National Volunteer Week (1-7 June, 2012) highlights the importance and diversity of volunteering across all industries.
In tourism, 2012 has been dubbed the year of ‘voluntourism’, bringing into focus the increasing number of opportunities to volunteer through travel internationally, with approximately 1.6 million tourists combining travel and volunteering every year.
The Southern African countries of Malawi and Swaziland, have experienced a growing demand for ethical holidays, where travellers want to give something back to the destinations and communities they visit. Consequently, Malawi and Swaziland offer some of the best environmental and economic sustainability projects for socially responsible travellers in Africa.
Volunteering was once mainly the realm of gap year students, however lodges in Malawi and Swaziland offer short-term volunteering projects, which can be built into a two-week holiday, which are becoming increasingly popular especially with families.
The legacy of successful ‘voluntourism’ in Malawi can be seen first-hand in the villages surrounding Luwawa Forest Lodge, which have benefitted from numerous sustainable tourism projects led by volunteers. Directly improving the livelihoods of these local communities, projects have included setting up a bakery, fishpond and chicken farm, as well as equipping Luwawa women with skills to produce and sell their own wine, honey, soap and peanut butter to generate an income allowing them to financially support their families.
Kelly White, Managing Director of Geo Group, which represents both Malawi and Swaziland commented:
“The benefits of volunteering are two-fold, firstly for the positive lasting impression left upon communities and conservation concerns in African countries, but also the personal rewards for volunteers themselves.
With growing unemployment and the need to differentiate oneself in the job market, ‘voluntourism’ is an ideal opportunity to improve confidence and gain work experience and inter-personal skills. It is also the perfect opportunity to see the ‘real’ culture of Africa, improving the opportunities of local communities while learning more about local customs and culture.”
In Swaziland, the ‘All Out Africa’ foundation aims to engage people from around the world in volunteer projects to conserve Swaziland’s biodiversity and assist it’s orphaned and vulnerable children, the experience combines volunteering with visiting some of the region’s most exciting wildlife and cultural areas.
Volunteers can expect to participate in ‘hands on’ wildlife research with projects including carrying out ecological surveys, tracking reptiles and monitoring nests of threatened bird species such as vultures and marabou storks. Volunteers may also help teach and care for orphaned children, coach sports or build homes for needy families.
Being based in either the Lubombo Conservancy (including Hlane Royal National Park), where volunteers are sure to have regular big game sightings and enjoy game drives into areas with lions, elephants, rhinos, and many other animals, or the Ezulwini valley, where volunteers are immersed into community life in the cultural heart of Swaziland, a real exposure to life in this fascinating Kingdom is guaranteed all while contributing to an important long-term project.
At Ntchisi Forest Lodge in Malawi, projects are very community focused and can last anywhere from three days to four weeks and include teaching members of their youth club English language and culture, IT skills, cooking, bicycle repair, sewing and how to apply for jobs. To ensure long-term benefits for the region they also train parents and local teaching volunteers the skills to engage and educate children.
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