Luxury accommodations and activities are an important component of any trip to Africa, but they’re equally an integral part of the country’s economy. Tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments in Africa’s economy, amounting to more than $36 billion in 2012, according to a report by the World Bank. One of the first things many travelers and attendees will notice upon arrival in Africa is the gap between the rich and poor.
Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to support local communities during your visit, whether your company is interested in wildlife conservation, orphanages and hospice care, education or technology. Newbies can start small by simply packing differently. The nonprofit Pack for a Purpose encourages travelers to skip extra pairs of shoes and use the spare room in their suitcases to bring school supplies, camping equipment and other materials to aid those in need. Donations can be directed to organizations such as Campfire Association Zimbabwe, the Disablement Association of Zimbabwe and the Lilayi Elephant Nursery.
Once on the ground, it can be helpful for your group to find a cause by taking a township tour, where guides take small groups to different communities to see what life is like for Africa’s poorest people. Often these trips help visitors connect with the community and leave them inspired to give back.
“There are many children living in children’s homes in Nairobi waiting for adoption,” says David Karanja, managing director of Crane Consulting House, who helps organize trips to Kenya and Ghana. Karanja recommends donating resources and time to Thomas Barnardo’s Children’s Home or getting active to help young boys hone their soccer skills at Ubuntu Football Academy, which was founded by a pastor and soccer coach from Raleigh, North Carolina. The academy needs help running soccer clinics on Football Fridays in neighboring townships, or groups can come to the school and help with projects around the dorms.
Similarly, hundreds of schools in Africa are looking for volunteers to play with the children. Local DMCs can help you make connections. For example, Cansaf Creative Teaming, a Victoria Falls DMC that also has offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Johannesburg, offers a CSR program that combines teambuilding, education and giveback. Groups can help run soccer matches in villages, refurbish schools or old homes, and partake in tutorial-style giveback events, such as tree identification or animal tracking and darting. “Combining activities and meal venues wherever possible, the concept is simply to expose our clients to the most unique, enriching, educational and experiential program possible,” says Robin Brown, managing and operations director of Cansaf Creative Teaming.
Wildlife preservation is another way to give back. “It’s no secret that our wildlife and habitats are under threat,” says Brown. “The community in the [Victoria Falls] region depends solely on tourism, so organizations such as Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit are [important].” Groups can take a three-hour anti-poaching patrol and snare sweep, learning skills in animal tracking and navigating the bush.
Many endangered species of elephants and rhinos are poached from East Asia, but you can help prevent this by teaming up with WildlifeDirect to donate financially and learn more about how poaching negatively impacts the ecosystem. There are also opportunities to adopt elephants through organizations like The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Or visit a local community and undertake an education and awareness project to help bring in clean water.