The Benefits of Volunteering in South Africa & The Skills You’ll Gain

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Asking someone the question, ‘Why do you want to be a volunteer?’ can go in many directions. However, for the most part, people do not solely volunteer because it benefits them! We decide to volunteer because it makes a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate than us, or because the skills you gain from volunteering are endless. But, just because we don’t volunteer purely for the personal benefits, doesn’t mean the numerous unexpected benefits of volunteering don’t draw people into the idea.

Read on to find out what are the benefits of volunteering you may not even think about!

10 Unexpected Benefits of Volunteering in South Africa

Volunteering in and of itself has many benefits. However, there are even more volunteering benefits when you choose a place as unique as South Africa. Both the African wild and the urban cityscape are fragrant in opportunities to explore, whether you’re a wandering traveler or volunteer visiting South Africa. If you’re considering giving back as a volunteer in Africa, here’s our list of 11 unexpected benefits of volunteering in South Africa to convince you that this is the place you should have at the top of your list!

a woman sitting on a tip of a cliff with a view of South Africa

1. Impact Local Communities

Volunteering is the stepping stone to feeling more connected with a community, especially when you’re traveling abroad. South Africa’s long battle with inequality, poverty, and a large wealth gap between the rich and poor, could be one of the reasons you feel inspired to get involved in helping local communities. Or you could be inspired by an organization, like African Impact, that is advocating for community and conservation programs you believe are important. There are many opportunities to bring about impactful change, from volunteering at a local school that is low-staffed to joining a sports coaching program that trains young children or conducting research that supports conservation efforts. Joining a volunteer organization in South Africa helps to improve core aspects of society that are currently under-resourced. Your hard work will strengthen the unity between you and the local people you’re driven to help.

2. Increase Social Connection

It’s unavoidable that every so often in life we feel unwanted pings of loneliness, and the unfortunate reality is that loneliness and social isolation are two of the most severe epidemics in the world today. But, there are practical ways to combat loneliness, one of which is by taking advantage of the power of volunteering, especially a country like South Africa could benefit from your time and effort. Daily, this young nation experiences vast challenges across community, education and environmental issues. No matter which issue you end up volunteering to support, working in one of these areas will increase interaction between you and groups of local people. Some of the social benefits of volunteering include meeting like-minded people who share your interests and making new friends. These new opportunities for social connection have long-term benefits for every volunteer!

a lioness walking with her cub

3. Create Lasting Bonds

Known around the world for being friendly and welcoming, the South African people are a unique bunch! In a country filled with such distinct cultural roots, there are dozens of phrases and practices you’re unlikely to encounter in South Africa that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. From the untamed and direct banter of the majority to the laid-back surfer girl just back from an East Coast road trip or the friendly Afrikaans aunty, or oom, who always wants to sit down for a long chat, you’ll come across many different characters while volunteering in South Africa. But, wherever you go in the country, trust that you will always be welcomed without hesitation. As you volunteer in different parts of the world, it’s good practice to preserve the bonds you make, just as you should for South Africa. And this benefits you far beyond your volunteering, giving you one of a kind memories and connections to cherish the rest of your life.

4. Develop Greater Self-Understanding

As you volunteer in South Africa, you’ll most definitely build a better understanding of yourself, and your position in the world. You’ll be able to interact with people from diverse backgrounds, because the country is filled with a unique blend of cultures, traditions and religions.

One tradition you’ll learn about, for example, is that in various cultural communities, there are rites of passage that mark the start of birth, womanhood or manhood. You’ll hear about this in the Xhosa tradition, once young men (abakhwetha) reach a certain age they leave their Eastern Cape village and undergo an ancestral rite of passage that lasts more than one week, and with the Cape Malay community in Cape Town, Kolwadjib (rose water-infused rice cakes) are served at the baby’s naming ceremony to celebrate a birth.

Learning about South Africa’s unique cultures and traditions activates our self-awareness, giving us a clearer perception of ourselves and helps us to understand others. This new insight about important parts of yourself can help reduce the frustrations and anxiety that tend to come up during confrontations with something completely new.

Ultimately, the benefits of volunteering is that it can become a tool you can use to break down fears, build up self-awareness and grow as a person immensely.

an elephant walking in a grass

5. Boost Self-Confidence

Volunteering abroad takes you on a progressive transition of self development, which means your self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of self-worth will all evolve as you go through new experiences. If you look at the global statistics that reflect the severity of self-esteem issues experienced by young girls and boys, you can only imagine the life-changing (and life-saving) benefits that volunteering can have!

As a volunteer in South Africa, you’ll find yourself among like-minded people who are also wanting to step outside of their comfort zones; sharing common interests with other volunteers will help you to build closer relationships. But if you don’t stop there, and you continue speaking to new people, listening to others, and finding yourself in sticky situations, it can spark a light within, allowing you to grow in self-confidence and self-assurance.

