As one of the most tourist-friendly countries in Africa, South Africa has so much to offer for travelers who want to explore the world, learn about new cultures, and make a positive difference wherever they go.
Geographically, South Africa is comprised of a 1,600-mile coastline with gorgeous beaches, an enormous Central Plateau bounded by the Great Escarpment and mountain ranges, and modern metropolitan areas such as Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. It’s one of the few countries with multiple capitals (Cape Town, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria), and has 11 different official languages, making South Africa an incredibly culturally diverse country. And being close to the equator, it’s home to some of Africa’s most famous wildlife: giraffes, hippos, leopards, lions, and much more.
Despite the country’s amazing diversity, South Africa’s communities and environment face many challenges. South Africa’s high unemployment rate (just under 26%) means that many of its citizens live below the poverty line, and are unable to access quality education, healthcare, jobs, and other services. And climate change, pollution, deforestation, and human encroachment on natural habitats threatens South Africa’s environment and wildlife more urgently every day.
Volunteers like you can make a difference by working alongside local NGOs and international volunteer programs to educate, care for children and the elderly, empower people in need, conserve the environment, and protect animals from endangerment or extinction. As a volunteer in South Africa, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the country and immerse yourself in a culture different from your own, make a positive impact on communities in need, and pick up new skills and make lifelong friends.
Read on to learn about the many ways you can explore South Africa and plan the trip of a lifetime!
Nine Great Programs In South Africa
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) partners with NGOs worldwide to provide high-quality, affordable volunteer programs for travelers who want to make a difference in the communities they visit. Since 2007, IVHQ has placed more than 80,000 volunteers on 150 different projects across 35 countries all over the world. If you’d like to volunteer in South Africa with IVHQ, you have a lot of different opportunities to choose from, including environmental conservation, teaching, surf outreach, sport development, childcare, and computer training. No matter which project you sign up for, you’ll stay at a shared volunteer house close to your volunteer site. IVHQ’s South Africa volunteer programs start from just $250 for your first week abroad, and include airport pickup, orientation, program supervision, housing and meals, 24/7 support in-country, and administration costs.
One of the many volunteer opportunities offered in South Africa through International Volunteer HQ is the Surf Outreach Program, where you’ll volunteer with an after-school project for children aged nine to 15. Your work in building students’ self-confidence, providing a structured environment after school, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle is vitally important to these children, many of whom come from a background of poverty, abuse, and violence. You’ll help plan activities, teach children how to surf or play beach games, and assist with other daily activities at the surf development center. Each week, you’ll spend three days surfing, one day organizing games, and can even volunteer with teaching or childcare programs locally if you’d like. And while you don’t need a surfing background to apply for this program, you must be a competent swimmer.
Another way you can make a difference with IVHQ is through their computer training project, where you can teach basic skills to help individuals improve their employment and education prospects. Several small towns where IVHQ operates have internet cafes and public computers – and your job will be to teach desktop publishing, how to use the internet, and much more for community members that are computer illiterate. This program is operated by the local school, and depending on when you sign up, you may work on holiday projects or around exams toward the end of the term – however, this will allow you to assist volunteers and teachers on other projects, so there’s no shortage of work you can take on throughout your stay. To sign up, you must be computer literate, and preferably have relevant qualifications in your subject area.
If you would like more information about these two projects or the other opportunities that International Volunteer HQ offers in South Africa, please visit this page.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Denisse
Volunteering abroad has been in my bucket list since I started it. So this summer I found the opportunity to travel and volunteer with IVHQ, totally recommend it. I felt completely safe all time! Wish I could have stayed longer…I definitely miss seeing the kids smiling at me every afternoon.
Global Vision International (GVI)
Global Vision International (GVI) is another excellent organization you should look into if you want to volunteer in South Africa. Each year, GVI places more than 2,000 volunteers and interns on impactful programs throughout Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australasia, and Europe, with projects including conservation, teaching, construction, and more. GVI’s South Africa volunteer programs last two weeks or longer, and depending on which project you sign up for, start from $2,090. When you sign up to volunteer with GVI, your program fee covers pre-departure support, 24-hour emergency phone, airport pickup, staff support, housing and meals, orientation and training, and much more.
Wildlife Research Expedition
If you’d like to learn about Africa’s most famous species of animals, GVI offers a magnificent wildlife research expedition, where you can work with some of South Africa’s biggest predators. On this program, you’ll travel to a private Big Five game reserve, where you’ll work alongside an international team to track animals through the bushveld, study their behavior, and get acquainted with big species like lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinoceroses. You’ll be fully trained in equipment and how to identify, track, and study the behavior of these animals, so you don’t need background experience to sign up. You will spend up to 12 hours a day collecting data, which helps create a baseline and holistic understanding of the animals you’re studying, as well as their environment. In addition to research, you’ll be able to participate in educational programs throughout your host community to highlight the importance of conservation. During your weekends and free time, you’ll be able to travel, go shopping, and take optional side trips.
