Volunteering abroad: safe, but we had a security guard

A Tzedek volunteer in Africa

A Tzedek volunteer in Africa

Volunteering in Africa is an “incredible experience”, and Kirstie Trup and Katie Gee should be “commended” for what they were doing.

That is the view of Eleanor Segall who volunteered for the charity Tzedek three years ago.

“I was in Tamale, northern Ghana, when I was 22. I worked as a volunteer English, maths and ICT teacher to disadvantaged but amazingly bright young women.

“I had the most incredible learning experience.”

Ms Segall went to the predominantly Muslim area during the month of Ramadan, as Ms Gee and Ms Trup did in Zanzibar, but said she “never had any problems” with the local population.

She said: “Because it was Ramadan, obviously we were aware it was important to be modest, but some of my friends wore trousers, others wore strap tops, it wasn’t a problem.”

“All of us were safe throughout our eight-week stay. We had a security guard, and trip leaders with us, and Tzedek had done trips before in the area.

“It only takes one idiot to attack and attempt to destroy a life, so you have to be very careful wherever you are. We were lucky we were safe and had good relations within Tamale, but if you are going to volunteer abroad, make sure you think deeply about where you are going and its risks.”

Tzedek’s chief executive Jude Williams explained that the organisation has a full-time staff member staying with volunteers who received security training and kept in contact with locals.

She said: “It’s neccesary because in a different culture with a different language it’s difficult to know what’s going on.”

She added that Tzedek volunteers have a three-day orientation before they leave, which includes security advice. “We ask our volunteers not to travel alone and not to travel by foot in the evenings,” she said.

While Katie Gee and Kirstie Trup had been advised to hide anything that identified them as Jewish in Zanzibar, such a precaution was not necessary for Tzedek volunteers in Tamale.

“Where we are, being Jewish is not really an issue,” said Ms Williams.

Last updated: 10:54am, August 15 2013