2023 Update: Cape Town is open to international volunteers post COVID-19 with no travel restrictions
Cape Town is considered the “Mother City” of South Africa and is a top tourist destination known for its stunning mountain scenery, including the iconic Table Mountain, which is set against the rugged Cape Peninsula. The scenery of Cape Town is absolutely magnificent, including beaches, mountains, forests, grasslands, two oceans, and so much more. This range of landscapes makes Cape Town an incredible destination for surfing, hiking, visiting nature reserves, wine-tasting, hanging out at the beach, and enjoying the culture of a large cosmopolitan city. At the same, poverty and threats to wildlife are extremely pervasive problems, presenting international volunteers a multitude of opportunities to serve the local population and assist with conservation efforts.
Why Volunteer in Cape Town?
Like any other major city in a country that has recently attained “developed” country status, Cape Town has its challenges, such as poverty, high unemployment, and lack of access to healthcare. According to Social Europe, in 2021 the poverty rate in Cape Town was a jaw-dropping 57.9% and the unemployment rate was 29%. This means most Cape Town residents living in poverty were unable to meet basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. While the poverty rate has slightly improved from 2015, the unemployment rate is significantly higher due to the effects of COVID-19. Thus, volunteers are continuously needed in many areas such as community development, educational development, teaching, child welfare, and healthcare.
Beyond just the need to help people, however, is an urgent need to protect Cape Town’s beautiful landscapes. Located near Cape Town is Cape Point, the very southernmost point of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. The marine life is incredibly rich here and home to stunning creatures such as great white sharks, penguins, dolphins, and humpback whales. Farther inland, the diversity of creatures is just as amazing with several dozen safaris and wildlife reserves within driving distance of Cape Town. Whether you are interested in marine, wildlife, or environmental conservation, you’ll have no shortage of opportunities in Cape Town.
Is it Safe to Volunteer in Cape Town?
“Is it safe to volunteer in Cape Town” is a question that all volunteers will undoubtedly ask. Currently as of 2023, according to a travel advisory issued by the US, it is generally safe (level 2) to travel to South Africa, with particular caution warranted in the central business districts of major cities such as Cape Town. Both crime and demonstrations / protests are considered fairly common, the latter due to the South African Parliament being located in Cape Town. While the official Cape Town Tourism website states that the city is generally safe for travelers do note the general precautions with pick-pocketing and bag-snatching in busy and crowded places; you will also want to avoid shanty towns and townships with high rates of crime and poverty.
With regards to Covid, currently Covid rates are low, and there is no need for pre-departure Covid tests or a need to show vaccination proof to enter the country.
Vaccinations for South Africa
General vaccination recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control include Hepatitis A (2 doses before travel) and typhoid fever as there are risks of enteric diseases. Also, traveler’s diarrhea is a concern so medications can be provided by your doctor for self-treatment. Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria are region specific or seasonal so please consult your doctor for personalized medical advice. Furthermore, cholera transmission is widespread in South Africa, though popular destinations such as Cape Town do not have active transmission at the moment.
Volunteering in Cape Town can be a challenging but also a rewarding experience. Due to structural issues such as racism, inequality, and poverty, there are ample opportunities to help. By choosing to volunteer in Cape Town you will no doubt make a difference in the lives of people who are less fortunate, as well as having the adventure of a lifetime. Listed below are some organizations with highlighted programs to get you started.
Cape Town Volunteer Programs
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a responsible volunteer organization, connects thousands of travelers with opportunities overseas each year. Since 2007, IVHQ has placed more than 130,000 people on affordable projects – volunteers work alongside local organizations and NGOs in more than 40 countries worldwide. Its programs are designed to deliver sustainable value for the environment and the communities, and IVHQ keeps fees affordable while having a significant global impact.
Volunteer in South Africa: Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and Table View
Have you always wanted to visit South Africa? If so, IVHQ has 10 year round projects for you to choose the perfect volunteer abroad opportunity! Travel to central Cape Town, Kruger National Park, or to nearby Table View and immerse yourself in South African culture while volunteering on impactful initiatives.
In Cape Town, you can choose between childcare, teaching, animal care, sport development, or surf outreach volunteer trips. If you decide to volunteer in Table View, check out IVHQ’s Surf, Skate & Swim volunteer program, which supports students from low-income communities. Other Table View volunteering opportunities include childcare in kindergarten in low-income communities, sport development to help after-school sports programs, and the Holiday Club project, which keeps students active and engaged during their school holidays. Lastly, you can visit Kruger National Park while being a wildlife conservation volunteer. During your free time, you can explore the areas, and even take a long weekend to go on a safari or check out the Garden Route. IVHQ’s South Africa volunteer programs in Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and Table View start from only $275 for one week that includes accommodation, meals, and airport pickups.
