Responsible travel: Gap year community volunteering project in South Africa
In the UK we aim to:
- be as energy efficient as possible by re-using or recycling our waste paper and printer toner cartridges.
- use energy efficient light bulbs throughout the office, and try to reduce electrical consumption as far as possible.
- staff lift share when possible.
- send all documentation to volunteers electronically; we only mail things if so requested by our clients.
- fully brief our volunteers prior to departure on what to expect from a project, the community volunteer work and living within the village including any environmental issues.
- offer limited printed promotional material to reduce paper waste.
In South Africa, we aim to:
- advise all volunteers during their in-country induction course to be environmentally aware and to keep water and electricity consumption to a minimum whilst in Africa. Our local representative will talk to the volunteers about South African people and their history, and introduce basic Afrikaans phrases so you can integrate into the community.
- use local representatives for all of our projects to avoid unnecessary flights for staff from the UK.
- where possible, organise group travel for the volunteers to avoid using individual modes of transport, thus benefiting the environment and the safety of the volunteers.
- use locally sourced building materials that are used alongside skilled local builders, showing our volunteers their techniques and skills. All managed by a project leader.
- encourage all volunteers to use local products and services
East Africa is where our organisation originated, and in 2008 we introduced a project in South Africa with the help of one of our Founders, Nigel Warren. We employ a local representative, Kate Groch, to support our projects, who has strong links within the communities of Philippolis. We place volunteers in accommodation within the community providing the locals with a source of income.
We employ local people as in-country staff, to support all our projects and providing employment and an income for local families. No jobs are taken away from local people - we prefer to use skilled local tradesman for our volunteers to work alongside, learning the traditional South African building techniques. We prefer to use locally owned facilities for induction courses, and local services for safaris and adventure activities.
Communities are paid to host volunteers and in total an average of 55% of our revenue is spent in-country. This includes paying local communities for accommodation and food or giving volunteers an allowance to buy food locally.
We aim to use the same houses for volunteers each year so families in the community and teachers who host them are familiar us. Volunteers are briefed on customs and cultures, advising them to be responsible and respectful to their new neighbours. We also try to assist the same schools each year so the teachers are familiar with our volunteers and what they should be involved in. Post project reviews are always completed with volunteers to make sure help is always needed. In the long term we hope to continue and develop our community projects in addition to helping with English and extra curricular activities in more of the poor schools in these regions. Volunteers bring a new dimension to teaching in South Africa – its more interactive and fun for the children; attendance suddenly increases when volunteers are in schools. Extra-mural subjects like sport, music, art etc, which are not normally included in the school timetable, are included when volunteers are placed in schools. At the secondary schools in the region you could find there are 21-year-old students still studying for their Matriculation exams (A-Level equivalents), so volunteers will help them get through their exams.
At Philippolis High School in 2008 our first volunteers in South Africa opened the school computer lab doors for the first time in 2 years. The computers were lying idle because there were no teachers available to teach computer skills – until our volunteers arrived. Our charitable arm is currently funding two new classrooms as an adjunct to the Bergmanshoogte High School, which will be used to house school homework sessions, as well as adult learning and literacy classes for the local community. Funds raised are also being used to build a new kitchen, which will be the base for a community-feeding scheme.
There are many volunteers who choose to go on to fundraise for African communities – donating school equipment, helping with funds for new or improved classrooms/facilities, and sponsoring children through education. Katherine was a Zimbabwe volunteer with us in 1998, and is the founder of her own charity which leads a groundbreaking HIV/AIDS education project in South African schools.