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Volunteer work South Africa: three areas where you can have an impact

Article by Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo

Posted: September 30, 2022

6 min read

Volunteering in South Africa is a chance to make a difference, from community development to conservation, while encountering an incredibly diverse country.

From the deep blue of the Indian Ocean to the burnt orange of the Kalahari Desert, and the lush green of the Garden Route, South Africa is alive with colour. Yet the extraordinary landscapes and wildlife are in danger from poaching and other environmental challenges. And behind Cape Town’s lively exterior, inequalities in education, income and gender equality exist.

Volunteers drawn by the promise of the outdoors can contribute to sustainable development. Make your trip to South Africa count by exploring programs in these three key areas.


Volunteer in education

Education in South Africa is still plagued by a lack of teachers, infrastructure and community support. The result is poor attendance and high illiteracy rates. According to Stats SA, 16.4% of children between the ages of five and 14 aren’t enrolled in school. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which measures literacy rates of grade 4 learners, found that approximately 78% of South African grade 4 learners are not able to read in any language.

Education is a crucial part of community development. Volunteers can play an important role in planning and delivering educational workshops and classes, making sure more community members have access to quality education.


You can get involved in
volunteering with children in educare centres in South Africa. Engaging in games, or arts and crafts is enriching and fun for children. It helps develop social and problem-solving skills, among others.

You can also get involved in literacy and numeracy programs where you’ll be providing additional support where educational resources are scarce.


Volunteer in women’s empowerment

Gender inequality still exists in South Africa. The majority of people living in poverty are women. Many girls in lower-income areas are still denied adequate education, meaning more women are illiterate than men. Fewer opportunities for skills development means fewer options for employment, which continues the cycle of poverty.

You can assist in disrupting this cycle by empowering women through alternative income generation skills workshops and girls through educational support at schools. By supporting women in places where gender discrimination is still present, you can be a part of a sustainable and long-term solution to inequality.

When women are given equal access to education and employment opportunities, entire communities benefit. As women’s incomes increase, infant mortality rates are reduced and children stay in school for longer, which in turn gives them greater access to further education and a better quality of life.


Volunteer in wildlife conservation

Research is an important aspect of wildlife conservation. While living within the South African bush, volunteers and interns can gain practical experience collecting data, carrying out surveys and learning tracking techniques. These skills can be applied to protect some of the most impressive animals on the planet.


Tracking elephants through the bush can be a much more immersive and meaningful experience than simply taking a safari.


South Africa has the largest population of rhinos in the world. The high numbers of this precious creature mean South Africa is a target for poaching activities. Rhino conservation requires innovation, and GVI helps to protect and conserve rhinos with a rhino poaching awareness program.

Elephants are another vulnerable species. In a partnership with Elephants Alive, GVI enables volunteers to participate in critical conservation research of these and other animals. Tracking elephants through the bush can be a much more immersive and meaningful experience than simply taking a safari.

Cheetahs, the world’s fastest land mammal, are classified as near-threatened. Habitat loss and poaching have cast this big cat’s future into uncertainty. In order to protect them, we need to learn more about this elusive beauty. GVI’s cheetah conservation project examines their hunting and feeding behaviour, meaning you’ll get to see these incredible predators in action.

South Africa has both adventure and sustainable development projects in spades. Dig into a meaningful program and browse more of GVI’s volunteer opportunities in South Africa.

Cover image by Jens.

By Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.
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