Volunteering with Children
If you’re more of a people person, then GVI’s volunteering with children program may be the perfect fit for you! During this project, you’ll provide a safe, fun, and creative environment for children at an education center or a sanctuary for disadvantaged children. You’ll help with basic child care, planning educational games and activities, playing with children, teaching music and art, and helping the children develop basic skills in English, storytelling, and gross and fine motor skills. Your work is important because each child must have a basic academic level to pursue formal education, and you can help them get there. During your free time and weekends, you’ll be able to travel, take side trips with GVI, and much more.
For more information on these projects and many other opportunities to volunteer and intern in South Africa with GVI, please visit their website.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Amy
This really was a trip of a lifetime. My 6 week stay in South Africa was the first time I had done anything like this and certainly the first time I had been abroad on my own. I had a great time and experienced so much whilst out in the bush. The sights and sounds of the African bush are something you can never forget, nearly 3 years on and the memories are so vivid it’s like I was there last week. The staff both in the UK and in the field were excellent – very supportive, enthusiastic and clearly loved their jobs. In fact I have never met such passionate people and they really made me determined to finish my degree and follow in their footsteps. Overall it was an amazing trip, worth every penny, and I would 100% do it all over again!
Agape Volunteers offers several different options for travelers who’d like to volunteer in South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, or Maasai-land. Programs focus on teaching, music, sports, wildlife, HIV/AIDS care, medical care, and more. When you volunteer with Agape in South Africa, you can stay two weeks or longer, with a program fee starting from about $1,230 and includes housing, meals, airport pickup and drop-off, orientation and administration, travel insurance, and more.
Wildlife Volunteer Program
Agape Volunteers offers one volunteer opportunity in South Africa, where you can volunteer with wildlife for two, four, or six weeks. Through this program, you’ll work on a game reserve to track and monitor rhinos, leopards, and elephants in order to understand their movements and behaviors. You will get up close with these animals each day, and you’ll also help with a major, ongoing program that uses camera traps to track and monitor leopard behavior. Depending on how long you stay and what’s needed by the research team, you may also be involved in snake and crocodile park conservation, eradication of foreign plants, fence patrolling of conservation areas, path clearing, and much more. Throughout your stay, you’ll have a private room in the game lodge, where you’ll have three meals each day, access to a recreation area, and a swimming pool and volleyball court.
For more information on this exotic wildlife journey through South Africa with Agape Volunteers, please visit this page.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Emma
Although I don’t think it is possible to capture in words my time in South Africa, here is a little something! My 3 weeks in South Africa were full of life changing and one-off life experiences and opportunities. Here’s a few of my favourites – elephant monitoring, walking through the bush, teaching children at a local school, enjoying the beauty of Sodwana Bay, hiking around False Bay, standing six metres from a rhino, helping to capture Mountain Reedbuck, touching an elephant’s tongue, watching a leopard lie down in front of me, stroking a cheetah, tracking leopard movement around the lodge, doing static counts, watching the beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
I had an amazing 3 weeks in South Africa through a programme that offered me the chance to truly experience life in South Africa. My time in this wonderful country allowed me to develop the knowledge, skills, memories and a ‘feeling’ that could not have been gained in any other way. For that, I am genuinely thankful to Elton and Melissa for helping me live this experience for the 3 weeks! Thank you so much. And I think it’s safe to say, I’ve caught the ‘feeling’ and I will be back one day!
Naturally Africa Volunteers
Naturally Africa Volunteers is another excellent organization that invites you to volunteer on impactful programs – such as medical care, teaching, sports, and beyond – that will match your skills to a community in need. Programs last two to 12 weeks, and you can choose to volunteer in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, or South Africa. For Naturally Africa Volunteers’ South Africa programs, you’ll stay in a shared volunteer house near the beach, and have plenty to time to explore the area, get to know the other volunteers, and immerse yourself in a new culture. Depending on which project you sign up with, programs start from two weeks at $830, and include airport transfer, orientation and training, housing and meals, and local and UK-based support.
Community Pre-School Project
One of the several placements that Naturally Africa Volunteers offers in South Africa is a community pre-school project, where you will work alongside local pre-school teachers to help enhance and improve early education for children aged six months to six years. During your stay, you’ll help in the classroom with groups and in one-on-one interactions by teaching music, dance, art, structured play, and much more. Some of the tasks you can expect to take on for this project include:
- Reading with children independently and in small groups
- Assisting teachers with lessons and creating educational materials such as posters and scrapbooks
- Preparing lesson materials
- Organizing and leading activities in art, song, dance, and playtime
- Attending to the children’s needs during meal and nap times
During your free time, you’ll be able to explore the area or head to the beach by the volunteer house to canoe, boogie board, or lay out in the sand. While you don’t need early childhood teaching experience to sign up, it is a plus – you also must have a good level of spoken English ability, be 18 or older, and be energetic and creative.
