Gap years are not only for those who have just left school. People take gap years between jobs, between marriages, at crucial ‘life’ stages, to celebrate an event, or even as a family. Some people simply travel by the seat-of-their-pants and wing it, doing odd jobs when and if they want to; others sign up for specific programmes that will teach them something and allow them to serve in a way that makes a difference.
Whether you’re the latter or the former there is plenty of scope, and numerous websites, for inspiration and opportunities both at home in South Africa and abroad.
Sharing specific programme initiatives will lead to frustration, as programmes come and go as they get funding. Instead we’ve listed the type of adventure you can expect to seek in a gap year …
IDEAS FOR AT HOME IN SOUTH AFRICA
Teach disadvantaged kids to surf
This is one way to get up and mobile on a surfboard, if it’s something you’ve had on the backburner. There are a couple of programmes that teach you to surf in places like Muizenburg in a matter of days. In exchange, you then teach children to surf, snorkel and hike.
Work with animals
There are numerous projects that consistently need volunteers to work with the likes of endangered birds, big cats, monitoring great whites, rehabilitation of horses etc. If nursing wildlife back to health, walking in amongst birds, hiking through a reserve to see zebra, giraffe or buck is your thing, this is your kind of gap year.
Teach children to read or help out at a township nursery school
Various community projects need volunteers for things like teaching disadvantaged children how to read, or spending time with young school children helping them with lessons in our townships. Someone like Gadventures organises volunteer overland trips through Africa volunteering for community projects en route.
Join Action Aid
Who specifically run voluntary community building projects in South Africa, Malawi, Nepal and Cambodia.
Wwoofing, both abroad and at home, involves working on organic farms in exchange for food and lodging. It’s a great way to find out if your idea of growing organic vegetables on a farm is truly as romantic as it sounds. And it gets you fit, healthy and out of doors. For ideas, see our article “WWoofing your way around South Africa“.
AWAY FROM HOME IDEAS
Live on a Kibbutz
Learn Hebrew whilst volunteering your services on a Kittutz (a community of volunteers who live and work communally to help with farming) in Israel for anything from 3 to 10 months. In exhange you will receive food and lodging.
Volunteer your help
Help conserve the Galapagos Islands, whilst taking a train adventure to Cuenca and spending time at the largest indigenous market of Otavalo; teach, build, clean, paint or garden in a village in Peru; or help eradicate rabies in Bali. This is just a handful of the ideas available on sites like i-to-i.
Teach English in China/Indonesia/Prague
You will probably be advised to do a TEFL course initially, but teaching in the far east is still a good way to save and travel. Careful though, you might not return – a friend of mine is in China eight years after arriving.
Join a cruise ship
If you have talent (you sing, you’re a magician, you can dance) or you can offer a skill like massage or hairdressing, joining a cruise ship (provided you have sea legs) can be a good way to see the world and earn money.
Join the Camphill Community
The worldwide organisation provides opportunities for children, young people and adults with learning disabilities. Most farm bio-dynamically or organically and produce products as a result, to raise money for their community.