|"Ethiopia Hamer Tribe Kids at School" Copyright © Big Beyond, All Rights Reserved
When Voluntourism Goes to the Big Beyond
"Over the last few years I’ve been exploring some of Southern and East Africa’s most remote places in jam-packed rickety buses, pick-ups, cement trucks, boats, dug-out canoes, by foot and on motorbikes organising hundreds of meetings with diverse and disadvantaged communities, local grassroots organisations, governments, national parks and international volunteers in the field.
I’ve found places in real need of support, where international volunteer programmes will offer genuine opportunities to contribute to the sustainable conservation and development of some of the earth’s most fragile, but beautiful and inspiring places. My ambition is to connect people and nature in underprivileged corners of the globe, and to inspire individuals to make a difference, to do something amazing, to experience what’s beyond. And so Big Beyond was born.”
Introduction & Background:
Big Beyond facilitates knowledge and skills-based volunteer programmes in Africa that are tailored to each individual applicant and provide human resources directly to remote communities in an organised and productive manner to boost local capacity. The goal is to take short-term (one year or less) volunteering to a new level and really prove its potential value. By working hand-in-hand with the local people in their rural locations, all Big Beyond volunteers are assigned relevant bite-sized tasks (overseen by a passionate Big Beyond team on the ground, as well as in the UK) which all aim to integrate the conservation goals of the protected area in question and sustainable grassroots development of its adjacent communities. All Big Beyond volunteer sites are located next to threatened national parks and project activities take place via partnerships with local groups, individuals and schools in neighbouring villages.
Volunteering directly with community-run organisations in Uganda, conducting research discussions with remote communities across East and Southern Africa over a number of years and extensive travel around the world, all helped Amy Scarth (Founder of Big Beyond) realise it was human rather than financial resources that were missing in sustainable development, how common it is for local people (and projects) not to look beyond today or even plan their kids breakfast at that, and that there are a lot of bright sparks in all corners of the world, educated or not, that just need a bit of knowledge, capacity and a platform to prosper. Communities like these can’t afford to hire specialist staff to help them gain relevant knowledge, have little idea how or the capacity to reach out to willing volunteers and are also not very confident understanding foreigners or managing people, usually don’t understand their backgrounds and expectations, and at this stage often struggle to identify how best to get from A to Z, without missing out B to Y. In the places we work a good intermediary is needed as a bridge between volunteers and local community projects to maximise the value of this potentially wonderful and high impact relationship.
|"Uganda School" Copyright © Big Beyond, All Rights Reserved
During the research phase of Big Beyond, Amy also met a range of international volunteers that had travelled to Africa through ‘organised’ volunteer programmes and discovered that despite their willingness to commit and eagerness to make a positive and lasting difference, many organisations they chose were not concerned about the actual work they would do after they arrived at their destination, their living arrangements or provided decent orientation for a very different way of doing things. The demand for self-funded volunteering was however genuinely revealed and with some tweaking Big Beyond realised this could prove to be an invaluable and sustainable resource for such remote communities. The Big Beyond ambition was sparked and Amy set off on a range of rusty local transport across Africa to fully investigate and ask the opinions of different rural communities, government departments and volunteers about what was really needed to be the greatest win-win model with the ability to reach the goals of both volunteers and receiving communities. Done right, it was felt this could be the perfect match for challenging protected area conservation and socio-economic development.
In less developed parts of the world, the battle between growing populations suffering from poverty and the survival of the natural world continues. Big Beyond’s ongoing research reveals a similar story for protected conservation areas across most of Africa, as bordering communities attempt to eek out a living from degraded and smaller areas of land, usually driving agricultural encroachment into these parks, animal poaching and deforestation. Local communities also often suffer from the parks’ existence with roaming bigger wild animal populations raiding their only household food. It has become the passion of the Big Beyond team and the foundation of all volunteer projects to help save the world’s last remaining wildlife in these parks, but also to look for innovative ways to create a positive relationship between the local communities through improved livelihoods and better education.