Pre-Vet Wildlife Project
If you’re crazy about animals, definitely check out Naturally Africa Volunteers’ pre-vet wildlife project, where you’ll gain hands-on experience in veterinary science, animal welfare, and animal management. Through this program, you’ll have the opportunity to work with a very diverse range of animals, such as elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions, raptors, antelope, tortoises, snakes, monkeys, giraffes, and much more. A few topics you’ll learn about and have the chance to take part in include:
- Animal management
- Game capture
- Ecosystem support and biodiversity preservation
- Threats to local wildlife
- Toxic and venomous animals
- Animal health, nutrition, and behavior
- Immobilisation, tranquillisation, and inoculation of animals
- Community support
This program is designed for students and young professionals with an interest in wildlife and animals, and during your stay, you’ll be trained and guided by local professionals. You must be 18 or older to sign up, and during your free time, you’ll be able to visit neighboring towns or even arrange a side trip to Cape Town.
If you’d like to learn more about these two projects and everything else that Naturally Africa Volunteers offers in South Africa, check out this page.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Louis
The whole team at Naturally Africa were fantastic. So welcoming and really went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The program was well run and there are obvious close ties with the community. Not once in my stay did I feel uncomfortable and I really felt like I was making a small difference to the school. On the social side, all of the excursions were really well organised and all of the prices were clearly explained so you could budget easily. The house is clean, the food is delicious (Irish potatoes!) and all of the staff are friendly and helpful. I could not have asked for a better volunteering experience.
If you’re looking for a wide variety of volunteer programs, check out Projects Abroad – one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world. Every year, Projects Abroad places more than 10,000 volunteers overseas in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Pacific, and programs range from healthcare, to conservation, to teaching, and much more.
Volunteer in South Africa and support local communities through Projects Abroad’s ongoing development efforts in Cape Town. Or, you can be based right across the South African border with Botswana to contribute to important conservation efforts in the wild African bush. There are several different volunteer opportunities in Cape Town. You can support early childhood development at care centers in the townships, or kickstart your journalism career at a local online magazine. You can also join social justice programs and legal clinics on a law and human rights project.
Cape Town has a lot to offer in your free time when you’re not trying as much of the delicious food as possible. You can visit the iconic Table Mountain, or go on a weekend trip to do a safari and see the Big Five!
African Bushveld Conservation in Botswana, Southern Africa
Join Projects Abroad efforts to protect elephants and other local wildlife on the African Bushveld Conservation project in Botswana. You’ll focus on issues like poaching and habitat loss. The types of animals you can help protect include elephants, leopards, lions, and antelope. This is a unique opportunity to experience living and working surrounded by the wild African bushveld, among many of Africa’s most famous animals. Read more and sign up today!
Another excellent, affordable volunteer organization you should add to your list is Love Volunteers. This fast-growing organization offers placements in more than 30 countries worldwide, and has sent more than 20,000 volunteers on projects including medical care, construction, wildlife and environmental conservation, women’s empowerment, and more. Signing up for Love Volunteers also is incredibly affordable, with some programs starting from just $200 for your first week. In South Africa, you can stay two weeks or longer on your volunteer program, which can start from only $390, and includes housing and meals, orientation, airport transfer, in-country support, and much more. During your stay, you’ll live with a host family or in a volunteer house, with meals provided during weekdays.
Love Volunteers’ environmental protection project is just one of many South African opportunities you can sign up for with this organization. The purpose of this program is to educate future generations about the importance of conserving the environment through participation in educational camps and activities. A few tasks you’ll take on as a volunteer include clearing paths, removing alien vegetation, bird counting, and facilitating awareness programs for people of different ages – plus other work depending on the needs of the program when you sign up. This program is best for volunteers who have a love of the outdoors, a willingness to get dirty, and the flexibility and drive to work in (at times) unpleasant weather conditions.
Another option you should check out is Love Volunteers’ sports development program, where you can coach sports and teach fitness skills to children in a local primary school. As a volunteer, you’ll have a direct impact on promoting a healthy lifestyle, teaching team-building and communication skills, boosting students’ self-confidence, and so much more. Each day, you’ll coach or lead physical education courses for one to three periods, and in between, you can assist teachers in their classrooms. To sign up, you must be 18 or older, have good English skills, be creative and able to work with a lack of resources, and submit a certified background check.
