Preparing to Volunteer in Africa

Massmo Relsig

Written by  March 23, 2015

Five last-minute activities to do before you board your plane.

I’m stoked for my upcoming trip; I will be volunteering for the next three months in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda through Carpe Diem Education, where our volunteer work will span from conservation and holistic living, AIDS and community health organizations, and orphaned children.

But with my departure date countdown quickly dwindling to single digits, the pressure is on to get my life organized and tick more items off on my lengthy to do list. While it’s been fairly easy to stay on top of the major items (immunizations, visas, and plane tickets), I definitely underestimated the time-suck of the many collective smaller items. Amidst preparing my heart for the undoubtedly difficult work ahead, I’ve come across a few (very important) loose ends in need of tying.

Here are five last-minute preparations before I leave for Africa to volunteer abroad:

1. Stock up on motion sickness medication.

Friend after friend after friend has highly encouraged me to bring stow some motion sickness medication in my pack. Whether or not you have struggled with carsickness or nausea on the road in the past, apparently the public transit in Africa is bumpy, to say the least. Have some dimenhydrinate tablets (such as Dramamine or Gravol) at the ready and you’ll be primed to face any kosta, dala dala, public bus or bujaji ride in your future.

2. Read up on the region.

For those altruistic volunteers who want to travel with integrity, read deep and wide about the region of Africa you are heading to. Aim to better understand each country’s political history, current plights, It is our responsibility, as visitors, to have a baseline understanding of what the people you’ll be working with have experienced. Have a general understanding of the intricacies of the region’s tribal beginnings, through turbulent colonialism, through stepping onto the modern world stage.

3. Unpack your tank tops and shorty shorts.

It may seem like these clothing options will come in handy on particularly hot days, but showing skin in Africa is perceived much differently than what we are used to in North America. Avoid the temptation altogether by leaving these items at home and rejoice in the saved room in your pack for souvenirs.

4. Call your bank.

You definitely don’t want to be dealing with bank issues while you are volunteering in Africa—make sure you and your friendly neighbourhood banker are on the same page. Have specific dates and names of the countries you’ll be visiting on hand to make the process run smoothly. Make sure you take note of who to call if your itinerary changes or you decide at the last minute to venture off to Zanzibar for a few weeks.

5. Save digital copies of important documents.

Insurance card and policy, immunization records, your flight itinerary, your bank information. Any document that could be potentially useful in the coming months (even in the worst of circumstances); have multiple copies and access points. Take photos for your Cloud or scan documents into your Google drive. You might even consider giving a physical copy to your parents or loved ones, just in case. If you have someone in your life that you trust intensely, a collection of your passwords or login information might be helpful in case of emergency too.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Megan Lee

Megan Lee is an international educator, traveler and writer. She is currently working in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda with nine American college students. Read her blog as she makes new rafikis and learn more about Africa this spring.

Website: https://twitter.com/peglegmeg

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