guest post by Emily Buchanan, Original Volunteers
Everyone has a bucket list of places to visit before they die. From the heat and history of Egypt’s Pyramids to the border-balancing roar of the Niagara Falls, our planet is best understood by its awe-inspiring beauty. Not to mention the fact that visiting one of these hot spots can serve as a fantastic way to cleanse the modern mind. And sure, if you find yourself getting dragged down by the 9-5, there is no better antidote than breaking routine and going away.
Whilst there is definitely a time and place to forget yourself on a beach and vegetate under the peopled sun, a lot of long-lasting benefits can come from avoiding tourist traps and congested landmarks. After all, you’ve only got limited paid leave and, if you want to exorcise your rat-race demons, nothing works better than the rush and perspective you can glean from volunteered aid work. But before you scoff and click away, let me try and convince you.
Undoubtedly, there has never been a more important time to volunteer. In recent months, the international media has been packed with tales of famine and the casualties of corruption. And whilst it’s easy to shake your head at these stories and furrow your brow in sympathy, it’s just as easy to turn the page and tut at the next injustice. But, the truth of the matter is, you don’t have to feel helpless. There are some remarkable projects taking place in Africa, right now, that you can join – for free!!
Many would-be volunteers are put off by ‘aid’ programmes that demand a package-holiday priced pay-out. However, volunteer work abroad doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, it shouldn’t cost anything, that’s what volunteer means, working for free, on both sides of the fence. And, as if providing aid to some of the world’s most impoverished people isn’t enough of a game-changer, then think of it this way…you’ll be in amongst society, living like a local, with the opportunity to truly absorb the essence of your surroundings and culture.
Take Cameroon for example, a country currently facing an accelerating food crisis in the Sahel region of Africa. This area is in dire need of preventative aid in a bid to save as many as 13 million people at risk of starvation. Historically, the Sahel regions have been plagued by droughts and are known collectively as the dry lands of Africa. And yet, after years of crises have taken their toll, media attention has waned, the West have become lethargic with ‘donor fatigue’ and aid has dramatically decreased.
Whilst there is a current social media campaign to get the famine back on the front page, don’t think for a moment that you can’t make an active difference. Projects are underway that will get you a place at the front line of the food crisis. From remote health clinics to over capacity orphanages, if you arrive with an open mind and are willing to live without your creature comforts, you could be building a school one day and assisting a midwife the next. And with extraordinary Cameroon as your backdrop, you can lose yourself in the country on rest days.
Volunteering in Cameroon is sure to submerse you, head first, into the heart of Africa. Known locally as ‘Africa in Miniature,’ Cameroon boasts tropical rain forests, deserts, grasslands, mountains and ocean coastlines, covering all of the continent’s climates. The hyper-diversity of the landscape leads to some pretty extreme regionalised weather conditions and Debundscha, near Mount Cameroon, receives 411 inches of rain per year.
It’s humanities harshest irony; one of the wettest places in the world also suffers such destructive dry seasons. But then, that is the nature of Cameroon’s climate. The South boasts abundant rain forests and tepid ocean waters; the North is barren, infertile and unable to provide for its people. A large number of the population rely on rural subsistence farming to survive and live in hand-built compounds made with natural materials.
With over 200 ethnic groups and languages, unique indigenous people, the Big Five at the Parc National de Waza (rhino, elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo), wild gorilla, a thriving music and arts scene and a colourful mixture of tribal traditions, Cameroon really is Africa in Miniature.
It would be an understatement to say that an experience like this would be challenging. Unquestionably, it would be punctured by human suffering and the inequalities of wealth distribution. However, it’s also safe to say that, as an Africa Volunteer, you will do some of the best work of your life and, simultaneously, have an outstanding adventure. Later, you’ll likely return home and find yourself filled with the appreciation and gratitude of a fortunate person and, for the rest of your life, you will be accompanied by a menagerie of skill and memories. And these are the kind of skills and memories that just cannot be found on a crowded beach in sunny Spain.