All the info and most frequently asked questions regarding volunteering with VWI and South Africa in general. Got a question we havent listed, please feel free to contact us with any other queries – we’re here to help wherever possible!
Q: The big question – What is volunteering?
A: Dictionary definition: “A person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking”. In laymans terms – an apt description, in reality though, volunteering goes far beyond this! Volunteering is genuinely a great way of ‘giving something back’ to the world whilst enjoying life changing, amazing experiences. Also a great way to earn valuable work experience, make great like minded friends, experience new cultures or simply taking the opportunity to live out a dream – volunteering truly is a great way to spend a vacation providing huge benefit to both the volunteer and everyone associated!
Q: Who volunteers?
A: Anyone and everyone! Previous volunteers choosing VWI have ranged in age from 18 years old up to ‘young at heart’ visitors well into their retirements – there really is no specific profile for age, background or personal situation for a ‘typical’ volunteer. VWI regularly look after school leavers taking a gap year, university students looking to carry out valuable work experience overseas all the way through to professionals looking to take a break from their careers and even retired persons simply looking for a rewarding break away in the sun! Whatever your circumstances, volunteering holds something for everyone!
Q: What benefit does volunteering provide?
A: Volunteering, when organised correctly on sustainable and well developed programs provides huge benefits to all involved. The receiving project benefits strongly from the received funding, experience, hard work and enthusiasm of the volunteer enabling them to further their work be it in the community development sector, conservation or any other – for many organisations, volunteers completely sustain their ongoing good work. What may surprise you though is that after returning home, by far and away the majority of volunteers strongly believe they have gained more from their visit than they have given to their project simply in regards to their own personal development – a hugely important factor and one that never be overlooked!
Q: Do I need previous experience to volunteer?
A: Overwhelmingly – no! Whilst any appropriate experience you may bring to your chosen project will be greatly valued and appreciated, acceptance to any of VWIs programs are not dependent on prior experience or specific skills – the only skills we ask you to provide are your enthusiasm and willingness to make a difference!
Q: Why does Volunteer World International exist and why do projects generally not advertise for volunteers directly?
A: Put simply, time and expertise. It is a hugely time consuming and expensive process to develop the necessary websites and marketing to successfully attract volunteers, as our projects rightly concentrate on their ongoing good work, many do not have the time, finances or expertise to achieve this. As such, volunteer agencies such as VWI use their knowledge, contacts and expertise to succesfully advertise the program and work undertaken to ultimately connect the volunteer program to the volunteer. In addition to this, VWI also look after our volunteers complete logistical arrangements from arrival to departure in-country to ensure that all our projects have to do is accept the volunteers to their program and benefit from their involvement!
Q: Why do I not get paid for my visit and time?
A: Most of our projects rely on the income gained from volunteer tourism to support the good work they undertake on a daily basis. All of our projects provide accommodation, skilled and informative staff to look after volunteers, and in most cases transport and meals also (please check inclusions per individual projects) – all of which costs money to enable our projects to open their doors to you and provide visitors with truly once in a lifetime opportunities and experiences.
Q: Will I be taking jobs away from local people?
A: Categorically, no. VWI do not support projects utilising volunteers to carry out the work that could otherwise be undertaken by locals – this would go wholly against our ethical policies and as such, all of our projects are extensively vetted to ensure this is not the case. Volunteer tourisms purpose, in the eyes of VWI, is to assist in empowering local people, communities and organisations to develop on a sustainable basis and provide for a better future. The income and support received from volunteers provides our projects with the ability to do this and on many occasions, creating employment for local people in the process!
VWIs own community project in the Montagu region is a prime example of this belief where over time, volunteer visits will support development of the local community funding huge improvements and facilities in all areas creating not only employment but also a sense of hope and belief – factors that are so important within these communities.
Volunteers also contribute indirectly simply by being in the area of the program which are often located off the normal ‘tourist track’, in the process supporting local businesses simply through normal tourism. Be it a local restaurant, craftsperson, attraction, taxi operator or any other, the employment that is sustained and created as a result of your visit is sizeable and resultant purely of you being in South Africa – an added positive impact of volunteer visits!
Volunteer tourism and projects when correctly administered and in existence for the right reasons are perfect examples of responsible, ‘ecotourism’ that provide ongoing benefit to all involved – volunteers with VWI can be assured that we have gone to great lengths to assess all of our projects to ensure we only offer access to sustainable and beneficial programs, a concept and policy we strongly believe in.
Q: Why Volunteer in South Africa?
A: South Africa offers an endless array of possibilities and potential experiences to all volunteers irrespective of age, interests or experience. Home to a hugely diverse and vibrant list of wildlife, cultures, scenery, stunning beaches and of course great weather, South Africa truly is the perfect venue for anyone looking to take the plunge and ‘volunteer’!
As a young and energetic country, South Africa also represents an exciting place to be where volunteers can contribute greatly to the ongoing growth and development of local communities and social structures or even get hands on with the hugely varied wildlife to play a genuine and important part in preserving and conserving the countries natural heritage and habitats – indeed the variety and diversity of South Africas flora and fauna are regarded as some of the most remarkable to be found anywhere in the world.
