In 2001, while researching my guidebook on Jos, the Plateau State capital, I crossed paths with four young volunteer tourists. Dan Pilkington, Mark Elwell, Jamie Williams and Sara Odeen were all in their early ‘20s and in university at the time. They were lodged at the COCIN Guest House (on Noad Avenue) and were in town for the week, just generally reveling in the sweetness of the ‘Home of Peace and Tourism.’
They were not just travelling for the fun of it. A few days earlier, they were in Port Harcourt (and Calabar afterwards) with 20 other European students on a volunteer scheme managed by Hipact, a body that aims to “widen access to education in England and Nigeria” by establishing partnerships with universities in both countries; for four weeks, he volunteers taught mathematics, English language, Computer Education, Geography and History, among others, to their Nigerian students.
Though it’s been well over a decade, I never forgot that encounter, especially as Sara had told me: “We paid for everything.” Volunteer tourism has already caught on in the West; I feel it is an agenda worth pushing for African travellers, who tend to believe that the whole idea of travel and tourism is to go dipping in a beach, go shopping or lodging in luxury hotels.
Most travels originating from Africa are for business, medical and relaxation purposes. Yet Africa remains the continent more in dire need of expertise attention than elsewhere on the globe. As you read the special focus this month (February), I trust that the message will sink in deeper, and make you an even more discerning traveller.
Winner, CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards