Individual Volunteering at a Coffee Farm


The business and structures around existing volunteer programs are usually not what people expect when they start to look for volunteering opportunities abroad. Many people join big providers already feeling uncomfortable – knowing that this is not really exactly what they were looking for. By publishing this report on self-organized, individual volunteering we want to show that it is possible – and easier than you might think.

Why did I want to go abroad?

Intermediate Examination. Finally, another achievement. I accomplished the first half of my theological studies. In regards of my career aspiration to become a pastor, I did not want to be a sole theoretician. I did not only want to have the sole expert knowledge but experiences. I had been thinking for quite some time about going abroad for a while after my intermediate exam and doing something completely different in my field. However, I did not have a concrete destination in mind, nor did I have an exact project that I wanted to do.

NGO, other organisations or individual volunteering?

Drying_coffee

During my online research, I quickly came across a very appealing organisation. It was an NGO that was set up for student like me and many other students worldwide. The range of countries and projects was tremendous! Further, the individual starting times suited me really well.

You could arrive and depart whenever you wanted and even extend spontaneously during your stay. Next, there were no regulations for any project on a minimum stay. All of these fact above were very attractive to me. Coincidentally, the German office of the NGO was in Berlin where I used to study. Therefore, I decided to visit them personally. To be precise it was in Berlin Mitte in an old building apartment. When I entered the office, the first thing I noticed were the big Apple monitors and the very elegant decor. Notwithstanding, the employee who advised me was very friendly, which strengthened my interest in going abroad with this organisation. My final plan was to go to Senegal for three months. When I wanted to enrol for my volunteer project via an online registration form, a deposit of 250€ was also required. That was the point where I started contemplating. Did I really want to spend that much money on a volunteering project abroad? For three months I was supposed to pay 4.500€ in total! The organisation was quite transparent about this. Their explanation was that a volunteer must make a financial contribution as the individual is providing development aid in the countries itself. Therefore, the in-country organisations cannot finance the volunteers. Eventually, I decided not to go with the NGO. I had the impression that their main business was to offer western students a good time abroad during their studies, while giving them the feeling of doing something good for the world. I did not get the impression that actual aid in the selected countries was the primary motive. Additionally, it seemed to me that I would pay for the existence of the organization rather than for the volunteer project. And this, was not worth it for me. I continued looking for organisations online and asked individual friends who already volunteered abroad. Unfortunately, I was not successful. The reasons for this was that most of the state or church sponsored organisations on the one hand had quite elaborate application procedures, which I admittedly had no desire for, or on the other hand side, their periods of service demanded a certain minimum duration and also determined when one had to travel. Latter did not fit with my schedule. I also applied for a permaculture farm in France, but that did not work out either. Roughly 1 ½  years before my plan to go out into the world, my planning process was forced to falter for the time being. I simply run out of ideas where else to look as what I wanted to do was nowhere to be found on the internet. My goal was to get to find an individual project somewhere where I could live and contribute through my work for a certain time. All without a large official and formal setting. Eventually, I wanted to organise my time abroad completely privately and on my own. Luckily, my phase of frustration did not last very long. A friend told me; she had an acquaintance who would soon emigrate with her husband to Tanzania to live on her parents-in-law’s coffee farm. This became my new ray of hope! The young couple lived in Berlin as well and after getting in touch with them via WhatsApp, we met casually, and we discussed my plans on going abroad. They talked to me about the farm and were totally up for it that I could live with them for three months. And so it happened!

Picture for Post

During my online research, I quickly came across a very appealing organisation. It was an NGO that was set up for students like me and many other students worldwide. The range of countries and projects was tremendous!

