When volunteering in less economically developed countries such as Sierra Leone, there remains a fine line between altruism and exploitative 'voluntourism'.

Despite potential hazards like this, volunteering with projects such as those which Bread and Water for Africa offers, can be an extraordinary and altruistic way to spend one’s time. Prospective volunteers should consider what skills they can actually contribute, be it in manual work, childcare or accounts.

"Tasks may well be unglamorous and not tangibly 'rewarding', but helping grassroots charitable projects should aid their exposure, not the volunteer’s."

In a social media age, volunteers should be prudent and conscientious with posts, so as not to undermine the purpose of the experience. Volunteers should consider a meaningful length of time with a project and be exhaustive in their research of its credibility. For every wealthy company monopolising on a 'rewarding experience' with dubious methods and intentions, there are numerous opportunities within better organisations.

Paul and Emmanuel, students at the We Are the Future school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, show off the tomatoes grown in the school gardenChildren tending to the kitchen garden at We Are The Future, Sierra Leone

In the wake of COVID-19 and the surge in social crises we are witnessing around the world, if we were not already thinking it, we should strive to be more altruistic. The impact of COVID-19 is yet to be fully realised and for communities across the continent, daily struggles will only be exacerbated. As people re-evaluate what travel and holidays may look like in the months and maybe years to come, there could be a change in focus. In steering away from dense and expensive resorts, cruises or unverified volunteering programmes, people spend their time in a new, sustainable way. When choosing the right project with the right organisation, volunteers can benefit from a greater sense of perspective and compassion; timely qualities given recent events.

Group of children holding we are happy sign Sierra LeoneChildren displaying their message at We Are The Future, Sierra Leone

By travelling to countries still developing their tourism, it is possible to support communities and their businesses which will immediately experience positive effects far more acutely than vanity-humanitarian, or “huvanitarian”, businesses would. Sierra Leone, like many countries across the region, has much to offer a traveller and those conscientious travellers who seek to go further have much to offer Sierra Leone. COVID-19 has given people time to reflect; with such a wide world out there, it has never felt smaller and more accessible.

Part 2 of 2

Part one looks at the thin line between selfless volunteering and exploitative tourism.

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David RANDALL is a writer and traveller who visited the We Are the Future programme in Freetown on behalf of Bread and Water for Africa UK in November 2018.