Preparing to volunteer in South Africa

givingback, South Africa, travel tips
Andrea teaching mobile photography to the ladies of eKhaya eKasi









Having been to South Africa 8 times now, with five trips specifically for The Heart of a Woman Project, this is a blog to help prepare you for a volunteer trip to South Africa or if you’re spending extra time before or after. Most of this information will of course work for any trip to South Africa.


Check your documents

This is high on the list because I’ve heard stories of people not being able to board their flight and being turned back in South Africa. You don’t want to be that person.

  • Make sure that your passport is valid for no less than 30 days after your intended departure date (from South Africa).
  • Have two blank *visa* pages in your passport. Make sure that it’s visa pages and not “endorsement” pages.

You will go through immigration on your first point of entry and again upon departure. Your passport will have both entry and exit stamps. Canadians and Americans don’t need a visa for South Africa. Check this link for visa exemptions to see if you are exempt.

Though they say for 30 days, I feel it’s better to err on the side of extra caution and have six months validity if you can, as many other countries require that length. Keep in mind that visas for Canadians and Americans are for 3-month visits.

Minors (18 years or younger) 

As of June 2015, minors travelling with their family, a school or youth group or a church group, for example, have additional requirements. An unabridged birth certificate showing the details of both parents is needed. This is a whole other discussion, and it has caused issues for some travellers, so it’s best to seek sound advice and refer to this web page from South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs. While getting your documents in order such as your passport, visa and unabridged birth certificates, it’s also a good time to get your insurance in order.



Vaccinations are not required for travel to South Africa in Cape Town and Johannesburg. If you are travelling to the Kruger area, it is a malaria zone, and anti-malaria precautions are recommended. It is considered low-risk with December to April being the highest risk due to the rains. Consult a doctor that specializes in travel vaccinations for medical advice. Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, just my personal decision. I have personally never taken anti-malaria drugs but do my best to cover up and use mosquito spray at dusk when in the Kruger and greater area.

Yellow fever

It’s important to note that if you’re coming from or passing through a country that has yellow fever, you will need a yellow fever certificate for entry to South Africa. Immigration officials will check! On one visit, I came from Senegal. I was prepared as I had a visit planned and researched Senegal long ahead of time. On another visit, I made a last minute decision to stop in Brazil before South Africa. I had come across information in my travel related reading at some point and remembered that Brazil had yellow fever. Luckily my yellow fever certificate was still valid, so I just needed to make sure I packed it with my documents.


I strongly recommend travelling with insurance coverage. I wouldn’t dream of travelling anywhere without it as you just never know. It should include medical, travel (baggage loss and delays) and theft. Most volunteer organizations require at least medical coverage. It’s a good time to check to see if they a part of a travel insurance for groups coverage plan that you can be a part of.

I sprained my ankle once in South Africa but didn’t visit a clinic as it wasn’t too bad and ice and elevation helped. I have visited a clinic in Australia. There’s peace of mind when you have insurance. If you plan to engage in an adventure activity such as bungee jumping, abseiling, paragliding, shark cage diving or scuba diving, double check whether you will be covered. You can also check what your credit card may cover.

What to pack?

You never know how much space you will have especially on a volunteer trip or if you have to carry your things up and down stairs, so I always advise people to pack light. Consider a carry-on and a backpack/daypack. It doesn’t mean you have to wear the same two outfits; you can easily fit 5-6 outfits in a carry-on. I once travelled around Europe for 2+ weeks with just a 20L carry-on backpack thanks to the bundle wrapping method.  You can wash your clothes relatively cheaply in South Africa. I’ve hand washed my clothes many times when I stay in Airbnbs.  I have also used the affordable washing services when I’ve stayed for extended periods at hostels and guesthouses.

Good shoes are important, think about the type of volunteer work you will be doing and where. Consider bringing a pair of closed-toe shoes even if it’s summer in South Africa. If you’re volunteering in Khayelitsha or one of the Townships, there can be a lot of garbage, glass and debris around so be careful where you step.

  • Sunscreen, hats
  • flashlight/headlamp
  • bandaids/bandages
  • 2-3 packs of Emergen-C electro mix
  • reusable water bottle
  • light jacket
  • mosquito spray and long sleeves (December-April in Kruger)

Though they say it’s safe to drink the tap water in the cities, I’ve never tried it. I have heard of some people getting traveller’s diarrhea, and I usually fall victim to that in my travels but have never had a problem in South Africa. It’s best to buy bottled water and buy the largest bottle of water you can carry. Considering bringing a Brita, Lifestraw or Bobble water bottle that filters the tap water especially for longer term travel.


  • The currency is rands, written as ZAR.
  • Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, American Express isn’t (except in high-end hotels and some restaurants).
  • You can withdraw ZAR through ATMs. Note: Be sure to withdraw money at a brightly lit and busy area. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings and don’t allow anyone to help or distract you.