Further, the individual starting times suited me really well. You could arrive and depart whenever you wanted and even extend spontaneously during your stay. Next, there were no regulations for any project on a minimum stay. All of these facts above were very attractive to me. Coincidentally, the German office of the NGO was in Berlin where I used to study. Therefore, I decided to visit them personally. To be precise it was in Berlin Mitte in an old building apartment. When I entered the office, the first thing I noticed were the big Apple monitors and the very elegant decor. Notwithstanding, the employee who advised me was very friendly, which strengthened my interest in going abroad with this organisation. My final plan was to go to Senegal for three months. When I wanted to enroll for my volunteer project via an online registration form, a deposit of 250€ was also required. That was the point where I started contemplating. Did I really want to spend that much money on a volunteering project abroad? For three months I was supposed to pay 4.500€ in total! The organisation was quite transparent about this. Their explanation was that a volunteer must make a financial contribution as the individual is providing development aid in the countries itself. Therefore, in-country organizations cannot finance volunteers. Eventually, I decided not to go with the NGO. I had the impression that their main business was to offer western students a good time abroad during their studies while giving them the feeling of doing something good for the world. I did not get the impression that actual aid in the selected countries was the primary motive. Additionally, it seemed to me that I would pay for the existence of the organization rather than for the volunteer project. And this was not worth it for me. I continued looking for organisations online and asked individual friends who already volunteered abroad. Unfortunately, I was not successful. The reasons for this was that most of the state or church-sponsored organisations, on the one hand, had quite elaborate application procedures, which I admittedly had no desire for, or on the other hand side, their periods of service demanded a certain minimum duration and also determined when one had to travel. Latter did not fit with my schedule. I also applied for a permaculture farm in France, but that did not work out either. Roughly 1 ½  years before my plan to go out into the world, my planning process was forced to falter for the time being. I simply run out of ideas where else to look as what I wanted to do was nowhere to be found on the internet. My goal was to get to find an individual project somewhere where I could live and contribute through my work for a certain time. All without a large official and formal setting. Eventually, I wanted to organize my time abroad completely privately and on my own. Luckily, my phase of frustration did not last very long. A friend told me; she had an acquaintance who would soon emigrate with her husband to Tanzania to live on her parents-in-law’s coffee farm. This became my new ray of hope! The young couple lived in Berlin as well and after getting in touch with them via WhatsApp, we met casually, and we discussed my plans on going abroad. They talked to me about the farm and were totally up for it that I could live with them for three months. And so it happened!

What did I do?

Finally, from beginning November 2018 until the beginning of February 2019 my dream came true: I was living in the southwestern highlands of Tanzania on a coffee farm. I was living with the couple who I already met in Berlin. For me personally, this was a very precious time. I was able to learn an enormous amount of things. Naturally about coffee but also about the country I was living in. It was my great fortunate that the husband was half Tanzanian. He grew up on the farm and studied for seven years in Germany as his Dad is German. Regularly we were sitting together in the evenings and were talking amongst other about Tanzania’s politic, people, culture, food and religion. All my questions and incomprehensible impressions found an individual contact point and did not stay with myself which is an essential part why my time abroad highly enriching for me. Additionally, the family I was staying with became my family and I was not solely a guest. I could not comprehend how much cordiality and prudence I was received and the more difficult it was for me to say farewell at the end.

At the farm, I did not help directly on the fields. Since the coffee business is a rather tedious one and you hardly get a fair pay-out for all the work involved, the farm is in the process of developing an individual tourism concept. Group trips from Germany, which are to be specialized with the topic around coffee, are planned. I was involved with developing and writing a concept, designing flyers and creating a potential menu to make first thoughts concrete. Next to this, I had practical tasks such as fixing windows and preparing guestrooms.

The couple invited me to join them for trips, so I did not have to stay the entire time at the farm. However, I deliberately decided against going on a safari, because I think that tourism can quickly degenerate into over-consumption. I stayed most of the 3 months on the farm and had the experience to have nothing to do and to be a little “bored”. The question of the purpose became a completely new experience for me because in such moments I was quite preoccupied with whether I only attribute a purpose to something if it is as efficient as possible and always strives for the maximum.

Tips, tricks, endorsement and emotions for individual volunteering

Even though I can now report positively from my experience abroad, not everything went smoothly during this time, let alone I had such a high feeling all the time. Every now and then it was not easy to be living on the farm as I was not able to go to the next biggest town by myself or simply do something on my own. As a matter of fact, the people were occupied with their work on the farm and finding activities were not their main priority. At times I did not gather any new impressions and I was starting to think whether I did not make the most of my stay in Tanzania. In retrospect, I am convinced I did everything right. I am very grateful that when I come back – which I will – I can still do things that I have not done yet. I am also grateful to have learned to endure the times when something new and exciting does not keep pouring into me. We are surrounded by far too many permanent impressions in our world, as I can say after three years in Berlin. I do not think the human being is designed to do all these things justice in any way. Nevertheless, we feel that we absolutely need this constant input. For my part, I have learned to appreciate many, many small treasures and have become completely new and sensitive to what one can be grateful for.

When planning my trip, it was important to me to always keep a certain openness to experience. Of course, this caused quite some uncertainty at some points. Nevertheless, I have also had unique encounters with people and received a lot of support.

In a nutshell, I would like to give the following advice to all the individual who also want to travel and discover the world as I have it. Thereunto, a short anecdote about my start of the journey: Due to a number of conflicting circumstances, my parents were not able to make it to the airport on time to see me off. The problem was that they had my luggage as well as my passport. That meant for me, after all the planning, being nervous and excited, that right at the 1st station of my journey it did not go as I would have wished. I missed my flight and was completely desperate. Then a thought occurred to me that a friend of mine had recently said to me. In difficult situations, she always thought of the words her mother had once said to her: What is the worst that can happen? Well, you may not believe how reassuring it is to be aware of this in unforeseen moments. Most things are then no longer as desperate as they seem at first glance.