How to get a job working in Africa.

Hello my dearest friends!

Yes, it’s been a fabulously long time since you heard from me personally, but here I am, fresh faced and ready to dispense some sage advice to anyone who has ever considered, is considering, or might ever, possibly, probably, maybe consider working in Africa in the near future.

Who am I to give advice? I spent almost nine months working in Africa as a conservation biologist. Post-Africa, I’ve founded an exponentially growing and successful charitable organization that works to advance education and healthcare across the dark continent.

And…who are you to take advice? YOU are probably a bright-eyed, college-educated young sprite of a thing. YOU are rearing to change the world. YOU need some guidance, as you probably found your way to this blog post by googling the big question: “How can I get a job working in Africa?”

Working in Africa is bloody difficult. Therefore, getting a job to work in Africa (truly work, I might add) is also bloody difficult.

Why? Well, let me dispel some myths for you right off the bat:

1) Nonprofits will NOT pay for you to traipse over to Africa just because you have a big heart and an even bigger drive. Most of the time, you will make no money or will even have to pay for the first work experience, simply because no one in their right mind will ever hire someone who hasn’t had to literally walk through shit-covered roads in a developing country.

2) You will NOT get a paying job if you do not have experience working in Africa. Yes, I understand I just repeated myself, but if you’re anything like me, you read the first piece of advice and promptly moved on after telling yourself, “yes, but I’m different.” I hate to break it to you: No, you are not different. Why? Because nonprofits in Africa need every penny they can get their hands on, and no amount of resume action words will make a cash-strapped organization take unnecessary risk. For example, I once worked for a conservation group which had hired on eight interns at once. Four hated living in Africa so much that they actually quit before their contracts came to an end. In sum, the organization wasted thousands upon thousands of dollars in training costs and flights on people who left after a few months.

3) You are now thinking to yourself: “Yes, but I don’t want to work for a nonprofit! Surely a business will hire me!”
You’re slightly correct. There are, indeed, corporations who will hire expats to work in Africa without prior international experience . However, these positions are often highly technical and require a great deal of investment and education. For example, oil companies often send engineers on rotating shifts to work on their oil compounds. Or, large companies will hire you IF you have a highly sought after skill set, such as a fluency in three languages and an expert knowledge of GIS systems. Yes, my friends, IF you fall into this category, you probably should just stop reading right now and go and apply for a job, as the only advice you will need, is how to best negotiate your benefits.

However, if you don’t fall into this group of highly trained professionals, do not despair: there is still hope.

Jobs in Africa positively abound. In fact, after just eight months of work experience, I was offered two full-time positions, one of which was for the position of Program Director. How did I get there?

1) I got experience. This is done by either paying the cost for a legitimate organization to take you in and train you and/or to offer your services for free. My first job, only a three month stint, actually only cost me my plane ticket to the country. The rest of my in-country expenses? Paid!

You might be asking yourself where you can find these opportunities. Look no further than the following websites:

www.idealist.org – A clearing house for non-profit jobs.
www.stopdodo.com – A great non-profit and environment-focused job board.
https://listserv.umd.edu/archives/ecolog-l.html – Jobs posted by research groups looking for short-term assistants.

There are dozens of other directories out there, but if you want my honest opinion: don’t look at them.

The jobs listed at the above websites are vetted (to a certain degree) and you will likely avoid scams or annoyingly overpriced short-term volunteer vacation package.

One more word of advice: use your brain! If the internship is asking for $4000 a month, it’s probably a for-profit business making money on getting you a placement. If that’s the kind of security you’d like, go for it. However, just know that you don’t have to pay so much money. There are tons of nonprofits who would happily train you at cost (no more than $1500 per month, depending on the location/city…and can even be as cheap as $500 a month) – this means, that the organization will help you organize local accommodation and food for a small fee, make no money out of your presence, and be paid in kind by your service to their cause.

2) I impressed my African-based boss. As an intern (paying or not) in Africa, your skills will be utilized. If you ever find an organization that doesn’t have anything for you to do, you were either hired as a money maker OR the nonprofit simply isn’t running very efficiently. That being said, this is the rare scenario and 9 out of 10 times, you will find that not only is there enough work for you to do…there’s TOO much work!