6. Improve Mental & Physical Health

It’s a common fact that volunteering elevates our feelings towards ourselves and our choices. But did you know when you volunteer abroad, you are also opening yourself up to improving your overall wellness too?

South Africa is a country that has countless breathtaking views in nature, leaving you with some of the best outdoors activities and budget-friendly exercises to pick from in your free time. Over the weekend during your time off, you could go on a walk alongside locals or start your morning with a solo jog on the train tracks in Muizenberg. If you want to expand your fitness goals even further, you could join a road cycling club that follows a route around Cape Town’s peninsula. Or if you want to take in Cape Town’s beauty in a car ride, sit back and relax on a guided peninsular day-trip with a tour company. There are also many choices to join indoor gyms or gardening clubs around the Western Cape. Taking advantage of one of these options will be beneficial for you, from all different social, emotional, physical, and professional sides.

a group of lion lying down the grass

7. Find Your Sense of Purpose

What inspires you to volunteer in South Africa should be the many rewards you gain by making at least two people happier — the one who gets help and the one who gives it! For both sides, someone is left feeling happy with a sense of fulfillment and new meaning in their life.

Maybe your journey starts as a volunteer at one of Cape Town’s many needy education centers. There you’ll discover that volunteering with young children can inspire you to increase your involvement in fundraising long term, or it can make you realize that you want to settle in a career related to Early Childhood Development.

Similarly to gaining a greater self-understanding, volunteering with the intention to find your purpose will help you to discover the personal benefits of volunteering meant for you. You’ll also learn why volunteering is good for your soul through this new found sense of purpose.

8. Explore Professional Goals

Volunteering will help you become a more motivated professional, with the desire to grow and develop in everything you do, which will show off true professional drive and determination. Using volunteering to explore professional curiosities demonstrates initiative in wanting to boost your career. A career-driven approach to volunteering will lead you to enormous opportunities for learning new skills.

In South Africa, you’ll have many opportunities to volunteer with education centers and wildlife conservation initiatives, which will help you to build on your professional skills and set goals for your future.

Maybe in the end you’ll take new skills home with you, but you could also land a job in South Africa too. If it’s your goal to stay in South Africa for a longer period of time, it’s worth knowing that South Africa is very welcoming to international workers becoming a part of the economy, if you have specific skills and qualifications needed in the country. Whatever your professional goals are, volunteering is an experience that provides the chance to explore what is out there for you!

a group of cheerful volunteers

9. Teach Your Children

If you are a parent, you know that every day your children are observing and learning from everything you do. The act of giving back to communities in need shows them the importance of volunteering, and helps them to learn how good it feels to help other people (or animals that are in need).

Our volunteering programs in South Africa are designed so even children can get involved. By volunteering at a young age, your child can learn key skills and how to appreciate certain areas of their life, whilst giving back. These teaching moments are arguably some of the best benefits of volunteering for children. Volunteering as a family can be a crucial experience for your family, and contribute to an even happier life for your family.

10. Add Fun & Fulfillment to Your Life

Volunteering is both meaningful and inspiring, and it gives you the time for an energizing escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments. This will without a doubt help you feel more fulfilled!

You could try learning a new language while volunteering; South Africa has 11 of them! Or you could just enjoy the pleasure of spending your free time at the beach. In Cape Town, the options for fun activities are limitless! If you want to explore trendy local spots in Camps Bay, you could go to Clifton for some evening volleyball with a group of friends or Bakoven for a sundowner that you’ll just fall in love with. Or, if you prefer a less crowded place, away from the city, there’s always Windmill Beach in Simon’s Town (just expect to drive for about 1 hour). You can even do a short road trip to the West coast, and visit places like Melkbos, Ysterfontein, or Paternoster. While you’re already in a country as bountiful as South Africa, it only benefits you to see what the country has to offer.

You’ll reap numerous personal benefits of volunteering in South Africa, but also don’t forget to appreciate the simplicity of fun that volunteering brings into your life, because that’s 100% part of the experience!

Ready to Start Your Volunteer Journey?

Now that you’re all clued up about the benefits and skills you can gain from volunteering in South Africa, you’re ready to follow our advice and start your own journey. It’s time to plan your volunteer trip abroad!

As you embark on your adventure, remember that being a successful volunteer begins with you opening up your perspective, embracing South Africa as a new country with its own particular traditions, and stepping forward to help others in the community. Volunteering allows you to give your time, energy, and resources to causes that need it most, but this has the potential to create a ripple effect of instrumental change, so the benefits of volunteering in South Africa will go far beyond your actual volunteer work.

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