Kristin Shea wrote:
I’m planning a trip to East Africa from the beginning of Sept through end of November this year. I’d like to incorporate seeing the Mountain Gorillas, along with volunteering and sightseeing in Tanzania. Two questions: 1) What is the ideal time to see the gorillas? & 2) Can you recommend any volunteer opportunities in Tanzania or Rwanda? I’m a teacher and would like to lend a hand while back there. Thanks!

A: The mountain gorillas live in the “rain” (intentionally bracketed!) forests of East and central Africa, so it rains a lot. But there are seasons when it rains less than more, and if your schedule permits, that is probably the best time to go. But before I tell you what those seasons are, I think you need to think of what else you’ll be doing, and what your own schedule permits, because even in the season of “less” it could be raining hard! So to the answer: normally it rains most in April, May and from mid-November to mid-December. (Not so this year, by the way. It rained most in March!) The point is that it rains so much, that ought not be as important a consideration as the other things you’re doing… As to volunteering, there are several tour companies which promote volunteering, but I don’t like any of them. What I suggest you do is go to the source. Find a school that offers the discipline that you teach back at home and contact them directly. Finding a school is easy and with that I’ll be happy to help. Send me another email and we’ll get you going!

Kristin wrote back on 14May:

Amahoro has been referred to me and I’ve researched them…They seem great. My concern is that I’m traveling by myself and & I’m wondering if there’s a recommended tour company that would let me join a group. Any thoughts?

Based on your advice, I’m researching direct volunteer opportunities in the Arusha area. There is a hostel there that I’ll use as a back-up plan. If you know of any elementary schools or orphanages that are in need of volunteers, please pass along their info to me. Thank you!!!!

A. Amahoro is a good company, you’re in good hands. I wouldn’t worry about joining a group, because a gorilla trek is by government rules a group of 6-7 people with one guide. So whether you arrive alone or not, you’ll be automatically teamed up for the actual trek.

August and part of September is a school holiday month in most of East Africa and the term that begins in September is a critical exam study month for all children matriculating at the end of the year, so you’re going to find many administrators loathe to take on a volunteer, then. However, there are many private schools that have a slightly different schedule and dozens of orphanages that integrate schooling into their facility. When contacting these people, it’s very important that you sell yourself with your own training and background. This may sound strange, since you’re volunteering, but the fact is that now there may be too many outsiders trying to volunteer these days, so like any position in which you’d like to intern, you have to sound valuable. In the old days, just offering to volunteer was enough; absolutely not so, anymore.

Contact India Howell at

and Good Luck!