Tomorrow marks the beginning of National Volunteer Week (UK) in a year that has seen the rise of so-called ‘voluntourism’, where tourists combine international travel with volunteering.
Two popular voluntourism destinations are Malawi and Swaziland in southern Africa, where it is said some of the best environmental and economic sustainability projects can be found.
These countries have experienced growing demand for ethical holidays as increasing numbers of travellers seek a way to ‘give something back’ to the places and communities they visit.
Kelly White, managing director of Malawi and Swaziland tourism promoter Geo Group, said the benefits of volunteering were two-fold: “firstly for the positive lasting impression left upon communities and conservation concerns in African countries, but also the personal rewards for volunteers themselves.”
She added: “With growing unemployment and the need to differentiate oneself in the job market, ‘voluntourism’ is an ideal opportunity to improve confidence and gain work experience and inter-personal skills.
“It is also the perfect opportunity to see the ‘real’ culture of Africa, improving the opportunities of local communities while learning more about local customs and culture,” said White.
Short-term volunteering projects that can be built into a two-week holiday have opened up the voluntourism market beyond students on gap years, to people who may have other commitments preventing longer trips.
According to Geo Group, the benefits of voluntourism may be seen in the villages surrounding Luwawa Forest Lodge in Malawi, where volunteers have helped set up a bakery, fish pond and chicken farm, as well as trained local women how to produce their own wine, honey, soap and peanut butter for generating an income.