Remember that while it’s winter in North America, it’s summer in South Africa. The weather in South Africa varies greatly from province to province. If you’re volunteering in Cape Town and it’s May-August, it will most likely be chilly and rainy. If you’re volunteering with animals in the Kruger area around the same period, you’ll probably only need a jacket first thing in the morning or once the sun goes down at night. Temperatures are in Celsius.


Staying connected

It is very easy to stay connected in South Africa and much cheaper with a South African SIM card. At both OR Tambo in Johannesburg and the Cape Town airport, there are Vodacom, MTN and Cell C stores. At OR Tambo it is found after exiting the baggage claim area, on the right side.

You can purchase a SIM card, prepaid data and airtime if your phone is unlocked. If your phone is not unlocked, you can rent a portable wifi router.

I have a Vodacom SIM card that I picked up at OR Tambo about three years ago. If you plan to return to South Africa multiple times, you can put the SIM on roaming when you leave and turn off roaming and top up when you arrive back in the country. Just be sure to send a text every 2-3 months while you’re away to keep it active.

Vodacom prepaid monthly data prices at the time of writing (It’s been the same cost for the last three years):

  • 1 GB: R 149
  • 2 GB: R 249
  • 3 GB: R 299
  • 5 GB: R 399

Check here for information on prepaid data in South Africa.


Staying safe

You will hear or read about South Africa’s crime in your research or from South Africans that have emigrated out of the country. The media also tends to blow things out of proportion. Don’t let that deter you or you will miss out on a beautiful country full of natural beauty and warm people. Keep in mind that many of the stats are domestic in nature and not in all areas. I have never encountered a problem on my eight trips to South Africa, most of which have been solo. Visitors to South Africa do not need to be afraid. Visit forums such as Trip Advisor to talk to real people that have travelled there and feel free to connect with me should you have any questions.

Common sense is needed as in any large city, and some extra precautions should be taken, so you are not an easy target.

  • Leave your valuables at home. Don’t walk around with flashy or expensive jewellery or your camera around your neck. Keep your purse/backpack/bag in front and close to you in crowds.
  • Do not walk alone at night in the CBD. It’s best to use a reliable taxi service to/from restaurants/attractions. UBER is readily available in Cape Town.
  • Avoid walking in lonely areas such as beaches, parks, forests (even in groups) after dark. Always hike with a friend.



Cape Town

If you’re volunteering in Cape Town, you’ll most likely be volunteering in a Township. What you hear about townships might only be negative or not based on the first-hand experience. I have spent more than three months in the Makhaza neighbourhood of Khayelitsha. All but my first 1.5 weeks have been by driving to/from there on my own or with my husband and children. My husband and two sons loved their time in Khayelitsha so much that they kept wanting to return every day. On their first visit to Cape Town, they spent 6 of their 9-day visit, in Khayelitsha.

My son learning games in Khayelitsha











If you’re volunteering elsewhere and are interested in visiting Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest Township, I highly recommend going on tour with Uthando South Africa. Uthando is a certified fair trade tourism organization that will take you to 3 or 4 development projects where you will meet friendly people and leave feeling inspired.  Tell them I (Andrea) sent you and say hello for me.

Want to stay in Khayelitsha? Check out Lungi’s B & B.



A trip to Soweto is highly recommended. There are many tours that will take you to Vilakazi street where Nelson Mandela lived and where Desmond Tutu still has a home. The Apartheid Museum is a must-visit.

Want to stay in Soweto? Check out Lebo’s Backpackers for accommodations and cycling, walking or tuk-tuk tours.


Driving in South Africa

You won’t need a car in you’re staying in Cape Town or Johannesburg on a volunteer trip as your host organization will most likely arrange transportation. If you plan to visit before or after your volunteer time and want to explore other areas such as Muizenberg or Kalk Bay, the Cape Peninsula and Simon’s Town, Boulders Beach and Chapman’s Peak Drive, renting a car is the best way.

I regularly rent a car and stay in Muizenberg for easy access to Khayelitsha where I volunteer. I drive to/from Khayelitsha, all around Cape Town and other parts of South Africa including Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. I have travelled solo and twice with my husband and 2 children.

Driving is on the left-hand side with the driver’s seat on the right. The roads are good except for some roads in rural areas, beware of potholes. The signs are in English. Distances and speed signs are in kilometres.

