Volunteering in Africa - well

Get your boots dirty: Volunteer overseas

Travel is awesome. Travel that helps other people is even better. Volunteer travel, or “Voluntourism“, is a great way to learn about another part of the world, learn more about yourself and the discover firsthand the joys of lending a hand. I recently wrote an article for BootsnAll magazine about a volunteer experience I had in Ghana, Africa. Here are a few quick excerpts:

“When you think about your travel destination wish list, a refugee camp in Africa may not pop into your head. And when you think about fun activities to do on vacation, back-breaking labour behind a pick axe or being ankle deep in human excrement probably won’t make the cut.

But I had always wanted to travel to Africa. And as a graduate of Development and International Studies, I knew I wanted to skip the safari and resorts and really get my boots dirty. So at age 25, after my contract with work expired, I signed up for a two month trip through an international volunteer placement agency.

Despite my initial doubts that first night at camp, this experience would turn out to be one of the most rewarding and transformational adventures I’ve ever had…

Volunteering on Liberian Refugee Camp - drummers

Drummers on camp

…I spent my two months on camp volunteering with a community-based organization’s Water and Sanitation team (or WATSAN as it was lovingly referred to as). My days were filled with digging wells and cleaning out sewage drains alongside Liberian refugees and other international volunteers like myself.

With tens of thousands of Liberian refugees living in the camp, access to water was a real challenge. So armed with a rickety wheelbarrow, a pick axe and a few shovels, we did our best to build wells in the community. It was hot, back-breaking work but knowing the value it would bring to the camp made it all worthwhile.

Volunteering in Ghana

Getting my boots dirty

However, the most rewarding part of the job happened in between the swings of the pick axe: during the conversations with the Liberian refugees who were volunteering with us…

… I wanted to go and make a difference and change lives. In the end though, it was my life that changed. What I gave to the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp pales in comparison to what I got back from the experience.”

Ghana - kids

Local kids pose for a shot

Read the full article on the BootsnAll website, including a couple stories about how I chased a thief through back alleys and how we made a game out of shovelling poop.

Have you had a transformative volunteer/travel experience? Share you stories in the comment section below.

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Josh Martin
Josh Martin is the founder and chief blogger at Badge of Awesome. He lives in southwestern Ontario, Canada and is the author of "Misadventure Musings: Lessons learned from life's awesome and absurd moments" and "Going on a Bear Hunt: Five things cancer taught me about overcoming obstacles."