The 10 most important tips for volunteering in Tanzania

Volunteering is highly recommended for those eager to get involved and immerse themselves in local life. However, volunteering requires some preparation. Fortunately, we've compiled the most important tips for you!

1. Take a good look at the various possibilities

There are various opportunities for volunteering in Tanzania. It's important to first consider what type of volunteer work you'd like to do. For instance, you could teach English at a school, engage in sports activities with street children, or provide support at a hospital. There are also projects involving animals, such as working at a dog shelter or assisting a local veterinarian. Additionally, there are construction, environmental, and community projects. The choices are diverse, so it's essential to think about what suits you best.

Once you've decided on the direction you want to take, you can explore different organizations. There are many international organizations that provide such programs and also local organizations in most countries. Here are three well-known international organizations.

  • Projects Abroad
    An extensive international organization offering volunteer opportunities worldwide. They have a wide selection of projects in Tanzania, all based in the city of Arusha.
  • International Volunteer HQ
    They provide educational, medical, sustainable, animal-related, and construction projects. All their projects are in or around Arusha.

  • Volunteer in Tanzania
    A smaller organization focusing solely on volunteer work in Tanzania. They offer education, sports, and animal-related projects in Arusha and Zanzibar.

These organizations and their projects vary significantly. Some have a minimum number of weeks required for participation. This requirement is usually because it takes time to start and get familiar with the project. Additionally, people at the project invest in you, so it's appreciated if you stay longer. A week is often too short to volunteer effectively.

Moreover, consider accommodation arrangements. Some projects provide volunteer housing, while others offer stays with host families.

Volunteering through an organization also incurs costs. Part of the fee goes to the organization, another part may go to the project, and the rest covers accommodation expenses. Apart from the volunteer fee, you'll likely need to handle and finance other aspects like your visa, background check, airfare, and meals. This largely depends on the organization and project.

Once you've found an organization and project that interests you, I recommend having a conversation with them. They can provide further details about the volunteer work, giving you a better understanding of the opportunities. This will help you make an informed decision.

2. Do not volunteer in orphanages

Be cautious with volunteering in orphanages. While fewer organizations offer this, it still occurs. Volunteering in orphanages is not beneficial for a child's attachment. It can be highly traumatic for children to bond with a volunteer who later leaves and they never see again. This situation is emotionally painful and harms their self-esteem, self-image, and development.

Additionally, volunteering in orphanages can become a lucrative income source for developing countries. Consequently, some countries build more orphanages and, in certain cases, entice children away from their families to place them in these institutions for financial gain.

3. Get in touch with other volunteers

To choose a volunteering project, it can be helpful to read the stories of other volunteers. Many organizations offering volunteer opportunities share the experiences of past volunteers.

If you're volunteering alone, you can ask the volunteer organization if there are other volunteers at the volunteer house, host family, or project during your intended period. You might consider choosing another time for volunteering when more volunteers are present.

4. Expect the unexpected

In Tanzania, things often happen differently than in Western countries. For instance, if you've arranged to be picked up by a local at eleven o'clock to go somewhere, they might arrive an hour later or not show up at all. The lifestyle is different, and 'hakuna matata' is the mindset. Our tip is to go with the flow and not stress about it.

Similarly, at the volunteer project, things might not go as you anticipated. You might have planned to assist a teacher with math problems, but they decide to have a gym class instead. Additionally, you may witness other things that might be surprising or even distressing. For instance, observing a child being disciplined physically during an educational project or being involved in holding a flashlight during a medical procedure, such as an abortion, to assist the doctor. These experiences can leave a strong impression, so it's essential to talk about them, perhaps with your contact person or fellow volunteers.

5. Be realistic

When you volunteer for a few weeks, it's important to understand that you might not create significant visible changes. It's often the little things that matter. For instance, playing soccer with a boy who then sports a big smile, easing a dog's pain through your treatment, or constructing a soccer goal. These small victories are worth celebrating!

6. Communicate about your expectations with the people from the project

It's important to talk with the people at the project about their expectations of you, what you expect from them, and how you can work together. Try not to cling too much to how you envision things. The project members have been doing it their way for a while, and you're a guest. You can certainly address certain matters, but be respectful and try to understand their cultural perspective.

7. Learn the language

It's advisable to learn a few Swahili words. This helps establish better connections with people who don't speak English. Additionally, it's highly appreciated if you say hello and thank you in Swahili. You can quickly pick up some Swahili words, and we believe you might already know one. 'Simba' means lion in Swahili. We've compiled a list of the most important Swahili words to help you start practicing.

8. Show respect

Life in Tanzania differs from Western countries, and it's understandable that you'd like to take photos. If you want to take photos at the project, it's useful to discuss this beforehand with someone from the project. This also applies outside the project. For example, if you want to take a picture of a market stall with a woman behind it, it's courteous to ask for permission. People don't appreciate being photographed without permission.

Additionally, it's important, especially for women, to wear longer, modest clothing—such as a shirt covering your shoulders and pants or a skirt below your knees. Being too revealing in attire is not well-received.

9. Ask the locals for tips

When volunteering, you'll often stay in a volunteer house or with a host family. The volunteer house typically involves interactions with local individuals, and in the host family setup, you'll reside with locals. These locals have an excellent understanding of the area. We recommend leveraging this opportunity. It's enjoyable to ask them about activities in the area, explore together, or even cook together. Additionally, you can seek their advice on local restaurants and entertainment spots. This way, you truly immerse yourself in local life!

10. Go for it!

Lastly, we encourage you to just go for it and not overthink. It can be daunting to travel to a different continent and a new country for an extended period. Fortunately, there are organizations available to answer your queries, and at the destination, local contacts are also eager to assist you. It will be an unforgettable experience and a great opportunity for learning!

Do you want to read more about Tanzania

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Tanzania.

Do you want to read more about Tanzania

See all our articles with the best tips to discover all beautiful places in Tanzania.

About the authors

How nice that you are on our website and that you have read this article! We are Mirte and Matthew, two Dutch adventurers with a passion for traveling, discovering cultures, and gaining new experiences. We've translated our love for the world into this website. We hope our articles inspire you to go on adventures! You can learn more about us through the button below.
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