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Before You Volunteer in Africa

Africa has an image of being a continent that needs help – and for good reason. There are a number of huge social, economic and government problems that plague many countries. Some of these problems are a result of colonial governments; others are from poor infrastructure, corrupt governments and lack of education.

As a result, loads of college students, internationals aid organizations; Western NGOs and missionary groups come to parts of Africa every year to help make a change. Does it help or make a difference? This depends upon on whom you ask: some suggest that African countries are becoming too reliant on others trying to solve their problems and that the little projects generally do more harm than good, while others contend that Africa needs more help, both socially and economically, to help them adapt to modern times. Regardless of who is right, there are big problems that need to be addressed sooner than later: aids, poor infrastructure, poverty, refugee resettlements, wars. These are just the beginning of some of the huge problems Africa faces. Can you make a difference and does this sound like a fun? A number of these problems are daunting, almost mind boggling issues, to help conqueror, but if you’re going to Africa to volunteer, below are some things to consider.

Just because you have a heartbeat and are a foreigner, doesn’t mean you have what it takes to work in Africa. African countries need people with skills – doctors, engineers, teachers – people with specific abilities that they put into action, not just liberal arts majors who have a vision of helping the world. I am not trying to dissuade liberal arts people from working in Africa, because I was one of them, it’s just that there is more of a need for workers with tangible skills that can’t be found in Africa.

Expect No Pay:
If you’re coming to volunteer or even want to work in Africa, the chances of you finding a job are slim. In some instances there are millions of people who would do your job for little or close to no money and, unless you have a very needed skill, the chances of someone hiring you are minuscule. In tourist areas and big Westernized cities, like Cape Town and Cairo, you chances increase ten fold and you might be able to find something that pays.

Have An Open Mind:
For years and years, foreign governments and aid workers have been telling Africans everything from how to educate their children to how to grow their corn. Have we seen any success stories? Yes, a few, but after the “aid” money has run out are things any better? Is Ethiopia any better after receiving tons of money from the US and Michael Jackson? Some people are, but in greater Ethiopia, there is still massive poverty at the most dire level. The point is, as a foreigner, you don’t always have an answer to solve huge social and economic problems that are engrained in society. Keep in mind that many of them are struggling for basic survival and every choice they make could affect whether they eat the following.