IVHQ’s Surf Outreach volunteer program, which is based in Muizenberg, South Africa (a beautiful coastal town near Cape Town), is a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to assist with an after-school program that aims to teach children to surf and protect the beach environment.
Volunteers will teach surfing lessons to children from disadvantaged communities and also help with beach clean-ups and environmental projects that promote conservationism. The program is open to volunteers of all ages and skill levels. No prior experience with surfing is necessary.
This program starts at $345 per week with a minimum duration of two weeks. The cost of the program includes accommodation, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support. Volunteers will also receive a surfboard and wetsuit for the duration of their stay.
With 17 years of experience, GoEco has been providing trusted, impactful, and ethical volunteer projects for 17 years. They have an experienced staff to ensure volunteers have all the information required to make a conscious decision to volunteer with them, as well as making volunteer experiences worthwhile. This is why they encourage longer durations (minimum of 2 weeks) of volunteering to make a difference on both ends of the experience. In addition, they also provide a highly recommended fun cultural week (at an additional cost) before the project starts to introduce Nepalese culture and local customs and traditions to ensure the volunteers are prepared. Included in the program fees are pre-departure guidance and support.
Journey to South Africa, where you’ll work to create sustainable community projects for impoverished communities. Duties include teaching children at education centers, arranging sports activities, assisting nonprofits with fundraising, educating the public on important health issues like HIV/AIDS, and working in vegetable gardens. You’ll get to immerse yourself in the local community and you’ll feel your impact right away.
You’ll stay in a volunteer house (can upgrade to a private room), and in your free time check out sites in Cape Town like Robben Island. The program starts from $1040 for two weeks.
Lend a hand in the settlements of Cape Town for a unique type of teaching volunteer program abroad! Rather than teaching English language skills, volunteers on this program will teach the children in the settlements how to swim, surf and skate after school! Volunteers who choose to can also teach in the local schools in the morning. You can stay up to 12 weeks for this program! Learn more here.
Founded in 2015 by Daniel Botha, Surfpop is a South African-based organization that aims to build a sustainable future for vulnerable children from township communities around Muizenberg, Cape Town through a powerful formula of surfing, education and life coaching. They have hosted over 350 international volunteers for their two surf volunteer projects in Cape Town.
Surfpop is very unique compared to other international organizations due to their long-term outlook on supporting the needs of the local community. On average, they work with each child beneficiary for around 8 years, after which they help them find sustainable employment or provide them with employment within the Surfpop organization. Their holistic model of surfing, education, life coaching and nutrition also sets them apart from most other organizations.
Surfpop is the only Volunteer Forever partner that exclusively focuses on surf volunteering, so if you are a surfer or have a strong interest in surfing, Surfpop is definitely an organization you will want to check out!
Surfpop’s surf volunteer program is based in the beautiful seaside town of Muizenberg, South Africa. As a volunteer, you will play a critical role in helping disadvantaged children escape poverty, crime, and drugs. Through their comprehensive after-school program, you will not only teach children to surf and swim, but also tutor them on more formal academic subjects such as math, English, and computer literacy.
Surfpop’s volunteer program is open to volunteers ages 18 and up. No prior experience with surfing is necessary. This program starts at roughly $500 USD per week with a minimum duration of four weeks. The cost of the program includes accommodation, breakfast, airport pick-up, orientation, 24/7 support, and surf lessons. Volunteers will also receive surf gear rentals
Another organization that provides various volunteer projects in Cape Town is Projects Abroad. They have been a long time volunteer provider since 1992. Their highly trained staff are locally trained or previous volunteers who are able to properly guide volunteers throughout each project with support 24/7. They pride themselves in providing safe and secure projects by thoroughly assessing each project. For instance, they have thoroughly assessed and chosen host families for safety, comfort, and friendliness. In addition, they also pride themselves in creating and planning sustainable, responsible volunteer projects. This means they frequently evaluate and monitor their volunteer projects to measure impacts, culminating into annual reports. Taking on a project with them will no doubt give volunteers a peace of mind but also once in a lifetime, impactful experiences. They have four projects in Cape Town for everyone from teenagers to senior volunteers to choose from! Below are some highlighted programs.
