If you’re looking to become more other-oriented and give back to the community, there are a number of really great options in Cape Town. Whether you’re interested in volunteering with animals, environmental conservation, or humanitarian initiatives, there are ways that you can genuinely help.
We’ve divided this article into 4 different niches – with information on which are short-term and which are long-term – to help you find the right fit for you. We also got in contact with some of the featured NGOs to tell us a bit about themselves and their mission!
You’ll be very happy to know that while Cape Town faces some serious ecological challenges, there are also many restoration and rehabilitation projects on the go! Check out this guest post on sites of ecosystem rehabilitation in Cape Town, and read on for some of the best ways to participate in these projects.
Volunteer Wildfire Services
Fighting wildfires – trained and on-call for the season/year | Free & long-term
If you’re a Capetonian looking to make a big difference, the Volunteer Wildfire Services is a fantastic initiative to support. This organisation is called out to fight any fire that starts up in our mountains. It’s the best line of defence against the loss of fynbos species and other environmental issues that arise with overly frequent wildfires.
They take in volunteers once a year, generally around March and April, and you’re trained up to be able to hike to the fire if necessary, combat it without water, and then return by foot. It can be gruelling work, lasting many hours. So volunteering with them is not for the faint of heart! You also need to be available reasonably often and be willing and able to train and give this real time and effort. You can sign up by completing this form. Please go through their website before doing so as there are specific requirements!
But if you can, you’ll be making a real difference! It’s also an amazing bonding experience with your fellow firefighters, and exceedingly satisfactory, coming home exhausted after a long day of battling fires.
“The Volunteer Wildfire Services (VWS) has been on the front line, combating dangerous and sometimes deadly runaway wildfires since its inception during the devastating fires that ravaged Cape Town in 1999/2000. With a force of more than 300 volunteers, with women making up 34% of our volunteers, who operate from our four stations, Newlands, South Peninsula, Stellenbosch and Helderberg VWS is the largest volunteer firefighting organisation in South Africa.
Thanks to our unwavering commitment, VWS has recorded close to 100,000 active firefighting hours between its members and stations, showing that nothing can stand in our way when it comes to protecting our beloved communities and natural landscapes.”— Jenny Scheffers, Chief Marketing Officer
Friends of Tokai Alien Hack
Alien plant-hacking | Free & short-term
A fantastic way to get your hands dirty, the Tokai alien plant hack happens twice a week, on Tuesdays and some Saturdays. You’ll need to bring sturdy gloves and shoes, and if you have the tools, be sure to bring them along!
Friends of Tokai are doing some really great work, steadily removing the alien vegetation in the area so that the native plantlife has a chance to thrive.
If you want to support but can’t volunteer, you can also support them on social media or donate!
“Every species has its own right to exist, and we have a responsibility to protect those that we have driven to the brink of extinction… Due to being both incredibly species-rich and at threat, [Tokai Park] is the perfect place for us to focus on conservation and restoration locally. We should be doing all we can to establish minimum viable populations for these remaining species, removing the pines and seeing what other species, or populations, may recover once the pines are gone. The soil under the pines is like a time capsule waiting to be opened, but if we take too long fighting about it (i.e. whether the pines should go or stay), the last of those seeds could expire at any time. We could lose this time capsule of the natural heritage from our past.”— Alanna Rebelo, Committee Member
Friends of The Liesbeek River
River cleanups and rehabilitation | Free; short-term or long-term
Photo by Callum Evans
Another wonderful ongoing environmental rehabilitation project in Cape Town! For the past few years, locals have been putting a lot of effort into rehabilitating the Liesbeek as a green corridor flowing through Cape Town. And there’s still a lot of work to be done!
FoTR arranges regular river and canal cleanups, as well as alien hacks and indigenous vegetation replanting. It’s such an incredible project for our city’s biodiversity and allows native plant and animal life to thrive.
Greenpop forest restoration
Forest restoration and greening urban spaces | Paid & short-term
Greenpop is a Cape Town-based reforestation and urban greening initiative. The main aim is to plant trees, and they host yearly events where you as an individual or a company can go and plant trees and learn more about sustainable practices as you do. They also work with communities to create food gardens, green urban spaces, and restore forests and fynbos. All very good things!
This is, however, a paid volunteering opportunity – which is fair, if you can’t offer any particular skills and are using it as a learning experience – but it’s good to keep in mind that this won’t be free.
“Greenpop is on a mission to restore indigenous forests and green urban spaces and share our passion for the cultivation of environmental stewards. By getting citizens ACTIVE, not anxious, about the state of our environment, we hope to show people that even the smallest contributions can have long-lasting, positive impacts on our local biodiversity, our native ecosystems, and ourselves. By engaging in restorative activities as a collective, we move past the paradigm of separateness and stand together to bring forth valuable change, externally and internally.— Michiel Grobler, Forest Restoration Project Manager
The ocean off Cape Town’s coast remains one of the most pristine and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. It’s not easy to keep it that way, though, with fracking, trawling, overfishing, and pollution a constant threat.
