Fact-checking our upcoming April edition of Smart Traveler on voluntourism put me in touch with African Impact‘s Jolene Harris, the company’s South Africa and Mozambique destination manager and marketing assistant. We chatted about African Impact, the volunteer work it facilitates for travelers to Africa, and what makes it special.
First off, can you please tell us a bit about African Impact and what it does?
African Impact started in 2004 by local Zimbabweans who recognized an increasing desire by international travelers to give back and do some meaningful work when they vacation. African Impact has offices in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and we have just branched out to South Africa. Over the last five years, African Impact has placed over 2,000 volunteers, with numbers growing each year. 2008 saw nearly 800 volunteers placed in eight countries on over 20 projects.
I notice you coordinate a wide array of volunteer opportunities: from lion, whale shark, manta ray, and black rhino conservation to assisting at clinics and fostering HIV/AIDS awareness as well as educational programs. What are some of your most popular projects?
Our most popular project would be our oldest and biggest which is the Lion Rehabilitation Project in Gweru, Zimbabwe. There are several more that receive large numbers of volunteers, namely our Livingstone Medical Project in Zambia, the Conservation and Photography Project in South Africa, and our Teaching and Community Project in Zanzibar.
African Impact works in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Which country (or countries) is most popular among your volunteers?
It’s hard to say, I think that each country has its own individual charm whether its exceptional landscapes, adventure activities, renowned people or great weather, and each can be a draw for anyone wanting to experience something completely different! Having said that, there are a few places that have consistently drawn large numbers of volunteers.
South Africa is a popular country to volunteer in and I think it could be because of the fact that it is one of the world’s top holiday destinations and so volunteers can tie in a bit of sightseeing and exploring while getting involved in local communities and feeling a part of the African culture. Zambia and Zimbabwe are also popular, both having exciting projects to be involved with, and in a lot of ways could be a more “raw” Africa experience. Mozambique and Zanzibar, with their beaches and laid-back coastal lifestyle, are also popular destinations.
What fees are required to volunteer and what percentage, roughly, of those fees paid by volunteers go back to benefit the local communities?
On average, a four-week placement would cost US$2,390. This includes all in-country transport, accommodation, meals, orientation and training, 24-hour field support and assistance by our experienced project managers. In addition, a portion of this contribution (roughly 20 percent) is invested into developing the project on the ground, whether it be through the purchase of building equipment, medical supplies or teaching materials. African Impact also donates to our UK-registered charitable trust, The Happy Africa Foundation.
African Impact promotes such voluntours as an opportunity for travelers to be more than tourists, to be conservationists and humanitarians. This notion mirrors our philosophy here at Traveler and IT. How does African Impact introduce local culture to its volunteers?
I think being an African-based organization we’re in touch with the continent, its character and also how delicately it needs to be handled at times. We are passionate about our continent and truly making a difference here and I think that is something that feeds into our projects, the work we do, and ultimately to our volunteers who join us. It is real people working to make a real difference and for volunteers joining us that is part of getting a positive, authentic experience. We expose volunteers to the genuine cultures of the area they are in, including local foods, language, even dancing and traditions so they leave not only having given of themselves, but having learned much along the way.
We encourage anyone looking to travel, take an adventure, have an experience, and give back, to volunteer in Africa, and throughout the world. There is so much to be done and we truly can be the difference we want to see!
Photo: An African Impact volunteer on the beach in Zanzibar doing a litter clean-up.