We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Volunteering in Tanzania

Findlay, Ohio
Destination Expert
for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Level Contributor
12,485 posts
8 reviews
Save Topic
Volunteering in Tanzania

There are some who want to go to Tanzania and volunteer there for a short period of time. There are good ways to do this, and there are those who will take advantage of your goodwill and turn this desire into a business opportunity. Be very aware of this.

There are, unfortunately, many so-called charities who have somehow duped the IRS in the US into giving them 501(c)3 non-profit status (and other non-profit status in countries other then the US) that you need to be aware of what they actually do; and not what they say they will do. They will sometimes make you think that all you need to do is to pay them and they will find you a place to "volunteer" at for a specified period of time. They might do this and it might be successful for you; and they might not be capable of doing this like you think they should and it might turn into a disaster for you.

Some of these so-called non-profit volunteer organizations charge ridiculous amounts of money, calling it organizational charges, administration charges, etc. If the organization you intend to use charges you much more than $25 a day for room and board, and perhaps much more than $200 or $300 in total for administration costs, or much more then $40 for an airport pick-up when the airport is close-by, they are probably doing this as a business and you might be better off to look to others for making your arrangements.

For example, the International Health Partners Tz is an organization who are doing all kinds of health care work, and work with widows and orphans, in the Nyakato area a village just outside Mwanza Tanzania. They are an example of an organization which takes seriously volunteering. Their web site is www.ihptz.org. You can look on there and see a Tanzanian organization who is interested in obtaining volunteers because they need volunteers to get their work completed. And you can learn that they find work for anyone to do; and it won't cost you an excessive amount of money to go there and work. You will pay for room and board charges, and perhaps for them to come and get you and the charge for that will be reasonable. If others are charging you much more then this, they are probably doing it as a business, not because they want and need volunteers.

I could provide many examples of those doing this for a business; but I don't want to promote them.

When you begin to think about volunteering in Tz, please think about what it is you want to do, and why you want to do it. It may be that you are someone who wants to help others, and it may be that you are doing this for yourself and what you will get out of it. Both are legitimate, but just make certain that you know why you are doing this.

I am of that group who thinks that there are many who go to Tz to do some good work, and much of this is for the person themselves. Of course the hope is that there will be others to benefit from this also. I've seen the ugly side of volunteer work there and it is very distasteful to say the least. I've also seen the wonderful side of volunteer work there and it does one's heart good. However, the realism of volunteer work is that when one goes there and expects to make an impact in a week or two, or even a month then this is probably something which will not happen. Whatever you expect to happen for an impact will most probably wither and die when you leave. Are there exceptions to this, of course there are. But by and large, unless you are doing some kind of construction work it's impact will be gone before you get back home.

Other areas where volunteering has been rewarding to both the recipient and to the giver is when someone has special skills that they will share with the people there for a couple of weeks. For example, I have seen eye health care people go there and dispense lenses to over 5,000 people, and make arrangements for over 500 eye cataract surgeries in a two week time period. I have also seen a team of orthopedic surgeons go there for a short period of time and perform and train local surgeons to perform surgeries such as hip replacements and club feet corrections; that has been terrifically successful and ongoing. I have seen business people go there and assist local business people to the point of where they have become tremendously successful and an asset to their local community; and in these cases there was follow-up contacts over a longer period; but the on-the-ground there was two to three weeks. I've seen people go there for several weeks and help with the daily chore of cataloging books to be distributed to schools and libraries there, overseen by a "volunteer" who dropped out and stayed there for the past 7 or 8 years. I've seen teachers who came there and worked with local schools to provide their teachers with special skills and their work became ingrained into their teaching there for many years. And I could go on with many many more examples of volunteers with special skills who came there and made a lasting impact.

Of course the other side of this coin is that what do you do if you really don't have any of these special skills needed there. I've seen some come to Tz and volunteer several weeks of time helping to construct or repair some buildings at a local hospital. I've seen some come and just do inventory work. I've seen some come and get some records caught up and up to date. And many other rather trivial things like this, but important things which needed to be done. And these make a lasting impact.

Now for those who advertise to come and work with HIV/AIDS orphans, those are key red flag words IMO. How can someone who has no special skills do this. Well in a nutshell they can't; oh they can come and kind of baby-sit for them, perhaps cook some of their meals, clean the children, look after them, play with them. Does this make a lasting impact, I don't think so; it was a helping hand for a short while. This is the realism of volunteering in Tz. Is it helpful, of course it is. Is the work long lasting, of course not. Will you feel good about doing this, probably.

At the risk of walking out on a limb which is close to being cut off; let me try to help all those who wish to do some "volunteering" in Tz.

