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Volunteering Your Way Through Africa

Traveling to South Africa is one of the most meaningful baby boomer trips that Alan and I have ever taken. Seeing lions guarding a kill or watching a baby elephant rush after his mama are high on our list of travel memories. Of course, we readily admit that the luxurious safari lodges we experienced are far from the real Africa. In today’s guest post, Bernie Pollack of Border Jumpers describes the African journey that he and Danielle Nirenberg are taking. Are you a baby boomer interested in combining travel to Africa with volunteering? I hope you’ll be inspired by Bernie’s suggestions.

Urban gardening in Kenya

Often what we hear about Africa from the media is about conflict, HIV-AIDS, famine and disease. As a result, most of us, including baby boomers, are aware of the problems, but feel powerless to do anything about them. We are made to feel that Africa is a lost cause, a place that will always be the way it is. Worse yet, many of us don’t travel there, worried about our safety, scared of what we might see.

While some baby boomers will travel  to South Africa to see the World Cup or head to other parts of Africa on a safari, a lot of these packaged vacations are tightly controlled, offering a very sanitized experience. Instead, we embarked on a journey to visit nearly every country on the continent.

As we travel from rural villages to cities, Danielle and I are seeing incredible innovations where African-led projects are lifting entire communities from poverty. We are meeting with farmers, NGOs, workers, governments and other organizations. Throughout it all, we are sharing our experiences through Danielle’s blog for the Worldwatch Institute’s “Nourishing the Planet” project and on our personal blog, Border Jumpers.

Visiting schools in Uganda

The people here are genuine and go out of their way to welcome us into their communities, open up their homes and share their stories. Also, we nearly always feel safe, with no incidents (knock on wood) of theft or crime. Finally, every day we are learning so much — interacting with people in their communities, breaking bread and sharing hopes and dreams is unlike any education you can get anywhere else.

Are you planning a baby boomer travel adventure that includes Africa? I urge you to consider seeing it for yourselves. Here are some innovative ways and tips to help you get your hands on African soil, connecting with communities, while safely traveling the continent.

GapYearForGrownUps offers some terrific short and long term volunteer projects in twelve African countries. Some of the types of volunteering include animal conservation, child development, mentoring youth, teaching reading and writing, and wildlife research. Programs last from a couple of days to several months.

Cross-Cultural Solutions provides a program in Tanzania for boomers who are 50-plus working side-by-side with local people on community-led initiatives. Programs last from 1-12 weeks.

At Global Volunteers volunteers teach conversational English and other basic subjects, caring for at risk youth, assisting with health care, building schools and community facilities and much more. About 50 percent of volunteers are older adults, drawn primarily from the U.S. and Canada.

Earthwatch Institute, is an international nonprofit organization with volunteer field researchers engaged in scientific and social science research around the world. With a strong emphasis on sustainability, it presently supports about 140 projects in 48 countries, including Africa. Forty percent of participants are older adults.

Has Bernie Pollack inspired you to combine volunteering with an active baby boomer trip? To follow Bernard Pollack and Danielle Nierenberg as they visit nearly every country in Africa, please check out their website BorderJumpers.

Have you participated in a baby boomer volunteer travel journey? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.

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