Celebrate Earth Day: Sign up for an International Volunteer Project

by Jennifer Bangoura

When April 22 rolls around each year, are you shaking dirt out of your clothes (since you already visited your local nursery to stock up on saplings to plant in your community)? Do you reduce, reuse, and recycle all year long for a sense of solidarity with Mother Nature? Does your home have the lingering smell of old banana peels and coffee grounds that you’re saving up for your compost pile?

If so, you’ve found the perfect place to learn more about how to put your environmental tendencies to good use by volunteering abroad! From tree planting to wildlife surveying, the world is waiting for your green thumbs to provide support and to change the world this Earth Day.

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And for everyone else, don’t run off yet! Even those who cringe a little at the thought of getting your hands dirty (as in, literally covered with dirt) or are simply looking to step out of their comfort zone while doing something good for pachamama, we’ve got just what you need here, too.

What’s Earth Day and Why Does it Matter for International Volunteers?

Before reading any further, empty your compost into the garden and water your seedlings – you’re going to need a few minutes to soak in the information below about how Earth Day came about, what it means to us today, and some options for volunteering abroad that sustainably support our planet (and her finite resources).

As a result of the first Earth Day in 1970, the United States created the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a mission to “protect human health and the environment” (I don’t know about you, but I for one am glad there’s a branch of the American government whose sole purpose is to look after the health of its people and the air they breathe!).

Many individuals interested in the environment are warmly tied to the habitats and terrain in their immediate surroundings. You take care of the soil, the plants, the living creatures, the bees. But there’s a way that you can channel your passions for the planet to help the greater good – you can volunteer abroad and support ethical environmental projects.

You don’t have to be as green as Kermit to get involved. International volunteering in the environmental sector is a great way to get started giving back to nature or to explore a “wilder” side of your earth-bound passions. You’ll not only hone in your horticultural skills, but you’ll also strengthen your ability to work in a cross-cultural setting. Your friends and family will marvel at your ability to make distinctions between various plant varieties and tree species or to identify endemic species from invasive, all while you regale them with stories of your integration and adaption to a foreign culture. Did you navigate your entire experience in another language? Bonus points if that’s the case.

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Find a Conservation Volunteer Project

To help you decide which volunteer abroad project you should lend your services to this Earth Day, we’ve divided some environmental volunteer options into three categories: Sea, Land, and Air. What are you waiting for? There are conservation volunteer projects abroad that are calling your name!

Sea

Does putting on scuba gear while helping a marine organization track whales, dolphins, and sea turtles sound like a scene out of a movie? When you volunteer abroad for a marine conservation project, the plot is up to you! Put your flippers on and set sail for a water project abroad. Make sure to bring your sunscreen and a bathing suit that will stay put. Your marine volunteer experience won’t be a beach vacation, but rather an opportunity to do some serious water work while wearing flip-flops or with your toes in the sand!

Volunteering in the water sector will help you develop a more nuanced understanding of issues around water scarcity and marine conservation issues that have a global impact. This includes the pressures of pollution, climate change, and other environmental degradations on our oceans and water sources.

Make a better world for future generations by improving water quality and access. Programs from IVHQ and Conservation Travel Africa can help you get the job done.

Seeds

Land

Maybe you’re the kind of volunteer who would rather keep their feet planted on terra firma while saving the environment. If so, there are endless opportunities in organic farming - likely in your own backyard and all around the world.

If you want to get back to the roots of Earth Day by focusing your efforts on projects that plant trees – look into reforestation projects abroad. One of the many invaluable aspects of volunteering abroad with a project like this is the rich skill set you’ll take home with you at the conclusion of your time abroad. You’ll not only help a community develop a stronger resistance to the effects of climate change - you’ll also bring home the knowledge for why and how deforestation (or other types of environmental degradation) takes place in the first place.

Another way to give back to the environment while land-side is through trail building. Channel your inner (or outer!) rugged self and get to work making national park trails safe for others to hike around the world. While the trails won’t be able to thank you for a much-needed pruning, the hikers who follow will undoubtedly be grateful for your service.

Ready to get involved? Check out programs with organizations like GVI and GoEco.

Air

Maybe your feet are planted on the ground but your head is turned to the sky. If that’s the case - look into volunteering abroad with a solar project. When you volunteer abroad with projects that use the sun and wind to power electricity and other operations, you’ll see firsthand how to harness the sun’s energy as a renewable resource for our planet.

When your quirky uncle or skeptical aunt bring up renewable energy at your next holiday gathering, you’ll be able to speak from experience - for better or for worse - about how those energy sources can (or can’t) make a difference.

Get started on projects today with the help of programs offered by Love Volunteers.

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Stop reading, get digging!

While the official celebration of Earth Day only happens once a year each April, that doesn’t mean the environment doesn’t deserve your celebrating all the other days of the year. After all,  even though Valentine’s Day is one day only doesn’t mean you can get away with not showing your boo affection every other day of the year! By making environmentally-conscious decisions in your daily life and in your volunteer project choices, you’re deciding to prioritize the fragile ecosystems of our planet – a necessary step if we want our kids (and our kids’ kids) to be able to enjoy the smell of sun, sand, and sea someday, too.

Check out our guide to Conservation Volunteering Abroad for more information on how to make this Earth Day your most memorable yet.