Assess your skill set and truthfully ask yourself; Do I have some skills which would benefit people in Tanzania? If you do truly have some skills which you think might be helpful to the people in Tz, then begin a search for organizations (both global and local to Tz) which you might be able to work with on this venture. For example, if you are a certain business person who has some export experiences then you might contact the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce and ask them how you might be of assistance to people in Tz. If you have some kind of medical or health care experience then perhaps by contacting some hospitals in Tz then they might suggest some things which will be useful. If you have some teaching experiences, especially with some special skills then perhaps by contacting the Ministry of Education you might find some places where you would be of great assistance. If you are involved in the computer sciences then you might be able to contact various volunteer organizations operating in Tz and see if they could use your skills for a short period of time (perhaps this could even be done via telecommuting). Or perhaps you are a farmer of long standing and you could contact the Ministry of Agriculture or any of the regional organizations for agriculture and ask if they might be able to make use of your skills and experiences. In other words, if you truly want to use your skills to help the people there (and not just something for you to do and experience) then begin by thinking out of the box and don't turn this over to others, they will hardly know what you are capable of doing. This will take some time and energy; but the results will be great, both for you and for the people of Tz.

And on the flip side, if you find that you have very limited skills (such as just being out of school) then go there and merely assist in some way there. Perhaps this is what these so called volunteer organizations are really for. They will take your money and hopefully will place you with somewhere where you will be kept busy for a week or two.

Will this work? I know from personal experiences and from those personal experiences of others that it will work, and the results for the people of Tz are tremendous.

Mentioned in this post
Somerville, New...
Level Contributor
866 posts
Save Reply
1. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Great information to pass on to others, Karl.

How nice of you :)

Hagerman, Idaho
Level Contributor
778 posts
127 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

awesome review of volunteerism Karl. I see those posts all the time and think how many of them end up getting ripped off, or go there thinking they can change the world in a few weeks and get really jaded by the whole process. I like the group that collects bikes for people throughout Africa. You can do a lot of good helping a group like that, or the eyeglass people. Of course then you don't get to visit and experience Tanzania~but heck you can come visit on holiday for much less and maybe see for yourself the immense good that something like a bike for a village etc can do. There are a lot of scams out there and hard to tell who is legit from half way around the world.

Mentioned in this post
Findlay, Ohio
Destination Expert
for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Level Contributor
12,485 posts
8 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

I took a group of eye folks there and in two weeks time we not only dispensed many eye glasses and sorted out people for cataract surgeries; but they also had time for a short safari and by working with the local Lions Clubs there they showed them the people side of Tanzania. They had a great time and now ten years later when I meet some of these folks they still remember the people there.

Mentioned in this post
London, United...
Level Contributor
92 posts
Save Reply
4. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Hey Karl, thank you very much for this great info on the volunteering side of Tanzania. Its so useful to those of us who have litlle or limited knowledge on the whole aspect of volunteering in TZ. cheers!

Mentioned in this post
Durham, United...
Level Contributor
30 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Hi Karl,

I guess I am posting to disagree slightly with you on a couple of your points! I am a UK midwife who shares your passion for Tanzania. While I was training, I spent a few weeks in Arusha arranged by one of the UK's largest voluntourism companies. Whilst I was there I was horrified at how little of the fee I had paid actually benefited the local hospitals communities etc. I felt though that by taking the initiative and bringing printed guidelines, textbooks equipment etc myself, my presence there was positive, even though it was only for a short time.

When I qualified I returned independently to Tanzania as I was keen to spend some more time working in Tanzania, as the labour wards and maternity facilities around Arusha are often short staffed and under resourced. I found it very difficult to organise, particularly with regards to obtaining the required class c residence permit, and had I not had contacts in Tanzania gathered during my previous visit, I doubt I could have arranged it all successfully.

So........whilst I was there, I met with several heads of hospitals, clinics etc, and outlined my plan to set up business organising and facilitating midwifery volunteer placements and student placements in Tanzania.

A common opinion seems to be that people who go to Tanzania only for a short time are not helpful, and I would strongly disagree with this point. As midwives, most of us have family commitments and are unable to commit to longer periods away from home, but I think that structured correctly, a difference can be made in a few weeks. For example, I bought a new neonatal ambubag and ran skills sessions on neonatal resus, as what I had witnessed on the wards was unsafe practice, due to a combination of lack of resources and also lack of knowledge. I think that by ensuring a fairly steady stream of short duration midwifery visits, skill sharing will be promoted and continuously updated, to the benefit of the maternity services in Tanzania.

The other point where I feel that we disagree is that you seem to be strongly suggesting that paying to volunteer is always a bad thing. When I organise placements, I charge for it!

Let me briefly outline how and why. For 2 weeks I charge around $1425. Of this $500 goes to fund the class c permit. $20 per day goes to my host families, so lets say $300. That seems fairly high but I like to ensure that the cooks, house staff are also benefiting, as it is they who work hard to cook and clean for us etc. Then I give $250 in a mixture of cash and equipment to the various hospitals and clinics with whom I have links. I also pay a local driver for airport pick up and drop offs, and all travel to and from the hospitals, which can be quite a distance. Then I pay a local to be on call 24/7 while I have midwives over there, as I feel it is essential to have good Tanzanian back up in case of emergencies. I also provide a pack of equipment for each midwife to practice safely, as clinics are often short of basics, and I would never put anyone at risk. The cost of this is $60. Then I also provide full travel insurance including cover for needlesticks etc. There is another $65. So the total outlay is around $1300. Meaning that I 'profit' around $100 per midwife, which certainly doesnt cover all the time I spend on the project.

