Will the real K(h)aya please stand up?

“What’s in a name?” the saying goes.  Quite a bit actually, as it can make a huge difference of where you as a potential volunteer in Africa might end up, when you look online. Don't be fooled by big promises!

Khaya, Kaya, Kaja, Khaia, Khaja - it all sounds the same out loud, but a change in spelling and the difference of 1 letter can certainly change everything when you are searching online for volunteer opportunities in Africa.

Khaya Volunteer Projects have been confronted a few times about Kaya Responsible Travel, a company based in the United Kingdom who offer 200+ projects in numerous destinations, and use the website kayavolunteer.com.

Despite being a travel agency claiming “responsible” travel, they seem to be just another website that adds loads of projects and programs without ever visiting them or really knowing much about these programs. There are numerous such websites available where literally hundreds of possibilities to volunteers are just a click away. Is this, however, the kind of company you want to book with? That’s the big question.

Do these companies really know all the projects they advertise? Have they ever visited them and created an ongoing relationship with projects in need - or is the site merely an accumulation of possibilities with the sole purpose of making money?

Is the similar name a coincidence? I personally don’t think so. We as Khaya Volunteer Projects registered our new website URL www.khayavolunteer.com in August 2007. In May 2008 there suddenly was a site called www.kayavolunteer.com, also offering volunteering opportunities. Strange!

We tried to contact Kaya “Responsible” Travel, but no response was ever received, and they did not seem to feel the need to communicate about this conflict of interest. The big question remains: is taking legal action against them the way forward? According to international law we could force them to stop using a website name so close to another company’s already existing name - but is it worth it to spend so much energy and resources to fight this?

It is not an easy task taking a company to court in the United Kingdom, as it would be a lengthy and very costly affair. We as a small locally-based volunteering agency in close contact with all our projects in Africa cannot afford a lawsuit of this nature. So for now we will just leave it to bad karma and the general public hopefully being clever enough to see the difference between Kaya Volunteer - a travel company offering hundreds of possibilities all over the world, and a social enterprise like the real Khaya who are actively involved, personally visit all projects we work with, set up new programs, financially contribute towards their needs and have a clear ethical and responsible volunteering policy in place.

The claims Kaya Responsible Travel makes on their website about ethical practices and their partnership with, for example ALERT in Zambia where they claim to release lions and conserve the gene pool is, in my opinion, totally bogus and blatantly a lie. ALERT is not releasing lions into the wild, except for smaller areas that they manage to back up their claims of releasing lions. They actively breed lions for lion cub petting encounters as well as walking with lions for monetary gain. None of these lions will ever be free and wild again, as the research has shown – but they still present themselves as a “conservation” project to “save” the African Lion.

If you Google a bit you will find the other side of their “conservation” efforts and they are not only named and shamed in the documentary Blood Lions (www.bloodlions.org ) as well as websites like www.911animalabuse.com, the Facebook page “Volunteers in Africa Be Aware” or even on Africa Geographic.

So how ethical and responsible are you when you keep sending volunteers to a project that is known to bend the truth about conservation, and breeds lions for monetary gain?

At times, it is quite tough to accept that someone would copy your name and proceed trading with a name so close to another website that already existed before theirs, and seemingly not care about this at all. It is even worse to realize this “responsible” company with almost the same name is actively promoting programs that are far from ethical or responsible in my opinion. We don’t want to be associated with such practices - but due to their choice of website name we involuntarily are affected by their false claims of being ethical.

 A friend recently mentioned he did not know we had so many projects and after some further chatting, it became clear he looked up Kaya instead of Khaya, and came to a website that is very seemingly similar as it also offers volunteering opportunities - but at the same miles away from what we believe is ethical volunteering.

I can only hope you, as the possible customer, will see who the real Khaya is and rather book your gap year or volunteering stay with a social enterprise that is committed to its projects and partners, instead of just being a travel agency that floods its site with projects they never even visited or support other than sending as many volunteers there to make as much money as possible.

I think the real Khaya just stood up…

See you in Africa.




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