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World Cup spurs football fans to volunteer

By Julie Clothier for CNN
  • Many travel firms have put on special "voluntourism" packages for football fans
  • Projects include working in orphanages and on building projects
  • Volunteering has "opened the eyes" of many football fans

(CNN) -- Instead of shielding South Africa's poverty during the FIFA Football World Cup, one travel company says there is not only a desire from visitors to see the country's hardships but to also help out.

Many firms said they had put on special "voluntourism" packages that involved travelers spending part of their world cup holiday helping out in orphanages, teaching children how to play football or working on building projects.

Matt Chester, general manager of travel in Australia for global volunteer travel company i-to-i, said interest by travelers to volunteer in South Africa had been growing since the end of last year.

"Many volunteers have aligned their trips with the World Cup itself, others have favored a visit for later in the year when the craziness has subsided, and the sound of vuvuzelas (horns) receded," he said.

The great thing was these weren't normal volunteers; they were football fans so they weren't expecting a lot of what they saw.
--Jo Bearcroft, i-to-i,UK

He said the company had organized some special short-term World Cup volunteering activities, but most enquiries were for long-term projects.

These ranged from helping out in a children's hospital, teaching children to read or learn to surf outside Cape Town, bottle-feeding lion cubs outside Johannesburg, or monitoring great-white sharks in Kleinbaai.

Jo Bearcroft, also from i-to-i and based in Britain, has just returned from South Africa where she accompanied a group of English football fans to the World Cup who, in between games, built an extra room at a kindergarten outside of Cape Town.

"The great thing was these weren't normal volunteers; they were football fans so they weren't expecting a lot of what they saw," she said. "The reaction from the kids, their faces, their smiles, it was unbelievable."

Bearcroft said the group of mostly men were shocked by the poverty but were "blown away" by the difference they had made to the lives of the children at the kindergarten.

"It was a great day and certainly opened the fans eyes to a different side of South Africa than they'd been seeing before."

She said volunteer travelers in general tended to be women, and most football fans tended to be men, which along with increased flight prices during the games had put people off.

American Sarah Holland, from Boston, Massachusetts, is currently in South Africa on a two-month trip which ends next month.

Working at a day care center for disadvantaged children in a township outside of Cape Town, the 21-year-old said being in the host nation during the tournament was an amazing experience.

"I have traveled to many places around the world and I love the culture of South Africa the most. The people are vibrant and very kind, the land is beautiful and the kids are always smiling," she said, adding that she felt safe but common sense was needed.

"This experience has changed the way I view the world. The unequal power distribution in South Africa is unbelievable. Poverty is everywhere, while there is also so much wealth. I will definitely be back."