So really, my point is that there are costs involved in volunteering and that not all companies who charge are bad news and should be avoided, as seems to be a common perception on this board.

I am happy that I am arranging safe structured opportunities for midwives to come to Tanzania, enjoy it, and also to have a beneficial influence on maternity care there. I havent mentioned my company name, as I am not touting for business, just putting my opinions across.

Hope no-one is offended, but I like a good debate, so let me know what you think!

Mkunga.

Mentioned in this post
Findlay, Ohio
Destination Expert
for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Level Contributor
12,485 posts
8 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Mkunga..;. You will not get a disagreement from me, and in fact you are in agreement with me. On the first point you are providing a special service in your volunteering, that you have been trained for and are experienced with. You can go there and begin for a short term with no start-up. I stated that if you have skills needed there then this is needed as a volunteer. But if you don't have any needed skills you are more in the way than of any help. The problem is that there are many who go there don't have any skill set that would be useful there (I know for a fact that midwifery is a useful skill there), perhaps they are on a gap year and think that spending several weeks doing volunteering work in East Africa would be cool. That is what I am referring to.

On your second point, I need to tell you that you will need to raise your charges, a Class C residency permit just went up substantially (I believe it is now in the over $2000 range). You are not charging to make a profit, you are covering their costs, and that is certainly justified and you can spell it out to them.

You won't get any argument from me. But you will get some praise from me. Asante Sana Sana for your good help with the women of Tanzania. And especially with the training so that when you must leave, you don't really leave.

Mentioned in this post
Moshi
Level Contributor
20 posts
Save Reply
7. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

It is always good to see volunteers in Tanzania who are devoted to the what they say they are doing. There is a lot of help needed in Tanzania especially in the medical field. I know many people would like to volunteer and do something in the medical field and other related fields but a proper research must be done regarding the immigration laws as well as other legal requirements. Currently the Tanzania immigration has become very strict with foreigners who are in the country and this can make your volunteering project very difficult. Please ensure you establish some contact in Tanzania to help you get all the required documents before you start your volunteering project in Tanzania. This will make your volunteering pleasant and also you will have more time to help the Tanzanians who are in need instead of finding yourself stranded or locked up in immigration offices.!

Mentioned in this post
Tigard, OR
2 posts
1 review
Save Reply
8. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Wow!

I am in the very early planning stages of a volunteer trip to Tanzania (Arusha area) and I stumbled into this forum. I am a 48-year old single mom who wants to spend the summer volunteering with my 16-year old son. I am thinking 6-8 weeks. Thank you for all your insightful comments - it really makes me take a pause and think. The truth is...now that I've sat and thought about it...the trip is probably 75% for ourselves and only 25% for others. While I assumed (before I read this forum) that we could simply be laborers, I am a CPA who simply had not considered the possibility of using those skills. My son is just a strong young man who can do labor. Very few organizations will take us for that length of time and with a kid that age. I have found one organization (YWAM) that seems to fit our profile, is willing to take us, and their only charge is US $10/day for food and accommodations. I have also read about and am interested in the husband/wife team from the US who run a medical facility (although I have not contacted them yet). So I'd love some honest feedback - and perhaps Tanzania is not the place for us??? Thanks all!

Mentioned in this post
Findlay, Ohio
Destination Expert
for Tanzania, Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Level Contributor
12,485 posts
8 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Several things, 1) I was with that physician/ nurse couple who are building a hospital in Mwanza last week-end as they were here in the States, I am certain that they could use your CPA skills, and they could use your son's muscle. I would advise you to contact them. And 2) I have been working with a group of vanilla farmers in the Bukoba area (a tad remote) and have been doing some work to build up their co-op undemonstratively, and have recently sent them a recommendation for them to change-over to a double digit accounting system (they are now merely posting in a cash book, and several other journals, very open to shall we call it slippage and errors) and want them to put something in on their computers rather then keeping track on an excel spreadsheet. They seem to be agreeable to this, but if they are and want to move ahead on this we might need someone to go there and assist them in the implementation of this. That would be right down your alley, and would be of a tremendous value to them. This co-op serves as a marketing end for about 5,000 vanilla farmers.

If you're interested let me know.

Tigard, OR
2 posts
1 review
Save Reply
10. Re: Volunteering in Tanzania

Thank you so much! Yes, both of those opportunities sound like good matches for us. I will spend some time talking with my son about them to determine which one seems right for us. I would lean towards the medical facility for no particular reason. Not sure what my son would say.

Like I said before, I am in the very preliminary stages of figuring this out. It seems like if we joined up with an established group (say, YWAM, as mentioned above) they help with some of the paperwork issues like visas, housing accommodations, etc. The thought of figuring all of that out on my own seems daunting.

One concern I have, which I have not researched yet, is safety. Obviously some areas are fine and others are not. Do you have any thoughts?

I appreciate the time you have taken to write comments and answer my questions. You have been most helpful to me.

Thank you!