Looking for a volunteer experience that will challenge you physically and mentally? One that will fit your “work hard, play hard” mentality? Construction volunteering abroad may be just what you’re looking for. From building homes in Central America to repairing water sanitation facilities in Southeast Asia, construction volunteer projects provide volunteers with a tangible sense of accomplishment while giving them the chance to explore a new corner of the world. Whether you’re a licensed contractor with decades of experience or a well-intentioned newbie who doesn’t know a hammer from a T-square, there is a construction project out there with your name on it.
How often do you consider the way your water travels miles upon miles to reach your faucet? Construction volunteering abroad will allow you to step outside your comfort zone and introduce you to a world that is very different from your home country. Not only will construction volunteering alter the way you see the world around you, it will also give you a new appreciation for what you have at home.
How often do you think about the construction materials needed to build the structures we live and work in every day? Volunteering on construction projects abroad will help you understand exactly what goes into creating something from nothing, and what it takes to make construction projects come to life. Construction volunteering abroad will allow you to gain a better sense of a country’s unique social structure and economic climate, throughout the building process. It’s impossible to build a house, school, or playground in a foreign land without gaining a deeper understanding of the work required to make it happen.
Additionally, it is incredibly powerful to see the fruits of your labor materialize before your eyes. To realize that your hands carried bricks and constructed walls, which became schools and libraries and homes, will be beyond rewarding. Contributing to construction volunteer projects abroad will give you a sense of pride in your accomplishments; you might even have the opportunity build a school or home in a few weeks or less!
No matter where in the world you’re looking to roam, there are countless international construction volunteer opportunities. From Latin America to rural Africa and Southeast Asia (and everywhere in between), you can find the perfect building project for you.
If you’re looking for low-cost construction volunteer opportunities abroad, Central America offers a host of project options for volunteers on a budget. This region has a large assortment of housing and school construction projects, in addition to sanitation projects. Guatemala, in particular, allows volunteers to give back while being immersed in a vibrant culture comprised of 21 distinct indigenous Mayan populations, each with their own dialect and dress, and surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, including 22 volcanoes.
A lack of adequate structures among formal schools in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in rural areas, is partly to blame for the nearly 50 percent of young people who don’t attend formal schooling throughout the region. Many construction volunteer projects in these countries, such as in Kenya, provide volunteers with the opportunity to specifically build and repair schools. If working in or around Nairobi, a trip to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, will greatly put into perspective the reason why assisting with building projects is so vital to locals. After working hard at your project site, you can take some time to explore one of Kenya’s more than 40 national parks and game reserves, and maybe even get a chance to see some of the “Big Five” on safari.
If you’re looking to stray a bit farther from home, consider construction volunteer opportunities in Nepal. A country that is continuing to rebuild since the devastating effects of earthquake in mid-2015, there are many construction volunteer projects in and around the affected areas, including the capital city of Kathmandu. Construction projects in Nepal may include repairing and rebuilding homes and schools or creating temporary community toilets and wash facilities. When you’re not busy volunteering, you can catch a glimpse of eight of the world’s 10 largest mountains, including the world’s highest point, Mount Everest.
While there are a variety of international construction volunteer opportunities to choose from, the most common include building homes, constructing community facilities (schools, libraries, etc.), and helping to repair and rebuild various buildings after natural disasters. Construction volunteer work may entail mixing concrete, assisting in building demolition, carrying bricks and other materials around job sites, assembling rebar (which reinforces and strengthens concrete), digging the foundation for structures, painting, or preparing materials for foremen, such as sifting sand and wetting bricks for construction, among others.
A large majority of construction volunteer opportunities abroad are open to any and all volunteers eager and willing to learn, and many project managers are open to training volunteers upon arrival. That being said, there are some tasks, such as plumbing or electrical wiring, which require experienced volunteers or local workers to carry out safely and effectively.
The length of your construction volunteer work abroad can vary greatly, based on your location and the goals of the building project, ranging from a few days to several weeks, or even months. Ten-day to two-week construction projects abroad work well for those looking to make a tangible difference, while also having time to explore the local culture.
One thing to keep in mind before becoming a construction volunteer abroad is the very real physical rigor of construction work. Since building project tasks can range from digging holes to breaking down and rebuilding entire structures, it is important to have an idea of what type of construction work you may be asked to do, and then be sure that you are ready for the physical demands of the work. While it is ALWAYS okay to let your project manager know if you are unable to complete a task, it’s important that, from the get go, you find a construction project that is the right fit for you.
Since construction volunteering abroad can be taxing, another challenge can be the potential to push your body too far, too fast. Try to remain aware of your body’s limits, drink plenty of water, lather up the sunscreen, and take breaks when needed. Remember: your goal is to contribute in meaningful ways, and you will better be able to do so if you remain healthy throughout your trip.
Also, be sure to consider that much of your time in-country will be spent at your construction project site. While you may have the opportunity to explore other areas of the country at night, on days off, or before or after your project, the majority of your time will likely be spent at the same work site(s). One of the best parts about construction volunteer opportunities abroad is working alongside locals day-in and day-out toward a common goal. Construction volunteer work abroad will allow you to work with the same people for an extended period, giving you the chance to interact with community members on a deeper level and forge relationships that can last a lifetime. Even with language barriers, you’ll be surprised how much can be accomplished through pointing, gestures, and smiles!
Construction volunteering abroad will challenge you physically and mentally, while providing you with positive learning and growth opportunities, which you will take with you long after your trip is over. No matter what corner of the globe you set off for, volunteering on a construction project abroad will change the way you see the world around you, and provide you with enormous pride in the hard work you’ve put into creating a new building in a deserving community.