South Africa has something to offer everyone, from the bright lights and excitement of the cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg to the vast wildernesses inbetween where time out can be taken to reflect in some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in the world – life is what you make of it here in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and the potential truly exists to make of it whatever you want!
Q: Why volunteer with VWI?
A: Volunteer World International are 100% based where every volunteer agency should be based – ie, in the country of your proposed volunteering adventure. Having huge local knowledge and contacts within the fields in which we work, we are not only able to offer our volunteers comprehensive, accurate and up to the minute advice, we are also perfectly positioned and able to create bespoke, personalised experiences that perfectly match all of our volunteers wants and needs. This local knowledge and experience is reflected in the quality and variety of programs we are able to offer.
If youve ever dreamed of seeing Kudu in the Kruger, teaching in a township or even seeing the carnival in Cape Town, VWI have the experience, local knowledge and contacts to help you make your dream vacation come true from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave.
We also offer market leading levels of support to the projects with which we work – as we are 100% based in South Africa, we do not have the need to employ and fund ‘local’ booking offices overseas which would take unnecessary funding away from the good causes we support. You can be assured that noone puts your contribution to better use.
So, with market leading support to all of the good causes with which we work, 24/7 in country support from knowledgeable, local staff and a fantastic array of potential volunteer experiences, the real question should be ‘why wouldnt you volunteer with VWI…?’!
Q: How can VWI help volunteers and what services do we offer?
A: VWI take great pride in the service we offer to our volunteers and as such, we strive to support our visitors wherever we possibly can. From 24/7 in country advice and support, providing confirmations to worried parents their children have arrived safely and constant updates if required as to their progress whilst in South Africa to giving great advice on ‘off the beaten track’ things to do in freetime – we’re here to make your stay as amazing as it possibly can be – if theres something you need, just let us know and we’ll move mountains to help!
Q: When is the best time to visit South Africa?
A: Anytime is a great time to be in South Africa! Climate does vary across the country but generally summer is regarded as being from November/December all the way through to March/April – dependent on the area of the country you will be visiting though and with a typically Mediterranean style climate, great weather can be experienced even in the depths of winter!
Once you have chosen your project, get in touch and we will be happy to give specific advice on best times to visit!
Q: Is it safe in South Africa?
A: Overwhelmingly, yes! As with visiting any foreign country though, a common sense approach to travel is required and obvious points like limiting the amount of expensive items displayed when in public is always highly recommended. Our projects are all inspected for their safety and security so volunteers should be mindful of but have no unnecessary worries regarding their personal safety. As ever though, should you have any specific questions or require particular advice, please talk to us – we are always happy to help!
Q: Do I need to worry about Malaria?
A: Malaria is present in certain areas of South Africa, especially around the Kruger Park area to the North East of the country. Outside of these areas, and particularly through Cape Town and the Western Cape region, the majority of the country is Malaria free – we would always recommend consulting with your local doctor though prior to travel for specific advice regarding correct precautions to take dependent on the region of the country you will be visiting.
Q: Is HIV/AIDS an issue?
A: South Africa does unfortunately have a problem with HIV/AIDS though as with personal security and safety, being mindful of this fact and utilising a common sense approach to your conduct will ensure that this factor does not become an issue.
Q: When are the public holidays in South Africa?
A: South Africa is privileged to have 12 public holidays per year – 2014 dates are shown below!
- 1 January 2014 – New Years Day
- 21 March 2014 – Human Rights Day
- 18 April 2014 – Good Friday
- 21 April 2014 – Family Day
- 27 April 2014 – Freedom Day
- 28 April 2014 – Public Holiday
- 1 May 2014 – Workers Day
- 16 June 2014 – Youth Day
- 9 August 2014 – National Women’s Day
- 24 September 2014 – Heritage Day
- 16 December 2014 – Day of Reconciliation
- 25 December 2014 – Christmas Day
- 26 December 2014 – Day Of Goodwill
Q: How do I choose an experience?
A: Simple! First of all, decide on your area of interest be it conservation (marine or terrestrial based) or community work then read through our available program options. Looking for inspiration or a specific area to work with? Find a specific interest on our cloud tags, click on the link and listed will be all the experiences available offering exactly what you are looking for!
Q: Can I create a bespoke experience based on my individual requirements?
A: Most definitely! From combinations of programs, specific learning experiences at all of our advertised programs (if there is specific or research work you would like to undertake to support a degree for example) or even something not listed like veterinary work – challenge us to create exactly what you are looking for! We can even arrange trips and tours for you during your freetime and ensure you are picked up and dropped off back at the project with all logistics inbetween!
Q: Can you organise group bookings and do VWI projects cater specifically for groups?
A: Yes! Some of our projects are tailor made for group bookings where a specific goal is sought by the group and as such can be booked as a private experience (dependent on numbers). Organising private placements and group bookings does generally require as much advance notice as possible to create the desired experience and ensure availability so please let us know well in advance if this is your intention.
Q: Do VWI offer discounts?
A: Yes! There are several circumstances under which discounts may apply:
- Booking multiple projects
- Referring a friend (we offer a 5% discount to both you and anyone you refer upon receipt of their deposit(s) – the people you refer dont even need to be on the same project or travel with you!)
