wildlife Trust, and Karongwe Private Nature Reserve. This is not your ordinary safari tourism trip! You’ll be able to experience the savannah landscape while contributing to ongoing conservation efforts.

As you track these megaherbivores through the bush on safari vehicles, you’ll be noting their behaviour, age, sex and identifying details. You might also have the opportunity to work on a project focused on lessening the impact of elephants on native plant species at risk, such as baobab, marula and star chestnut trees.

But it’s not all work and no play! You’ll get to live and work alongside participants and GVI field staff from all over the world. You’ll develop an in-depth understanding of complex South African ecosystems and learn how to conduct surveys on species like elephants, rhinos, and buffalos.

9) Cheetah conservation and research

Join an international team of passionate volunteers to assist in the preservation of the world’s fastest land mammal, the cheetah, in the South African savannah. This is your chance to make a real difference and contribute to the conservation efforts of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Cheetahs are classified as a vulnerable species, threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and competition with other predators such as lions and hyenas.

Your main focus will be on studying cheetah kill behaviour and their interaction with other predators in the reserve. Using telemetry equipment and safari vehicles, you’ll work with a group of researchers and volunteers from around the world to track these majestic creatures through the savannah. When you spot a cheetah, you’ll observe their feeding behaviour and set up camera traps to learn more about their habits.

And the best part? You’ll have the chance to view the cheetahs up close and even on foot, if it’s safe to do so. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the thrill of the South African savannah while making a meaningful contribution to the preservation of the vulnerable cheetah species.

Learn more about GVI’s sustainable community development and wildlife conservation projects in South Africa, and pick from some of the best volunteer programs around.

what’s up next?
Hogging the Limelight: Peccaries in Costa Rica

Explore the different types of peccaries found in Costa Rica, as well as their importance in the local ecosystem, habitats, behavior, and social structure.

You might also like these articles

Public Awareness Campaigns: A Vital Tool for Turtle Conservation
Read the article
How to Work With Elephants
Read the article
Volunteer and Adventure
Gap year pros and cons
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
How to Volunteer in Africa with Animals: A Guide to Responsible Wildlife Conservation
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
Why it’s Critical to Protect Wildlife and Endangered Species
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
The Importance of Conserving Habitat for Wildlife
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation
Discover Different Types of Volunteering
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
How to Prepare for Your First Volunteer Experience: A Guide for First-Time Volunteers
Read the article
Women's Empowerment
Capybaras: The Fascinating Water Pigs of South America
Read the article
Wildlife Conservation