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Voluntours, South Africa
We hear of good intentions and strides that voluntourism entities are making to conduct themselves and their operations in a more ethical and socially responsible manner. One voluntourism organization in South Africa, aptly named Voluntours, is leading a very concerted effort to achieve authenticity in all of their activities and has crafted a "Code of Good Practices" to emphasize their commitment. Want to hear more about their story and what they have done and are doing to keep integrity top of mind? Read On!
Voluntours, based in South Africa, is a family run business that “makes a difference” in the communities they work in and their approach of “community first” has been recognised by various regional and international awards they have received in Responsible Tourism in 2007 and 2008.
However, approaching volunteering from a bottom-up, need-based approach in which individual skills, interests and hobbies are matched to community needs has not been without its challenges and frustrations. But it was important for owners Marnie Heim-Stafford and husband Jeremy Stafford that their work reflected their philosophy; one that was grounded during their formative work in local townships of Soweto and Alexandria and developmental work in rural Malawi and Africa.
The impetus for starting Voluntours really came from their love and passion for South Africa and its people. Marnie has been involved in tourism since she started working. Through her career she gained in-bound, out-bound, retail and wholesale travel experience. However it was with her involvement with the Johannesburg publicity office that she found her love in developmental tourism through her work in Soweto and Alexandria townships.
Jeremy's background is Human Resource Management and through his work he set up a food security project in Malawi under the sponsorship of the European Union. He then went on to work for an international Non-Profit Organisation. He developed his passion for development during his many trips into Africa.
Code Of Good Practice
It was a natural progression to combine their skills, experiences and love when they formed Voluntours. Unfortunately, not all volunteering companies in South Africa (and globally) share their philosophy. Volunteering is one of the fastest growing tourism markets in South Africa and Voluntours’ concern for community protection and exploitation of paying volunteers led them to publishing a Code of Good Practice. Their code is aimed at ensuring poor and vulnerable communities are not exploited and benefit from volunteers’ skills; and that volunteers in turn are not made unrealistic promises, are over-charged and only a small portion of their spend goes into the community. Items from the Code have been adopted by some sectors in South Africa, but it seems that the issue of screening volunteers and fee transparency are items not easily adopted by others.
Voluntours is a professional Volunteer Project Management Organisation (VPMO) and Tour Brokerage that provides responsible short- to medium-term volunteering programmes. Their projects are hand-chosen in line with their core philosophy. They have a variety of community, marine and wildlife projects that cater for the wide range in people’s skills and needs. However, it is the uniqueness of their rural community-based project that draws most of their volunteers.
The Ndebele Community
More and more travellers want to go beyond the bus window and experience what life is like for the people on the ground. Their community based projects are the ideal vehicle to experience first-hand the issues facing rural, impoverished and often neglected South Africa. Their volunteers live within the community either in home-stays or within a traditional Ndebele village and volunteer in the community.
Their community project is situated about 40 km north-west of Pretoria. The Ndebele community was relocated during the forced evictions of the Apartheid government in 1953. The area that they finally settled on was very remote at the time and it took 3 days to walk their cattle to their new home. Under Grand Apartheid in the 1970’s the village was even more marginalised as it was then incorporated into Bophutatswana, an “Independent Homeland” for Tswana speaking people. This isolation has meant that the Ndebele community has retained much of their traditions and customs. The surrounding community is now predominantly Tswana and Sotho speaking but still retains much of its rural nature and service delivery to the area is limited and often the infra-structure is poor. English is widely spoken in the area and our volunteers are able to interact easily with community members.
It is not easy to provide you with a “typical itinerary” as each volunteer’s stay is quite different from the next. However, to give you an idea of what can be done … Voluntours has three main programme areas that they offer in the community, however it must be said that the needs are so great that other areas of participation are quite possible.
Skill Matching & Voluntourist Placement
As mentioned earlier, the skills of the volunteer is matched to the needs of the community and so “work” can be found for all their volunteers. In fact, it was the specific interest and enthusiasm for bicycles by a previous volunteer, Nigel (UK), that initiated one of their full time projects! The Bokamoso Bicycle Project came about from chatting to Nigel in the matching process and by his introduction “Hi this is a picture of me and my bicycle, by the way can a hire a bike during my stay?”
This project offers cycle enthusiasts the opportunity to get involved in a grass root community project that provides vital infra-structural, retail, small business and recreational support to the community. Some of the successes have been the design and building of load-carry bicycle trailers, a bicycle ambulance and a cycle track for the children to race around. The local youth now offer a gentle community cycle tour and a full-day cycle to the nearby Tswaing Meteorite Crater for the fitter cyclist.
Volunteers are also able to get hands-on experience by assisting in the local pre-school that serves the greater community. The facility is owned and run by Sibongile who saw the need for a pre-school in the area and her school has grown from a handful of kids to about 20 plus. Her facilities have improved thanks to the efforts of previous volunteers and she is recognised by the local schools as providing a leading start in early childhood education. Sibongile does not have any formal training and will continue to grow by interacting with volunteers. Not all of which have or need to have an educator background. There are many opportunities for additional hands, to edu-care activities to infra-structural needs.
Their Life Skills project also provides volunteers with countless opportunities “to make a difference”. You may volunteer your time tutoring children and adults in various school subjects (primary and high school level), teaching computer literacy, setting a computer network, assisting in sport activities, music, drama, helping with routine maintenance / upgrading and more. Or you may want to support adult education by teaching reading, writing and English as a second language.
Awards & Contact Information
Voluntours’ have received the following awards for their approach and project delivery on the ground. Highly Commended in the Best Volunteer Organisation category at the prestigious Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Award (London) in 2008. Winners of the Chairman’s Award and a finalist in the Best Social Involvement programme in the Southern African based Imvelo Awards for Responsible Tourism (Johannesburg) in 2008. They also won 3 awards at the Imvelo Awards in 2007.
For further information please contact Voluntours on:
Telephone: +27 (0)11 315-4049
Marnie: +27 (0)82 441 2749
Jeremy: +27 (0)83 474 6801
Fax: +27 (0)11 315-4050
Fax to email: 0866 34 1979 (SA only)
Postal Address: P.O.Box 57, Halfway House, Gauteng, 1685, South Africa
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