We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
5 Tips for Women Volunteering in Africa
by Rachel Sales, Pink Pangea editor
So, you’ve decided to dedicate your summer to volunteering–and not just in a place that’s familiar to you. Instead, you’ve chosen to take a chance and head to Africa, where you’ll need to acclimate both to your new volunteer placement and the culture. Well, ladies, though challenges lie ahead, don’t let them hold you back. The key to your success is knowledge. With the right information, you’ll be sure to connect with the locals and make a difference abroad. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Dress modestly
Leave your sleeveless shirts and short shorts at home and make sure your shoulders, elbows, and knees are covered at all times. Choose long, flowing skirts or loose jeans and a cardigan. In some countries, you may opt for a head covering too. Bring a scarf just in case!
2. Ignore the catcalls
Even when you dress appropriately, you may at times face verbal harassment from local men—or even impromptu wedding proposals! The best thing to do is to not respond. Keep walking without making eye contact and learn how to say, “Go away” or “Shame on you” in the country’s language. Sometimes wearing a fake wedding ring helps too.
3. Be open to locals’ hospitality
As long as you feel safe, embrace your new neighbors’ kindness and accept the invitations to their homes. While you’ve come to Africa because of your own interest in the region, your neighbors will be just as intrigued to learn about your home country. When they invite you to their home, your hosts may make great sacrifices to provide you with food and drink. Refusing is seen as disrespectful so be sure to partake. If it makes you feel more comfortable, go with a friend and always let someone from your program know where you’ll be.
4. Haggle like it’s your job
Because American travelers to Africa are often seen as rich, you may be a victim of very high prices. Keep that in mind when a shopkeeper or taxi driver gives you a price and bargain as much as you can. Show some confidence and give it a shot. It takes some practice and you’ll be sure to get better in time.
5. Check out women-only venues
In Africa, you’ll gain special access to the women’s world—simply because you’re a woman. Tired after a full day of volunteering in the heat? Recuperate at a women-only hammam (bathhouse). Want to get some exercise? Work up a sweat at a belly dancing class.