Things to consider:

  • When parking your vehicle, do not leave anything at all in sight inside the car. Put everything in the trunk. I also do this at home in Canada.
  • You will find “car guards” on many city streets and parking lots around Cape Town. I find them to be very helpful (helping you find a spot, directing you when backing out, keeping watch) and always feel that my vehicle is looked after or at least acts as a deterrent. Tipping the guard is expected when you return to your car. Only use the services of a person wearing an official “bib” stating that he/she is a recognized car guard. I tip generously as I know it’s their only source of income for many. I also think of the prices I pay for parking in large cities in North America. I wish there were car guards rather than metered parking in Toronto and other cities in Canada and the USA.
  • Drive defensively. There are many mini-bus taxis on the road, and they follow their own rules. Many are unlicensed drivers and in un-roadworthy vehicles, especially watch out for the white vans.
  • Let me preface this by saying I’ve never personally encountered this and I’ve driven at all hours of the day/night. I feel it’s important to state as it is an increasing problem in the CBD and some areas of Cape Town. — Be aware at red lights (robots in South Africa), especially at night. Don’t be distracted by your cell phone and be a target for ‘smash and grab’ activity. I keep my purse/backpack/laptop or camera bag in the trunk (boot in South Africa) when I’m driving. I also do this at home in Canada.
  • Traffic cops. Oh, the traffic cops. Beware when driving in Mpumalanga, Limpopo or the Eastern Cape especially when approaching a town. You can suddenly drop from 120 or 100 km/h to 80 and even 60 km/hr. Often, speed signs are nowhere to be seen. They will stand on the side of the road and flag you down. They’re often seen in groups. So always, always, slow down if you see a town on the horizon. Traffic cops in these provinces are notorious for making up a violation to get a ‘bribe’ out of you. Don’t fall for it. Ask for the ticket. When they say “you’ll go to the station?”, say “yes”. They will let you go unless you were actually really speeding. Even then, ask for the ticket.


In summary, be prepared, expect the unexpected but stay open in heart and mind.

Hope that helps you prepare for volunteering and travelling in South Africa.


The Heart of a Woman Project in South Africa is One!

Cape Town, capetown, givingback, photographygives, Project South Africa, South Africa, southafrica, thoawSA

In November 2014 my family (my husband and 9 yo & 4yo sons) and I travelled to Cape Town, South Africa to join the ladies in celebrating the 1st anniversary of  The Heart of a Woman Project at eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre in Khayelitsha, South Africa.










During the last year, the ladies have worked to improve their photography and social media skills. They have engaged with supporters from around the world on social media and have gone on numerous photo walks to capture Township life as seen through their eyes and hearts. They have also participated in weekly photo challenges that I have given them. I have seen improvement and growth not only in photography, mobile technology, computer skills and social media, but in soft skills such as communication, public speaking, adaptability, problem solving, teamwork and they have gained confidence.

I’ve continued to offer my support and mentorship and thanks to technology and a new cell tower in close proximity to eKhaya eKasi, I am able to do so regularly from my home in Toronto, Canada with video calls and text based chats. In October, we had our 1st thoawSA (The Heart of a Woman Project South Africa) google hangout with supporters from Canada, USA and the UK. In May 2014, I returned to Khayelitsha and launched phase 2 and continued with more workshops in computer skills and social media.  Though I am available when needed, they have mostly been working and developing on their own. We hope to have other mentors join us in 2015 whether in person at the centre or through distance learning.

In October, the project welcomed 3 new members. Founding member Nwabisa Ndongeni has been teaching the 3 new participants and I couldn’t be more proud of her. It has been incredible to know that the project is moving forward in this way, it is exactly what I had hoped for when I dreamed up this idea.

On November 22, 2014 we celebrated the project’s 1st anniversary with an exhibition and a cultural celebration.  Xolani Maseko of Uthando South Africa was the master of ceremonies and 7 of the original 9 participants and the 3 newest members were in attendance for the occasion. Eza Kwantu Cultural Group opened the celebration with drumming, singing and dancing and Black Pot Entertainment Group performed with their beautiful voices. Both groups returned to perform a few more times.

A collage of images taken by the ladies during their 1st year.
A collage of images taken by the ladies during their 1st year on display at eKhaya eKasi. Photo by Andrea Rees









Images on display at eKhaya eKasi during the 1st anniversary exhibition.
Images of the women’s work on display at eKhaya eKasi during the 1st anniversary exhibition. Photo by Andrea Rees









Some of the members of thoawSA, November 2014.
Some of the members of thoawSA, November 2014. Photo by Andrea Rees









Founding member Nwabisa looks on as the 3 new participants, Amanda, Thando & Pelisa learn how to transfer photos to a computer.
Founding member Nwabisa looks on as the 3 new participants, Amanda, Thando & Pelisa learn how to transfer photos to a computer. Photo by Andrea Rees | November 2014.










The days following the exhibition, I offered workshops in photography, social media and computer skills and enjoyed a photo walk with the women in Mfuleni.

Pelisa photographing a childcare centre, called a creche, in Mfuleni. Photo by Andrea Rees.
Pelisa photographing a childcare centre, called a creche, in Mfuleni. Photo by Andrea Rees.