However, instead of whining, realize that this is exactly the kind of situation you want to be in. Use the opportunity to impress your bosses! When you’re stranded in the middle of the work day in a rural village because your taxi driver abandoned you? Keep your cool! When your entire project crumbles down on itself because the school you were supposed to be teaching in, suddenly closes for summer vacation? Innovate a new outreach program!

Yes, all of these things happened to me, and instead of hating the work I was doing (even if it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea)…I worked to be the best employee I could be.

3) I networked!

There are a ridiculous number of job positions just waiting to be filled in Africa…but you have to be THERE to find them. For example, while living in Madagascar, I visited the local university and was offered a teaching position on the spot because of my English speaking skills. This position, never advertised online, will only become available to you if you are in the right place at the right time. Obviously the “right place” is not your faux leather couch in South-West Florida.

So, to re-cap:

1) When an organization asks that you pay your costs, they are not scamming you and you should be respectful of the fact that it is very difficult to spare the money to bring on extra staff, especially if they are untrained.

2) Work hard to get your job placement. Due to the distance, you may have to spend hours upon hours searching for openings and applying. When people ask me how I got my positions? The only answer I can give them is: Time and effort.

3) If you can’t put in the effort to find the job, you probably will not be able to survive long in Africa. I repeat: working in Africa is very hard.

4) If you’ve read all of this, and you’re still super excited to work overseas…that’s fantastic! I wish you all the best, and have full faith that you will go far. If you can read the “harsh” truth of this post, you will have no problem working and living overseas!

Questions? Email me ([email protected]) – I’m always happy to help guide people looking for a way to get to Africa and start working to make a difference.

Tantalizing Tanzania

Tanzania is surely one of the most breathtaking countries in East Africa. Home to the historic state of Zanzibar, the towering Mount Kilimanjaro and so many more beautiful sites and experiences, Tanzania is not to be missed on any trip to the continent.

After a considerable amount of advice and recommendations, I decided to start my trip in Zanzibar. Where better to start than Zanzibar city itself? Situated on the west coast of Unguja (the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago), the city offers something to suit every taste and interest. For a dose of historic architecture, The Stone Town is the place to see. The House of Wonders is probably one of most well-known landmarks. It was built in 1883 as a Sultan’s residence and is simply spectacular. The Old Fort, a heavy stone fortress is also well worth a visit. Live dance and music shows are held daily in the internal courtyard. After a day of sightseeing in sweltering heat, it was time for something to eat. The Forodhani Gardens, fronting The House of Wonders is the place to go after sunset for great food. Expect everything from grilled seafood to typical Zanzibari recipes. Pilau Meat with coconut milk and rice was my particular favourite.

With a belly full of rich and exotic food, it was time to burn off the calories. What better way to do this than trekking Mount Kilimanjaro? The climb is not an easy one. High winds and altitude sickness can put many people off. But the views are simply stunning and well worth the trek. The Rongai and Marangu paths are the best camping routes for beginners. If you would rather gaze at the impressive mountain from a safe distance, the plains of Moshi town are ideal. Expect to see some giraffes casually wondering about too.

If it’s luxury you are after, staying in Tanzania completely satisfies this need. Lake Manyara Tree Lodge, quietly tucked away by a beautiful lake and mahogany forest is the perfect base to enjoy the Tanzania Royal Safari. Expect seven days of seeing all kinds of game and the stunning plains of Kilimanjaro. There are plenty of luxury safari packages out there to suit every budget and taste. Unfortunately, my wee budget could not stretch this far, but not to worry. The Zanzibar Palace Hotel in the Stone Town was my base of choice. With authentic architecture, friendly staff and yummy breakfasts, you couldn’t really go wrong. The Zanzibar Serena Inn is another great location in the centre of the Stone Town. With its historical features still intact, there is a real atmosphere to the place.

To be truthful, Tanzania completely exceeded my expectations. When people think of a great safari, perhaps Kenya or South Africa spring to mind. Or if people want a bustling, cosmopolitan city, maybe Cape Town would be top of their list? The truth is, Tanzania offers both of these things and so much more. Whether you are trekking Kilimanjaro, sightseeing in Zanzibar City or just looking at some spectacular game, it’s hard to know where to start.

For more info please see My Destination Tanzania