For more information on these projects and the many other ways you can get involved with Love Volunteers, please check out this page.
What Volunteers Say: Review from Karolina
Love Volunteers made my experience a truly unforgettable one, providing me with assistance on every step of my lone journey. I couldn’t wish for being better taken care of! All the members of LV team are golden-hearted people – thoughtful, genuine and undoubtedly professional, with their adroit handling of all the volunteer programs.
I was placed in a community based clinic at Goodwood Day Hospital (Cape Town suburbs) and accommodated at a host family (5 min. walk to the clinic). Since I’m a pre-med student, I was surprised at the wide range of tasks I could get involved in.
I strongly recommend this program to all volunteers willing to step out of their comfort zone and not afraid of getting their hands dirty.
A Broader View
Founded in 2007, A Broader View has has dedicated more than 1.5 million volunteer hours and raised $2.5 million in donations to meaningful and impactful programs worldwide. Through partnerships with NGOs worldwide, this nonprofit strives to give travelers the best experience they can have, while making a positive impact on the communities they serve. A Broader View currently works in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa, with a very wide variety of programs ranging from child care, to therapy, to medical care, to teaching, to conservation and much more. In South Africa, you’re invited to volunteer for one to four weeks in Port Elizabeth, with housing provided in a homestay or in a volunteer house. A Broader View’s South Africa volunteer program starts from $890 for your first week, and includes housing and meals, airport pickup and drop-off, orientation, support throughout your project.
Through A Broader View’s South Africa placement, you can volunteer for community development in one of two areas: afternoon dance classes and school projects. For the dance class, you’ll help teach, provide general care, and cook meals and give homework guidance for children participating in the program. And for the school projects placement, you’ll work in a library or teach sports and computer literacy to children aged eight to 10 – you also can help with after-school reading and remedial course programs.
If you would like more information about volunteering in South Africa, and the many other volunteer options that A Broader View offers worldwide, please visit this page.
What Volunteers Say: Review from William
At first it was a bit of a shock to work with the children with special needs. They have such an unfortunate range of disabilities, and this kindergarten/pre-school is very understaffed. Many of them were also orphans. It was however really rewarding to see how much joy they still found in their everyday life, regardless of their circumstances.
My experience was great and working at the two placements I did got the opportunity to really help out with these children. I’m glad I went for as long a period as I did, as it takes time to get to know the children enough to really help them (especially the autistic and mentally challenged kids).
The coordinator was great, and helped me out with whatever I needed. She was really supportive and worked hard with me to help in my efforts to buy Christmas presents (clothes, blankets, toys) to over 400 orphans and disadvantaged children. I appreciate that a lot.
If you’d like to build your education or career through a volunteer or internship program overseas, definitely take a look at Global Nomadic. This organization strives to provide hands-on, meaningful experiences for travelers who want to build their skills, learn about new cultures, and work alongside professionals in NGOs that support communities worldwide. Right now, Global Nomadic is offering one volunteer program in South Africa, starting from one week at just $300, which covers accommodation, in-country support, project activities, and more.
Through Global Nomadic’s primate rehabilitation project, you’ll have the amazing opportunity to care for more than 120 primates of various species, including squirrel monkeys, tamarins, capuchins, macaques, lemurs, patas, and mona monkeys in an animal shelter. Many of these animals arrive to the conservation center with behavioral problems or psychological disorders that call for careful treatment – and in fact, most are not native to Africa, and were household pets that could not be released into the wild. Throughout your stay, you’ll learn how the center cares for these animals and provides a home for them to live healthy lives. A few of the tasks you’ll take on at the shelter include:
- Preparing food and feeding the animals
- Building and cleaning the enclosures
- Monitoring and keeping records of unstable primates as well as healthy ones
- Performing general grounds maintenance
- Assisting with introduction and monitoring of new primates
- Relocating animals to new enclosures, and monitoring their adjustment
You’ll work five days a week, and on weekends you’ll have plenty of time to explore the area and learn about many aspects of South African culture. For more information about volunteering in South Africa, plus other volunteer and internship opportunities around the world through Global Nomadic, check out this page.
Ready To Travel?
What are you waiting for? If any of these amazing volunteer projects in South Africa have sparked your interest, go and check out their websites – and be sure to sign up for an account on Volunteer Forever to begin planning and fundraising for your trip! Through these volunteer programs, you’ll be able to expand your horizons and immerse yourself into new cultures as you help children, animals, communities, and so much more: South Africa invites you to explore, help the community around you, and learn about yourself in the process.
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Jordyn Hotchkiss · Guest Writer
Jordyn Hotchkiss is a Guest Volunteer Travel Writer for Volunteer Forever.