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Filling the Gap in the City of Saints

If you thought that a gap year was just for the young, the world is quickly discovering that it’s just as much for the young at heart. Gap years are traditionally taken by university-bound students to travel, volunteer, or work abroad. But such disengagements from the daily grind of life are becoming increasingly popular for the adult population as well, either as a break from a career or something to look forward to after retirement. Travelling enables people of all ages to immerse in foreign cultures, taste unique food, and to do things you just can’t do at home. Those who embark on volunteer vacations can easily appreciate the projects and what they bring to communities. Whether you are young or young at heart, gap years are wonderful opportunities to reward yourself for years of hard work by doing something that you have always dreamed of while helping to fill the dreams of others simultaneously.

Volunteer Opportunities as Diverse as the Attractions

A volunteer gap year is your chance to make a difference. There are a range of opportunities at your fingertips to suit all tastes and interests. For those seeking a dramatic change of scenery, a gap year in South Africa offers a world of possibilities. This vast multicultural nation is modern and sophisticated with timeless traditions. The diverse landscape is home to stunning coastlines, rolling savannahs, and subtropical forests that are bordered by deserts. If you love politics, the rich history of the South African people and their culture should easily place this destination at the top of your shortlist. If that wasn’t enough, the most popular draw for adventure seekers has always been the magnificent wildlife found all over the country including the Big Five roaming the national parks and game reserves or the great white sharks swimming off the coast. The diverse array of activities from safaris to tribal settlements and wine tours are just as diverse as the volunteer opportunities. From working with impoverished communities to helping disadvantaged children, an unforgettable experience awaits.

Located on the south eastern seaboard of South Africa is the Municipality of Makana. Bordered by the major industrial centres of Port Elizabeth to the west and East London to the east, it is well connected to air and sea ports. The city of Grahamstown, the seat of the Makana municipality, is a thriving arts centre that is known as Africa’s Festival Capital being the home of six national festivals that are celebrated in the city each year. But this university town is best known as the City of Saints for its collection of more than forty churches. This charming city is a picturesque place to visit with its diverse array of architecture including Colonial, Victorian, and Gothic styles along with its vibrant atmosphere making it a popular hub for voluntourists.

The Makana region is home to a range of volunteer opportunities where aspiring voluntourists can make lasting, tangible differences in the communities by providing their expertise and support including:

  • The Amansango Career School works with socially marginalised children that suffer from extrinsic disabilities. The school seeks to assist the children in developing into confident, independent, and productive individuals that are caring members of society. The school aims to help street children, learners with behavioural problems, and the desperately poor. Volunteers are needed to contribute to a wide variety of activities including tutoring and general skills developments.
  • GADRA Advice & Community Work is a registered NPO and Public Benefit Organisation, established in 1958 to assist the desperately poor and marginalised in Grahamstown, including people with disabilities. Today GADRA offers a number of services to help alleviate the plight of those who need it most, including skills development and promotion of sustainable livelihoods. GADRA welcomes local and international volunteers to get involved in any of its programmes, according to their own interests, skills and experience.
  • The Grahamstown Feral Cat Project seeks to manage the feral cat population of Grahamstown and the surrounding areas. Adult feral cats are humanely trapped and vaccinated. Feeding and emergency assistance is also provided. The organization also educates the community on responsible pet ownership. Volunteer opportunities are also available at the Grahamstown SPCA.
  • The Jabez AIDS Health Centre runs a comprehensive home based service and care support centre to care for the needs of those affected by HIV/AIDS by offering nutritious meals, education, awareness, and literacy to those affected by the epidemic. The program works in a number of areas including orphans and vulnerable children. Volunteers are needed in the areas of general help, counselling, nursing, fundraising, and administration.

A Hub of Outdoor Adventure and World Class Safaris

Those are just a few examples of the many volunteer projects available. But no volunteer vacation would be complete without sightseeing and outdoor adventures. The Grahamstown area is a hub of outdoor adventure featuring popular activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing, golf, rock climbing and even sky diving. Nature lovers can head to one of the many private game reserves in the region to experience South Africa’s wealth of wildlife while arts and culture lovers can enjoy one of the many annual festivals.

Most of the region’s prestigious game reserves are located in Frontier Country where you can discover the region’s lingering history but also experience some of the country’s magnificent scenery and wildlife. The five distinct eco-systems found in the area support an array of plant, bird, and animal life. There is a number of game reserves located 20 to 60 kilometres from Grahamstown including:

  • Kariega Private Game Reserve, nestled within 5,000 hectares of pristine landscape just above the Kariega River Valley.
  • Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, best known for its dedication to preserving the magnificent Blue Crane. You can also experience the Big 5 at this reserve.
  • Pumba Private Game Reserve, a 5-star operation that enables guests to experience the infamous Big 5 along with a rare opportunity to observe the magnificent White Lion.

Gap years are not just excellent ways to make a difference in the lives of others. It is also a useful way to help transform or shape your own life while travelling the world. Gap years can often help to develop skills by gaining relevant work experience, learning new skills, and increasing your employability. Gap years can help you to obtain new insights about yourself and to develop maturity and independence. Such experiences are not just useful for impressing universities but employers as well.

Preparing for a Gap Year in South Africa

While a volunteer vacation might seem like an obvious win for all, careful consideration should be taken before setting forth on your journey. Take time to research the destination, organization, and types of activities that you want to participate in. It can often take as long as a year to make arrangements and to save an appropriate amount of funds. While helping others is admirable, you should also try to choose an experience that will enable you to enhance your CV by learning or strengthening skills. It is wise to consider your existing skills and determine how best to use them to maximize benefit for yourself and the community. It is essential to plan your trip carefully especially if you are headed to a foreign country or planning to be away from home for months. Always ensure that you obtain the necessary vaccinations and obtain comprehensive insurance. According to, even the simplest of medical conditions including an ear infection could result in a medical bill of £300 just to treat if you are not adequately prepared. A range of foreign travel advice and information is available to help ensure that you don’t leave home unless you are ready.

If you make all of the necessary preparations, a gap year promises to be one of the most memorable and fulfilling experiences of your life whether you are just beginning your career or retiring from decades of service. Whatever the case, Makana, South Africa will always have an adventure waiting for you.

This article compiled by Julie Bowen, on behalf of Makana Edutourism.

Date : Friday, September 27th, 2013

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