Volunteering abroad has become increasingly popular over the last several years. There are a number of organizations that offer short to long term opportunities to experience a new culture and give back at the same time. You can find programs offering everything from teaching to medical. Each of these volunteer opportunities is noteworthy in its own way, but I feel that construction volunteering makes the most lasting impact on a community. Here are the reasons why:
1. Construction Creates a Physical Impact
Building a home for a needy family or a school in a remote village is a tangible representation of community development. Unlike some other forms of volunteering, you can see the physical difference you make after your volunteering trip is complete.
2. Construction Encourages Community involvement
All humanitarian construction projects that I have taken part in, have encouraged and in some cases required the communities involvement. One criticism of short term volunteer trips is that they don’t really let the community grow from within. On construction volunteer projects you are usually working side by side with the local masons and carpenters at a common goal.
One of my favorite organizations, Hug it Forward, builds schools in Guatemala using recycled bottles. All members of the communities, including children, work to clean up the streets before the start of the project and collect thousands of bottles. By the end of the project, everyone feels as if they made a small part in something big.
3. Construction projects will serve the community for years
In 2008 I helped build a school in Ghana with Miami University. It was a 6 week design build architecture student and that experience is what inspired me to start Build Abroad. Even though I have not been back to Ghana since then, I know that the work I did that summer is still serving the community. There have been 6 years of elementary students who have cycled through that classroom.
4. Construction can make an environmental impact.
One of the most well known humanitarian design organizations is Architecture for Humanity. In addition to creating socially responsible design, their projects focus on making an environmental impact. Using local materials is one of the most sustainable things you can do and most humanitarian projects use what is available nearby. In addition, by implementing some basic construction items (such as rainwater collection) a building can serve a community in more ways than just shelter. Building Trust International is a nonprofit that holds competitions to see how architecture and construction can serve communities socially and environmentally.
5. Construction can directly help other service opportunities.
Each construction project serves a purpose. A new school serves as a classroom for students to learn. A new home gives shelter to worker in the community. A new medical building gives a place for people to be treated and medicine to be stored. Every building serves a purpose.
Build Abroad is an organization that offers construction volunteering trips to Peru, Guatemala, and Costa Rica that you can sign up for on their website. The trips are very affordable compared to a traditional vacation and will make a lasting difference in a developing country.