Photo by Thando Duba
Photo by Thando Duba taken during the photo walk in Mfuleni, November 2014.








Here are some of the women’s photos over the last year as well as some of my favourite moments at the celebration, in video.

Photo by Busisiwe Dalingozi
Photo by Busisiwe Dalingozi








Photo by Nwabisa Ndongeni
Photo by Nwabisa Ndongeni









Photo by Retsepile Tom
Photo by Retsepile Tom









Photo by Esther Mahlasela
Photo by Esther Mahlasela











Photo by Veliswa Wowo, iPhone 4s
Photo by Veliswa Wowo, iPhone 4s










Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika

Those in attendance joined in to sing the South Africa national anthem. I proudly joined in on the first 4 lines singing the anthem in isiXhosa and Zulu and was able to sing a bit of the English part that I knew.


A song about Poverty in IsiXhosa. Sung by the Eza Kwantu Cultural Group.

Translated to English:

Her name is poverty. She grew up in poverty. She knows poverty. My name is poverty. I grew up in poverty. I know poverty. Growing up without a home. Eating hot and cold. Begging and pleading. Cause I am poverty. I know your story. The poverty which you’ve come from. And I know your pain. Cause I am poverty.

This amazing celebration and inaugural year would not have happened without all our supporters as well as mobile photography and travel blogger/writer communities. Thank you to all those that have donated iPhones or cash, spread the word on social media, wrote blogs and articles, gave me a platform to write articles (Travel Massive, Mobiography, Grryo),  wrote articles about us (Marie Claire Brazil, Matador Network, The Big Issue, Metro – see media below), hosted badges & widgets and engaged with us on social media, so to all of you, a huge thank you.

A heartfelt word of thanks for the continued support of the program by wonderful people and businesses such as Reno Roofs, The Backpack and Uthando in Cape Town, South Africa, 6dVision in Toronto, Canada, Mary Chong Graphic Design and Meadowvale Minuteman Press in Mississauga, Canada, Richards Imaging, Vado Via and Art Aids Art in America and Darren Richards, Leslee Moore, Wynford Rees, Esther Hayoun and Christian Henry.  A special thank you to Lulama Sihlabeni, Nwabisa Ndongeni, Xolani Maseko, Blackpot Entertainment Group and Eza Kwantu Cultural Group for your part in this momentous occasion.

It was a special and emotional day for me and I am proud of all the women. I wish nothing but continued growth and much success. Year 2 will focus on the business aspects of this project and it is our hope that the wonderful photographic images produced by this project reaches all corners of the world through visits to eKhaya eKasi and via local and global vendors.

To join the conversation and follow the project on Instagram and Twitter, search for #thoawSA where you can connect with myself and each of the participants personally.

— Andrea


How YOU Can Help Make a Difference Today: 


THOAW is committed to providing on-going support, mentorship, guidance and education to help the women on their path to sustainability.

Where to Buy: 

Please feel free to explore this site and CONNECT with Andrea.



The heART of a Woman Project Welcomes 3 New Participants

Cape Town, capetown, givingback, heartsouthafrica, photographygives, Project South Africa, South Africa, southafrica, thoawSA

I am happy to announce that 3 ladies have recently joined The Heart of a Woman Project in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Nwabisa Ndongeni has been busy teaching them about social media and how to use Instagram and Twitter. They’ll also start to learn photography mentored by Nwabisa and using a wonderful guide on photography principles created by Darren Richards of Richard Imaging and the black and white conversion app, Monokrom. Darren has been an amazing support from the beginning and has graciously sponsored the project since the launch of phase 2 in May 2014. Thank you again Darren!

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 2.54.23 PM



Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 2.54.50 PM

This month is the 1st anniversary of the project in South Africa. We are having a photography exhibition with a traditional African celebration at eKhaya eKasi Art & Education Centre which is home to thoawSA. I am looking forward to seeing what the centre’s director, Lulama Sihlabeni has planned.

I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together over the last year and am especially proud of Nwabisa for taking the lead. It is not without its challenges, but I strongly believe in what we are doing and believe it is making a difference.


Though I am in Toronto, Canada and Nwabisa is in Khayelitsha, we communicate via Facebook, What’s App & Skype as I continue to teach and mentor her. She then passes it on to the other ladies.

A 3 minute video of our time together in November 2013

Welcome to thoawSA – Pelisa Ndzube, Thando Duba and Amanda Folomane. Happy to have you join us and am so looking forward to meeting you in about 2 weeks!

How YOU Can Help Make a Difference Today: 


THOAW is committed to providing on-going support, mentorship, guidance and education to help the women on their path to sustainability.

Where to Buy: 

Please feel free to explore this site and CONNECT with Andrea.