All Big Beyond volunteer sites are located in some of the world’s most fragile yet beautiful places, with the aim of providing incredibly unique work and travel experiences for volunteers and where a genuine need for their model has been identified, where communities welcome their ideas and contribution, where volunteers will make a positive difference, where Big Beyond work hard to integrate each volunteer into the community and help them adapt to the new way of life and where volunteers are not expected to strip their lives totally bare to contribute their time. They currently have two sites: Uganda and Malawi, with Ethiopia programmes launching later this year.
Thinking beyond the needs of today’s generations to allow our natural world a real future is one of Big Beyond’s key objectives. Protected areas such as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), Liwonde National Park (Malawi) and Mago National Park (Ethiopia) are saving some of the world’s most endangered species. Without them, even more places would be cultivated, logged, mined and farmed, with knock-on environmental effects devastating to local generations, as well as the seemingly far away global community. Through our work with local communities to assist and actively protect these areas, Big Beyond also looks towards opportunities for local people to enjoy the benefits of conservation through tourism, or allied enterprises.
Core to the Big Beyond philosophy is ‘beyond handouts’, towards new opportunities. Big Beyond strongly feels there is a lot that can be done in Africa with what already exists and there needs to be a shift in mindset from sitting and waiting to be given something from a donor, to empowering local people to confidently stand up on their own two feet. They live by the ‘teach a man to fish’ motto. Ultimately it’s opportunities that most people want, not handouts, it’s a matter of dignity and it’s more reliable. Big Beyond believe the key to this kind of empowerment is knowledge, ideas and motivation. This, if managed well, can be driven through ‘voluntourism’.
Providing valuable resources directly to communities. Big Beyond partners directly with community-based organisations (CBOs) in each of their volunteer sites. Blown away by local people behind some of these CBOs, during the set-up of Big Beyond the team went in search of these local people that shine and have very little except huge hearts and a drive to help their own people to live better lives. Many are busy waiting for an injection of donor funding to reach their dreams, but at Big Beyond we’ve learnt that more can be achieved through knowledge, skills, fresh ideas and motivation, than simply financial handouts. Big Beyond enables CBOs to benefit from a flow of well-managed human resources and tackles real bottom-up development. They look at the challenges faced by these communities, and strive to improve education, health, enterprise and their plight to protect their natural surroundings – all of which are interlinked.
Protecting the natural world. Thinking beyond the needs of today’s generations to allow our natural world a real future is one of Big Beyond’s key objectives. Protected areas such as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), Liwonde National Park (Malawi) and Mago National Park (Ethiopia) are saving some of the world’s most endangered species. Without them, even more places would be cultivated, logged, mined and farmed, with knock-on environmental effects devastating to local generations, as well as the seemingly far away global community. Through our work with local communities to assist and actively protect these areas, Big Beyond also looks towards opportunities for local people to enjoy the benefits of conservation through tourism, or allied enterprises. They also concentrate heavily on environmental education. Big Beyond’s volunteers make a genuine contribution to the growth and well-being of communities, and neighbouring wildlife, for generations to come.
Inspiring volunteers. On the other hand, the Big Beyond mission is to inspire adventurous individuals from around the world to find experiences far beyond the norm, for personal and professional benefits, have amazing travel experiences and the opportunity to genuinely be part of high impact projects. It is each and every volunteer that makes this happen and Big Beyond want their volunteers to enjoy every moment, getting as much out of their experience as possible, whilst the community does the same.
Making short term volunteering productive. Through improvements in international volunteering and better management, Big Beyond makes it possible for short term volunteers to contribute to conservation and development without committing for a long period of time. Big Beyond creates a melting pot of global experience and brings it all together to achieve goals in a particular place in Africa. With Big Beyond team members permanently on-site to keep their eye on the bigger picture and closely manage everything from start to finish, each volunteer can contribute a vital link in a long lasting chain. It’s Big Beyond’s job to ensure the baton is passed to the next volunteer smoothly. It is also their job to ensure tasks are focussed on building long term capacity rather than a short term fix.