- Booking as a group (we offer a 5% discount to you and all members of your group)
All discounts will be applied to the final invoice we send to you post receipt of your application!
Q: What is the booking process?
A: We follow a very simple booking process to make things as easy as possible for you:
- Decide on your chosen project, requested arrival date and duration of your stay (or mail us to create an experience for you)
- Send us your application
- We will respond back confirming your account with us and access to our ‘My Volunteer Program (MVP)’ and all the great features it has to offer.
- As soon as we have confirmation that availability is okay at your chosen project(s)- we will confirm this to you together with an invoice detailing final costs
- Pay the required deposit within 1 week to secure your placement and the balance 6 weeks before you travel – simple!
Q: How do I pay?
A: Payments can be made either through either Paypal by credit card or via direct bank transfer or under certain circumstances by cheque also. Full details of payment methods and a link are included with your invoice.
Q: When should I pay my deposit and final balance?
A: Desposits are requested within 7 calendar days of us confirming availability to you to secure and reserve your place at the chosen projects – the balance then is due 6 weeks before you travel. Please note that should you be making a booking which means you travel within 6 weeks of your initial booking, full payment is requested to secure your placement.
Q: What do I need to pack?
A: Most importantly, copies of all documentation relating to your visit, booking confirmations and contact numbers for your stay and particularly for VWI! A specific ‘what to pack’ list is included on all of our project specific downloads and this should be used as great guide. As an overview though, remember that most of your time will be spent working, sometimes in dusty and rugged conditions so old clothes are definitely best and as always, dont forget the camera and sunscreen whether summer OR winter!
Q: Do I need a work permit or Visa to enter South Africa?
A: A work permit is NOT required to enter South Africa as you will not be undertaking payed work and the purpose of your visit is for TOURISM which should be stated on your Visa application or to any officials. Generally, and dependent on your nationality, a tourist Visa is automatically granted for stays of up to 90 days in South Africa which can be extended on application. Remember though to state that the purpose of your stay is for TOURISM as the term volunteering does create confusion with regards to the purpose of your stay!
Q: Where can I go for further advice regarding travel in South Africa?
A: Should you require any specific legal or medical advice regarding visiting South Africa, we strongly recommend visiting the ‘Know Before You Go’ travel advice website here. This site is an invaluable and up to date resource on all travel matters specifically pertaining to South Africa and should answer any and all of your questions!
Q: Will I need travel insurance?
A: Yes. For your own security and safety it is a condition of booking that comprehensive travel insurance is obtained and details forwarded to VWI prior to your departure from your home country. We are proud to have partnered with World Nomads to offer our volunteers some of the most comprehensive and cost effective travel insurance available – click here for further information on the cover on offer and to obtain an obligation free quotation.
Q: What is ‘Pack For A Purpose’?
A: We encourage all of our volunteers to consider further supporting their chosen projects by participating in the Pack For A Purpose campaign. For just a small amount of space in your suitcase, you can make an additional and immeasurable difference to the project you visit by bringing much needed relevant supplies – be they old clothes, pens and pencils, learning aids or anything else – this campaign is a truly great way of giving the maximum benefit from your trip! For further details on each projects specific needs, please see the Pack For A Purpose link on each project page who operate in conjunction with VWI under the scheme!
Q: Sharing of contact details
A: Before you depart, please ensure your immediate family, next of kin or whoever may need to contact you have copies of your itinerary and documents prior to you leaving your home country – inclusive of contact details for ourselves here at VWI!
Q: How do I get to my chosen project?
A: VWI do not iclude transfer costs in our program pricing and offer all our volunteers a choice regarding transfers to ensure that their experiences are as tailor made as possible. By not including transfer costs, we ensure that should our volunteers wish to travel around South Africa either before or after their volunteering and make their own way to/from the project, money is not wasted by including unnecessary transport. We can of course assist with provision of airport transfers to and from all of our projects and even accommodation should you wish to arrive in advance of your stay. At the end of the day, its your vacation and should be tailor made to your exact requirements!
Q: How do I keep in touch with loved ones at home whilst on project?
A: Most of our projects do have good cell phone reception and internet access so it is generally very easy for our volunteers to keep in touch with friends and family back home – and vice versa! Where internet or cell phone coverage does not exist though, VWI hold emergency contact numbers for all of our project coordinators to ensure that emergency messages can be relayed – if you urgently need to get in touch, contact us and we will do the rest!
Q: How can VWI assist parents and family overseas worried about volunteers whilst on project?
A: In any way required! From arrival notices that loved ones have arrived safely or even relaying of important messages – we are here to help and keep you in touch even when cell phone or internet reception at the specific projects are unavailable. We also have specific VWI staff at several of our projects ensuring anything worried parents or relatives need can be provided as required!
Q: Will language be a problem?
A: No – as long as you have a basic grasp of English you will be fine! All of our projects are run by English speaking coordinators so communicating will never be an issue. Want to learn the local lingo anyway?! Check out our welcome pack where some of the more commonly used Afrikaans phrases are listed to help you get by!