Fortunately, there are some local conservation groups fighting the good fight! These are the groups you can help out – although there are certainly more who take (and greatly benefit from) donations.
Sea The Bigger Picture
Beach cleanup events | Free & short-term
Photo of a Sea The Bigger Picture cleanup, courtesy of Callum Evans
Plastic pollution has become one of the biggest threats facing the oceans of the world. While it has its biggest impacts out at sea, it is most obvious when it washes up on our local beaches. In Cape Town, it is sadly a common sight to find both macro and microplastic on beaches.
The plastic is transported to the beaches via rivers and stormwater drains, by beach-goers, and washed up by the sea. Fortunately, a number of local organisations have worked to tackle this issue.
Some organisations, like the Beach Co-Op, focus on targeted beach cleanups. People are encouraged to show up and help pick up as much waste as possible. What is collected is then sent off to be recycled or dropped off at a landfill. Several other organisations, like the I Am Water Foundation and Sea The Bigger Picture, focus more on educating local school children about the ocean, marine science, and the threats it faces. Sea The Bigger Picture is also involved in beach clean-up events, often working in collaboration with other ocean-based organisations like CapeRADD.
The impact these organisations have extends far beyond removing plastic waste from the oceans and beaches. People attending the cleanups get to see firsthand the extent of the plastic problem and what items of plastic have the biggest impact. Slowly, minds and attitudes can change and people become more aware. There is now a demand for more environmentally-friendly packaging options and products that are plastic-free.
Voluntourism, documenting endemic sharks and fish | Paid & short-term
Cape RADD is a marine research centre offering, among longer projects, paid voluntourism eco trips in False Bay – you’ll join their team for a snorkelling trip with the aim of documenting the local shark population! Don’t worry, we’re not talking great whites here. Rather, gully sharks and spotted shy sharks and similar, each too small for stress!
It’s a lovely trip – my husband and I joined them this spring, and while we, unfortunately, didn’t spot any sharks on an unusually choppy water day, we did learn a lot about them and spot some other beautiful creatures among the kelp.
This local research facility also offers longer multi-week volunteering programs where you’ll document endemic fish and sharks, measure microplastic densities, and join ongoing conservation projects.
If your heart is with humanity, there are a number of ways you can help the people of Cape Town.
Haven Night Shelter
Volunteering with the homeless | Free & long-term
The Haven Night Shelter is the Cape Town homeless’ best opportunity for a bed and a meal every day. They have shelters across the city, charging those who stay R15/night to encourage taking responsibility and seeking work.
In addition to shelter, Haven provides rehabilitation opportunities, social welfare services, and family reunification services.
If you’re able and willing to volunteer regularly with them, get in contact and they’ll find a role that suits your skills.
Multi-purpose care centre for disadvantaged children | Free & short-term
Etafeni is a multi-purpose centre for children affected by AIDS and their caregivers in Nyanga, Cape Town, South Africa. Nyanga used to be one of the highest crime rate areas in Cape Town but through the efforts of organisations like Etafeni, we are seeing slow improvements by community members to alleviate poverty and create job opportunities. Opportunities like sewing training, food gardens, early childhood development, and after-school programs, Etafeni is committed to uplifting the community and making small differences for locals of Nyanga.
Volunteers are welcome at Etafeni! There is plenty to be done like reading and playing, skill sharing, food garden assistance, food collection, and so much more! Check out their volunteer page for more information.
Ladles of Love
Soup kitchen volunteering and community uplift projects | Free & short-term
The Ladles of Love project is predominantly involved in providing nutritious and wholesome food that is available for all. They also support local farmers to grow natural, wholesome food in an economical and sustainable way, as well as empower food entrepreneurs to grow businesses that create jobs and contribute to the economy of our country.
Ladles regularly provides opportunities for the public to become involved in preparing meals (chopping vegetables, making sandwiches, packing dry food packages, and much more) and serving meals to the homeless and those in need.
You can get involved by signing up as a volunteer on their webpage and becoming a member of their WhatsApp volunteer group chat.
“Ladles of Love was founded back in July 2014 on the basis of an ancient Sanskrit word, Seva, meaning giving of yourself wanting nothing in return. It was upon learning this word and an interaction with a homeless man that inspired Danny Diliberto to start a soup kitchen. What started as a single pot of soup outside his restaurant to 70 homeless people, has grown into one of the most prolific food relief organisations in South Africa.”— Daniele Diliberto, CEO & Founder
Ikhaya Le Themba
After-school facility for disadvantaged children in Imizamo Yethu | Free & short-term
Ikhaya Le Themba is an after-school facility that provides education, care, and sporting opportunities to children living in the Imizamo Yethu township in Hout Bay. Their vision is to provide a safe and nurturing space for vulnerable and orphaned children to learn and grow and to encourage them to apply the skills they learn there in their homes.