Proven by Big Beyond, volunteering in Africa is not just for the young gap year market - it is an opportunity open to all stages of life and levels of experience. They have attracted a diverse range of ages and nationalities which has created a very rich combination of skill-sets, life exposure and experiences. The majority have been over 30 years of age. They want to remove the common misconceptions about volunteering and show people around the world that even for those that can only contribute a few weeks, and may have corporate or academic experience in marketing or finance for example rather than development work, they an make an enormous difference to the lives of people and the future of our natural world. Just one discussion and a bit of common sense can have a huge impact in the places Big Beyond work. They also want to show the world that by giving local people a genuine voice and working with local people rather than dictating what changes happen, development is more likely to be sustainable. Big Beyond can take volunteers to remote neglected communities that are motivated to learn new things and willing to teach their visitors a lot too. Big Beyond also aim to inspire the corporate world to capitalise on these challenging volunteer opportunities for employee development and a contribution to the global community.
|"Uganda Craft Production" Copyright © Big Beyond, All Rights Reserved
All Big Beyond volunteer placements are bespoke and tailored to the skills, knowledge, hobbies and passions of each individual applicant. There are a range of opportunities from enterprise projects including business, finance, marketing, project management, etc., to health, education, conservation and cultural projects. They are recruiting for a wide range of experience and abilities and work hard to ensure each volunteer can get out of their experience as much as the community does. They look at the different motivations from travel, work experience and a career boost to those that just want to help out and give back.
- helping to develop an interactive trail with the Batwa tribe in Bwindi forest
- Advising low income entrepreneurs about creating business plans and managing finance
- Creating teaching aides in the schools
- Improving the content and activities in the wildlife clubs
- Researching and mapping the impact of elephants on the local population
- Finding artifacts and interesting stories to display in a local cultural centre
- Work in a health education programme
Mentor a group or individual to identify gaps in the market for small enterprises e.g. Food and beverage for hotels
|"Traditions & Customs Come to Life" Copyright © Big Beyond, All Rights Reserved
All Big Beyond sites are in stunning and fascinating locations deep in rural Africa.
In Uganda the site is right next to green, lush and mountainous Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is home to the rare mountain gorilla. For nature lovers, walkers or those with an interest in culture and history will not be short of things to do around here. Not too far away also lies Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Rwenzori Mountains and the Virunga Volcano chain so many different landscapes and climates can be explored even in one day. Only a short distance from the volunteer house it is possible to track the gorillas which is an unforgettable experience and something many people hope to do once in their lives.
In Malawi volunteers stay right on the banks of the Shire River overlooking Liwonde National Park. This is a little gem of Africa with its abundance of elephant, hippos, buffalo, rhino and sable. Just up the road is Lake Malawi for those that fancy socialising at a bar on white sand beaches or snorkelling to see the endemic ciclid fish.
In Ethiopia Big Beyond offer the chance to live with and really get to know an ancient African tribe - the Hamer tribe. The Hamer are fascinating people living as they have for centuries, some of the freest people on this planet and although they don’t want to change their culture, they are looking to improve certain aspects of their livelihoods thorugh education, economic empowerment and better agricultural practices. Around the area are a number of other distinct tribes that can also be met on weekends. Nearby Mago National Park is also wild and an example of what African parks were before mass safari tourism and the mighty Omo River runs to its west.
|"Malawi Women's Jewelry Group" Copyright © Big Beyond, All Rights Reserved
Sample Itinerary: Uganda Example
Day 1: Meet in Kigali (Rwanda) airport, met by a Big Beyond representative to be transported to the Ugandan border and on to the Big Beyond site. Relaxation and dinner.
Day 2/3: Orientation programme including local language, customs, technical skills, lunch with local family, maybe some dancing, walk around the villages to get familiar, meet project partners and understand the Big Beyond philosophy, the bigger picture and where the individual project fits in.
Day 4: Taken to project site and start work on allocated tasks. Meet back at the house in the evening for dinner.
Day 5 and beyond... continue project and begin exploring the destination.
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