Volunteer in Sub-Saharan Africa – Eastern Countries

The opportunities for volunteering in Africa are as vast and varied as the country itself. From wildlife refuges to refugee camps, there is an ever-growing need for volunteers to help build communities, offer health care, and protect Africa’s natural resources.

Humanitarian relief efforts are many in Sub-Saharan Africa, where ongoing political battles have divided countries and displaced millions of people who look to NGOs to help them access basic needs. Sprawling landscapes are home to some of the world’s most majestic creatures many of which now live in national parks to avoid poaching and hunting. In order to truly understand why volunteers are in such great demand in Africa, it is important to learn a bit about the Sub-Saharan part of the continent.

About Sub-Sahara’s Eastern Countries

Most anthropologists refer to the Eastern sub-Sahara, namely Kenya, as the “cradle of humanity,” with archaeological evidence suggesting that the earliest ancestors of mankind existed there more than 3 million years ago.

Did you Know? More than 1,000 languages are spoken in Africa. Only one country (Somalia) speaks just one language.

The area is rich with natural resources and beauty, with beaches and coral reefs lining the eastern borders and the wildlife-rich savannah to the west.

Much of the area has now been designated as refuge and conservation sites to preserve the areas resources, attracting many environmental and conservationist volunteers from all over the world. Another major draw is that political stability of both Kenya and Tanzania, which allows volunteers an amount of personal safety not present throughout much of the continent. By contrast, Uganda hosts the collision of jungle and savannah, attracting more and more tourists every year. Volunteers in Uganda have the unique opportunity to work with the mountain gorilla population. One third of Zambia’s land is designated as national park or game reserves, and the nation’s 17 waterfalls and abundance of exotic birdlife offer volunteers another environmental volunteering option.

Population & Politics

Few continents have the ethnic diversity present in Africa, with hundreds of tribes with varying customs and languages coexisting in the vast African landscape. English is widely spoken throughout the region, along with hundreds of local dialects, the best known being Swahili and Luganda (the most widely spoken language in Uganda). The majority of the population identify themselves as Catholic or Protestant, with a small number of Islamic and tribal religions still being practiced.

Kenya is ruled by a presidential representative democratic republic, and has held free elections since 2002, with Kenyans enjoying and ever increasing degree of political freedom. Similarly, Zambia is a democratic republic, and has been heavily involved in political reforms throughout the Southern African nations.

It is world noting, however, that Zambia has been hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the nation’s life expectancy is only 40 years.

Quick Fact: The Sahara Desert is expanding southwards at an average of 0.8 km (½ mile) a month.

Tanzania held its first multi-party elections in 2000, but the election was marred in controversy and violence leading to major election reforms in 2001. While Tanzania remains stable, it does not yet have the degree of political freedom as its northern neighbor. Similarly, while Uganda held its first free, multi-party presidential election in 2005, the current president’s term has been highly criticized, with many accusing him of embezzlement and corruption.


The hot, dry climate of the Sub-Sahara is a big draw to visitors, who look forward to sunny days and cool nights. Climate along the coastline is more tropical, with slightly heavier rainfall and more humidity. There are two rainy seasons in the area: the long season is from April to June, and the short from October to December, with heaviest rainfall often occurring in the early afternoons. The hottest temperatures (as high as 105) occur between February and March and the coolest (as low as) between July and August. Millions of species of wildlife, including wildebeests, elephants, leopards and lions migrate between the months of June and September to forage during the dry season.

Sub-Saharan Africa Volunteer Organizations

If you’re enticed by the wildlife, rich culture, and political diversity of Sub-Saharan Africa, here are a few resources to help you get started on your search.

  • Volunteering in Africa: Volunteering in Africa is a relatively informal compilation of some of the more popular programs in South America. Among them is ReefDoctor, a nonprofit environmental conservation organization working in the coral reef off of Madagascar. They welcome volunteer research assistants for varying lengths of time to help them on expeditions for anywhere from 4-12 weeks. Also featured is Africa Asia Adventure, which leans a bit towards voluntoursim with its volunteer “ventures” for 18-25 year olds in developing countries in Africa and Asia.
  • Volunteer4Africa: Volunteer4Africa is another great resource in the form of a resource listing, in this case focused on low-cost volunteering in Africa. However, you do need to pay for access to the database. In return, you get access to actual job listings (including things like waitresses and summer camp counselors), instead of lists of placement agencies.
  • Doctors Without Borders: Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres) operates in more than 70 countries around the world, but has a huge presence in Africa, where HIV is fast spreading and political turmoil can limit access to essential health services for many people. While doctors and nurses are always in high demand, there are a number of other volunteer placements (logisticians, administrators and financial controllers especially) for professionals who can commit 9-12 months.

Quick Summary:

  • Environmental and wildlife volunteer opportunities are among the most popular in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • There are more than 27,000 Doctors Without Borders volunteers worldwide.
  • The summer months (between June and September) are busiest for volunteers working in wildlife refuges.
  • Much of Africa remains in political turmoil, so travel advisories are incredibly important to pay attention to when deciding on a volunteer abroad opportunity.

Interested in volunteering in South Africa? Read on for more information about opportunities!


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