Written by by Mark Gray, a creative consultant who is the author of a detailed resource for safety awareness while travelling abroad.
So you have decided to go volunteering in Africa, well done! Volunteering is a spectacularly selfless and character-building experience, and it is something you will remember for a lifetime. However, as the trip approaches you may be beginning to feel a little bit nervous. That is completely normal, in fact, 36% of people worry about things going wrong on the first day of their travels. However, following a few simple tips to look after your safety while volunteering is sure to put your mind at ease.
Tips for before you go:
Pay a visit to your doctor
It may not always be necessary to see a doctor before travelling; however, when travelling to Africa it may be a necessity. There are a number of infections and diseases you may be susceptible to catch during your time in Africa, and your doctor will be able to inform you if you need any vaccinations or medication for your trip.
Vaccinations are a pain, but catching yellow fever or malaria during your trip would be far worse – it’s better to be safe than sorry! If your doctor advises that a vaccination is necessary for your specific location, make sure they provide you with an immunization card to present along with your passport at the border to avoid any problems – in some countries, vaccination is a compulsory requirement for visitors.
Visiting your doctor to double-check the vaccinations you may need is a quick and easy way to put your mind at ease before you go. Now your mind can turn to the more exciting part of your trip: the planning phase.
Learn about the area you are visiting
Africa is a rich and diverse continent, with many beautiful countries that can differ from each other greatly. It is a great idea to spend some time reading and learning about the location you plan to volunteer in. This should include researching the weather, transport, mosquitoes and more. Not only will this help you be better mentally prepared for what to expect when you get there, it will also give you a better idea of what to pack.
Each area differs from the next, but if you are planning to visit a more remote area, you may want to learn about drinking water, mosquitoes and local medical centers. There are some areas that may require you to pack water purification tablets or a mosquito net. Past volunteers will often say that preparation and learning are the best things you can do to feel more confident going into your trip and make the most of it when you get there.
Get busy packing
Once you’ve researched all you need to know about the place you will be volunteering at, you will know a bit more about what to pack. When it comes to packing for your big adventure, it is important to pack everything you could possibly need, but also not to over-pack either – which can make packing somewhat of a dilemma! There are plenty of packing lists across the net with tips on what to pack. However, we would recommend that among your clothes, shoes, toiletries and medications, you find room for a first aid kit, plenty of hand sanitizer, a mosquito net, anti-diarrheal and allergy medication (even if you have no known allergies). Oh, and don’t forget a good book!
Tips for when you get there:
Listen to the expertise and advice of your host organization
The organizations who receive volunteers rely on having an in-depth knowledge of the local area and any potential risks. Any reputable organization will go above and beyond to take care of volunteers, doing as much as possible to ensure everyone is safe and healthy.
Many organizations will hold an induction day at the start of the volunteering duration, providing every volunteer with lots of information, safety resources and maps. It is vital that you pay close attention to everything you are told and have a direct line of contact with a representative for the organization.
Keep food and water in mind
The food and drink situation will be different wherever you are based. However, it is important to consider your safety and listen to your host organization on what is safe to eat and drink. The first thing to consider is if the drinking water is safe to drink. In most places it will be fine, but in others it may be contaminated and you will have to use water purification tablets.
You may also be concerned about being potentially sensitive to the local food or it posing any potential health risks. Stick to the rules of peeling it, cooking it or washing it, and if you can’t do any of those things to it then discard it. Don’t let this stop you from trying the local food though, as it will usually be delicious!
Be aware of your surroundings!
As with anywhere in the world, there is the potential for dangerous situations and you will want to do whatever you can to avoid getting into one. Listen to your host organization, as they will usually advise you on the areas that are safe and the areas to avoid. You should also make efforts not to walk around with any valuables and keep cash under your clothes in a money belt. Whatever you do, do not walk around alone at night – this is dangerous anywhere.
As important as all of these tips are for your volunteering travels, it is just as important that you don’t spend all of your time worrying and allow yourself to have fun. You will have so many eye-opening and enriching experiences while volunteering, so don’t let anything get in the way of you enjoying it!
Head to our blog for more helpful tips about volunteering abroad! You can also check out our GivingWay Volunteer and Travel Advice Facebook group to connect with other volunteers and nonprofits! 😁
The views expressed in this guest post are solely those of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of GivingWay. The material and information contained on the GivingWay blog is for general information purposes only. GivingWay will not be liable for any false, inaccurate, inappropriate or incomplete information presented in the GivingWay blog.