Work Exchanges are the best ways to travel
In November 2019 I decided to restart my journey to explore the motherland, the original home of the human race. I immerse myself in the diverse cultures of mama Africa, Learn her thousands of languages and meet her 1.2 billion people. I knew it would be a daunting task. Well, lucky for me there is workaway.info; a place for travellers to immerse themselves in the culture and experience the country with the help of a local. In exchange, you share your skills and help the host around their home, NGO and sometimes in their business. Workaway hosts are looking for travellers who can craft a website design, upgrade their garden, teach them a new language, take care of their pets, impactful work in their NGOs.
As an AIESEC alumnus, I am all too familiar with cultural exchange programs. I have had the pleasure to visit Hangzhou, China to work on a magazine called Hangzhou in my heart. Hangzhou in my heart promoted cultural tourism to Hangzhou and the Zhejiang Province. So the appeal of Workaway was pretty obvious for a globetrotter like me. It offered the flexibility I need to explore parts of the continent most would rarely ever consider. I love the unbeaten path, the road less travelled. It offers adventures you never knew existed and it will surprise you. Workaway, with its more than 40,000 hosts across the world is the sure-fire way to find an adventure like no other. Apart from Workaway, there is Worldpackers.com which has even more benefits for travellers, like emergency assistance if you have to find an alternative place to stay in your host does not live up to the promises they’ve put up on their profile.
You might be wondering how does Workaway work? How do I find the right project for me? Worldpackers functions similarly as well. Both sites do have annual subscriptions which range from $34 -$99. Workaway has a standard $34 fee which can go up if you choose the optional ebook. Wroldpackers starts at $49 for a solo traveller package, $59 for a couple account and $99 for the top package which gives you access to tools for making and income as you travel and access to their Academy.
Usually, the first step is that a host creates a profile for their NGO, community organisation or their project on www.workaway.info. In my latest Workaway adventure in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia my Host were sister organisations, one was an athletics club and an off-grid solar provider connecting rural communities in Ethiopia. Both organizations are geared at empowering communities right where they are. The Athletics club provides young Ethiopian athletes with an opportunity to learn English so they can become tour guides. Ethiopia attracts many travellers interested in running through the enchanting forests of Addis Ababa with the best athletes in the world. These avid runners relish the opportunity to wake up at 6 am and run with the best. Learning English empowers these athletes to earn a living while doing something they love.
The sister organisation provides the rural areas around Addis Ababa with much needed off-grid solar electricity. To understand the magnitude of this project’s impact, here is some context, more than half of Ethiopian households do not have access to reliable electricity. Access to electricity gives students a chance to learn at home, farmers can get up to date information on their mobile devices and health information can be shared much faster. The green energy project provides these solar-powered systems to communities through the help of microfinance institutions to improve affordability for the rural communities. To be able to do this important work the organisation needs to constantly apply for grants to ensure they can reach the areas that need the power the most.
For me to get an opportunity to work with these amazing teams, all I had to do is to search by country and city to find the “Help us grow our athletic and green energy community project”. Once I found it, I read their profile and understood how my skills could be valuable to their 2 projects. The first thing that jumped out at me was that they needed English classes for their athletes. Since I had experience teaching English and a Bachelors Degree to back that up I figured I would be a good fit. As for the green energy project they needed a website upgrade and more content, which was a much welcome challenge for my time in Addis Ababa. I updated my host on when I would arrive and awaited their response. I got a response, and a quick skype call to ensure that I was indeed a fit for the projects they needed help with. This additional screening step is important for the organisation to ensure you are the right fit. This is an excellent opportunity to build rapport with the host before jetting off into the unknown.
Life with my hosts was always exciting if I was not trying some home-cooked Ethiopian meal, I was learning new Amharic words. This cultural immersion is only possible when you can interact with locals in an intimate setting where you are a member of the family. Habesha Christmas was the highlight of my stay in Addis Ababa. Dancing and trying T’alle with my hosts’ family is something that can not be recreated by a sightseeing tour. Since I was working with the athletics club I got opportunities to go on the training sessions with the athletes. When it was time to explore Addis Ababa, I always relied on my hosts’ knowledge of Addis Ababa, its culture and history. Exploring Addis Ababa gave me a peek into life in Addis Ababa. Passing through Megenagna, I would often hear “Arat Killo” or “Bole, Bole, Bole”. Like an impromptu choir celebrating Addis’ various neighbourhoods.
Something also important to mention the Workaway experience is that, Workaway has partnered with worldnomad.com to provide travel insurance created exactly for travellers like me who want to immerse themselves in the destinations they visit. Just in case you are worried about how to get insurance as you travel around the continent.
When I wrote this I was preparing for the next leg of my travel adventure, Kenya. Where I will spend some time along the Swahili coast, mostly Mombasa with a Workaway host. As I edit this post I am staying with yet another Workaway host in Kampala.
The opportunities to meet remarkable people, working on incredible work is truly humbling. From learning to make injera in Addis, exploring the street food scene of Mombasa or learning how to make Kikomando in Kampala one thing is evident, I will not forget the experiences especially because of how my hosts made me feel. That tops any tour in my books.