Projects Abroad’s volunteer with children program in Cape Town is a great opportunity for volunteers to assist with local teachers and educators at childcare centers located in impoverished townships. These childcare centers are often understaffed, which means children are not able to get individual and personalized attention.
Volunteers will assist with classroom activities such as arts and crafts, puzzles, and more. Through your involvement, you can directly improve the educational and life outcomes of the children you work with through improved literacy, improved English skills, and increased awareness about healthy living habits. The program is open to volunteers 16 years old and above and all skill levels. No prior experience with teaching is necessary.
Projects Abroad’s volunteer with animals program in Cape Town is a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to care for abused domestic animals or sick / injured seabirds. There are multiple projects to choose from including local animal centers and wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Volunteers will have ample hands-on opportunities to directly care for sick or injured animals. This work includes feeding, exercising, and rehabilitating the animals under your care. The program is open to volunteers 16 years of age and above and all skill levels. No prior experience with teaching is necessary.
This program starts at $3240 with a minimum duration of two weeks. The cost of the program includes accommodation with a host family, meals, airport pick-up, orientation, and 24/7 support.
African Impact is a responsible, sustainable volunteer travel organization that has won multiple industry awards, including being voted the world’s Top Volunteer Abroad Organization by volunteers on GoAbroad four years in a row. Since 2004, they have hosted over 35,000 participants on 20 projects across 7 countries. The organization believes in the spirit of Africa and that the volunteer experience is just as important as the impact made. It is also recognized as a trusted specialist on volunteering and interning in South Africa. African Impact offers internships, as well as group, family, and high school projects. The minimum age requirement for their projects is 16, making African Impact a great option for teen and high school volunteers.
The Early Childhood Development Project in Cape Town offers volunteers the chance to work with vulnerable children in underprivileged townships. Volunteers will support children in foster care homes and pre-schools, providing them with access to education and care that they may not otherwise have access to. The project aims to make a positive, long-term impact on the lives of disadvantaged children by providing them with the support and education they need to succeed.
In addition to working with children, volunteers will have the opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Cape Town and all it has to offer. Cape Town has been named the “Most Beautiful City in the World” for the past 5 years, and is known for its stunning natural beauty, diverse culture, and vibrant nightlife. Volunteers can take advantage of the many activities available in the city, such as hiking up Table Mountain, going paragliding, kayaking in the ocean, or visiting historic sites such as Robben Island.
Volunteers will live in a spacious guesthouse in the center of town, with shared dorm-style accommodation and shared bathroom facilities. The guest house is close to the main sights of Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront, and the Company’s Gardens. A team on site will be available to support volunteers and help them with any needs they may have during their stay.
The Sports Coaching and Development Volunteering project in Cape Town is an opportunity for individuals with a passion for sports to provide much-needed coaching and physical education to children in the township areas of Khayelitsha and Langa in Cape Town, South Africa. As a volunteer, you will assist coaches in teaching physical education sessions at schools, help design sports classes that may include new games, fitness tests, and competitions, and teach sports at after-school programs. You will have the opportunity to bring fresh ideas and motivation to disadvantaged children through physical activity while living and working in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Accommodation will be provided in a shared guesthouse in the center of town, with shared bathroom facilities and social areas. Meals and communication support will also be provided. The project aims to increase the concentration, leadership, teamwork, and communication abilities of the children and to provide a safe and productive environment for them in the hours after school.
Volunteering Solutions (VolSol) is an international volunteer organization that was started in 2007. Since then, they have hosted over 17,000 volunteers in projects across 27 countries, including popular destinations such as Nepal, India, Thailand, South Africa, Peru, and Costa Rica.
In addition to their 120+ volunteer projects, Volunteering Solutions also offers intern abroad opportunities, the highlight of which are their international medical internships.
Another excellent volunteer program being offered right now with VolSol is their sports coaching project in South Africa. Through this placement, you’ll coach sports, teach life skills, and encourage healthy habits among children at a local primary school.
During your stay, you’ll help lead three physical education periods per day, while assisting teachers with their lessons and guidance in classrooms in between those periods. If you’re creative, flexible, and ready to be a mentor to students in South Africa, this program is for you! You’re invited to stay two weeks or longer, starting at just $495 for your first two weeks in South Africa – learn more about coaching sports here.
Summing it all up
South Africa is a magnificent country yet a budget friendly volunteer destination. As a country with a large population below the poverty line and with critically endangered flora and fauna, it needs volunteers to help with infrastructures, education, animal welfare, and environmental conservation. Listed above are many different volunteer opportunities, and we hoped that this article has given you some insights and information to get you started.