The Ikhaya doors open at 1 p.m. each weekday and provide educational and holistic support, homework help, literacy, and numeracy labs as well as life skills, gardening with psycho-social activities, structured play, and counselling.
Volunteers are crucial at Ikhaya and help with homework labs, games, fun and sports, reading practice, and experience sharing where you share your knowledge with the kids and they can share their stories with you.
“Right in the centre of the cultural hotspot of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, a small township of 100,000 people with big hearts, is iKhaya Le Themba. We are the family for over 100 children whose carers are at work or struggle to provide for them after school, providing homework help, tonnes of fun, exploration, and activities for free time on our beautiful safe campus, a hot meal full of protein and then an hour of extra schoolwork based on their needs to cover the gaps of our overwhelmed school system.
Ikhaya Le Themba means Home of Hope – and this place seriously shows up as the hope of the future of South Africa. Spend time volunteering with us and you’ll experience joy, hope and tangibly see the good of South Africa as we build South Africa’s next best leaders.”— Sara Clarke, Director
Animal welfare often falls by the wayside when there are so many environmental and social challenges. But there are many animals that need love and care! This list will give you a few options for you to choose from based on your location and ability to give time.
DARG (Domestic Animal Rescue Group)
Dog walking and various volunteer roles| Free & long-term
DARG is a pro-quality-of-life animal shelter based in Hout Bay, Cape Town. It provides veterinary care, food, and shelter to animals in need, and works to find them loving, permanent homes. The organization also offers education and outreach programs to raise awareness about animal welfare issues in the community.
DARG relies on donations and volunteers to support its work. Their volunteer times for dog walking are between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. You can also brush dogs and cats, organize donation rounds in your community, or even just sit with the animals and show them some love! They’ve got a really flexible arrangement so that you can contribute in a way that works for you. Email the DARG Office and Adoptions desk for more information.
“Besides our focus on sterilisations, medical care, and education, our goal is to find loving homes for dogs and cats that come into our shelter. Animal welfare is a tough industry and we deal with weekly cases of neglect and abuse: But, seeing our animals go to loving ‘forever’ homes makes all our efforts worthwhile! We really need individuals to come in and adopt instead of buying a dog from a breeder.
Often we are asked how someone can help: For individuals who can’t adopt, DARG always welcomes volunteers (18 and over) to come and walk our dogs and/or spend time with our cats. DARG is also always in need of second-hand books and household goods, clothing, etc. for our small garage shop.”— Faustina Gardner
TEARS (The Emma Animal Rescue Society)
Animal rescue and welfare volunteering | Free & long-term
TEARS operates a shelter and adoption centre for abandoned, abused, and neglected animals, and also runs mobile clinics that provide veterinary care to animals in low-income communities. The organization also offers a pet sterilization program to help reduce pet overpopulation, as well as humane education programs to raise awareness about animal welfare issues in the community.
In addition to its animal welfare work, TEARS has also established a program to provide assistance to the pets of people living in low-income communities and works to promote responsible pet ownership through public education campaigns.
TEARS relies on donations and volunteers to support its work. You can help with tasks such as feeding, cleaning, exercising, and socializing the animals. You can also contribute to fundraising initiatives.
“TEARS Animal Rescue started 24 years ago with a dream to uplift the lives of animals suffering and living in impoverished areas. Armed with a bucket of tick dip and a packet of de-worming tablets, Emma Geary-Cooke, Joan Bown, and Marilyn Hoole visited the under-resourced community of Masiphumelele. Seeing the great need motivated these heroes to start one of our country’s leading animal welfare organizations. As a pro-life, non-profit organization, our core aim is to rescue, treat, rehabilitate, and rehome lost, abandoned, abused, and neglected companion pets and to educate our communities about compassionate animal care.”—Odette Visser, Marketing & Events Coordinator
Animal Anti-cruelty League
Animal shelter and adoption volunteering | Free & short term
The AACL is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1956 with the aim of preventing cruelty to animals and promoting their welfare.
The organization provides a range of animal welfare services, including the sheltering of abandoned and neglected animals who receive care and rehabilitation and then also works to find permanent homes for these animals through adoption programs; low-cost veterinary services, including vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, and emergency care; educational programs to raise awareness about animal welfare issues and promote responsible pet ownership; perhaps most importantly, they investigate and prosecute cases of animal cruelty, working closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
Volunteering is welcome to both children and adults! Volunteer work helps with socialising the animals as well as feeding, bathing, walking, and much more. As a volunteer, you will go through a brief orientation about the importance of these roles in socialising animals. Learn more from their volunteer page or email their info desk.
Volunteer your time
Being involved in your community has been shown to have many personal benefits but also it is an awesome way to give back. With this list, we hope that you can find something that really excites you and helps you choose your next volunteer opportunity. If you know of anything we missed, please get in contact. We’d love to expand this list!
This article was written in collaboration with Justin Peach, our communications manager, who sourced all of these lovely insights from featured NGOs. Big thanks to Justin, and to all of the people who contributed!