Harnessing power from the sun and making dry fields fertile sounds a bit like sorcery, but you don’t need to be a magician to volunteer on solar and hydro projects abroad. Whether you’re familiar with the science behind solar panels or have only hazy memories of high school science class, you’re in luck. There are hundreds of renewable energy volunteer opportunities available, and you don’t need any experience to participate. Becoming a renewable energy volunteer abroad will not only provide assistance to communities in need, but it will also teach you skills that can increase career opportunities at home.
Why Volunteer Abroad
Imagine bringing light to a home so a child can do homework after nightfall, helping dig an irrigation system so a farmer can grow crops, or distributing clean cookstoves and teaching locals how to improve the air quality in their homes. Much of the world still lacks essentials, like electricity and clean water, so renewable energy volunteer projects can literally change lives overnight. Renewable and sustainable energies are cost-efficient, planet-friendly, and they are becoming more popular, so now is the perfect time to lend a hand!
Going abroad to become a renewable energy volunteer is an invaluable way to dive deep into another culture. In order for a solar project to be effective, it’s necessary to understand the problems the community is dealing with and how your project will help alleviate these issues. Many renewable energy organizations are deeply knowledgeable about the local culture and can teach you about living in a particular place while you contribute to their renewable energy projects. Not only will you bring fresh insight and a pair of hands ready for hard work, but you’ll also come away with a better understanding of another way of life.
Volunteers interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy will be able to learn new skills as well as enhance their resumes. Many employers look for individuals with hands-on experience and the ability to think outside the box; both are qualities that you’ll obtain as a renewable energy volunteer abroad.
Renewable energy volunteer opportunities are plentiful, because there are various energy sources present on every continent. Many renewable energy volunteer programs are located in developing countries, where electricity, water, and arable farmland are in short supply. Your volunteer work will assist locals in taking advantage of what they have and turning it into what they need.
While renewable energy projects exist nearly everywhere, several countries have a particularly high density. In Central America, both Nicaragua and Costa Rica are popular locations for renewable energy volunteers, especially for those looking to learn about sustainable farming techniques. Many renewable energy volunteer programs offer Spanish lessons or homestay accommodations to participants, as a way for volunteers to intimately learn more about the local culture. During breaks, volunteers can spend time learning to surf, spotting monkeys in the rainforest, or learning to cook traditional gallo pinto.
Further south, Peru offers renewable energy volunteer opportunities for those wishing to visit South America. Renewable energy projects in this region are often located in mountainous regions, offering a closer look at rural life. Like its Central American counterparts, many of renewable energy projects in South America require that volunteers speak at least some Spanish, or offer language lessons in exchange for volunteer hours. As a reward for your hard work, don’t forget a trip to Machu Picchu before leaving the country!
In India, renewable energy volunteer work is located in rural areas more frequently, working on farming and irrigation projects alongside other volunteers and local villagers. Depending on where you’re placed, weekend trips could involve exploring the Himalayas, participating in a yoga retreat, or hunting down the best Indian chaat (fried dough snacks).
If spicy food and curries aren’t your thing, check out renewable energy volunteer opportunities in Tanzania. This east African country offers volunteers a variety of solar volunteer projects as well as the opportunity to visit world-renowned nature preserves.
Some volunteers may want to factor actual need into their destination decision-making. While renewable energy volunteer programs are available in many places, specific countries or regions will benefit more greatly from international support than others, such as those that are financially and technologically advanced. Therefore, you may want to consider volunteering in a developing country or a very rural area, rather than a country with lots of manpower and resources. For example, even a simple water filtration project can have a huge impact on a community without potable water, and knowing that you had a hand in improving lives can be immensely gratifying. While working on a major solar panel installation project in a big city located in a developed country may be gratifying in a very different way.
Renewable Energy Volunteer Programs
At this point you may be wondering, “What will I actually be doing during my volunteer work?” The field of renewable energy is vast and volunteer opportunities are nearly endless. Some renewable energy volunteer projects focus on a specific activity, like water quality monitoring, creating solar cookers, or interning with a renewable energy company, while others are more broad.
Most renewable energy volunteer opportunities will entail a combination of multiple tasks that contribute to a larger sustainability project. In terms of agriculture sustainability projects, tasks could be related to farming, permaculture, irrigation, or composting, for example. Other renewable energy volunteer projects may focus on forestry or building projects, so you could spend time planting trees, maintaining trails, or assisting in the construction of community buildings. Renewable energy volunteer work will vary by organization, and some will include more of a focus on one specific types of renewable energy than others.
Renewable energy volunteer projects vary in length, but most projects last from two to eight weeks. It’s easy to contribute two weeks of work on a construction project, which can be taken over by a new volunteer when you leave. However, some renewable energy volunteer projects rely on building personal relationships with locals, and it’s preferable to stay several months for maximum effectiveness.
As mentioned before, most renewable energy volunteers will not be required to have any specific experience or knowledge prior to participating, other than an interest in sustainability and a willingness to contribute. Some renewable energy volunteer programs do request that you have prior foreign language skills, and more technical projects may require an educational background in a specific subject area. Remember that the most important skills needed for any type of international volunteer program are an open mind, flexibility, and the desire to make a difference. If you can check those three boxes, you’re ready to participate!
Benefits & Challenges
Improve the Planet & the Lives of Others. Participating in a volunteer program that focuses on sustainable energy projects is a great way to give back to the Earth and your fellow humans. Renewable energy projects offer affordable and simple solutions that can be life changing, without having a negative impact on the environment.
Obtain New Skills & Knowledge. Renewable energy jobs are increasing around the world as companies realize that “green” energy is the way of the future. Get your foot in the door early and gain skills and experience that you can put on your resume by grabbing the opportunity to volunteer in renewable energy abroad. For students, some renewable energy volunteer opportunities even offer college credit.
You Can’t Change the World Overnight. Be realistic about what you can accomplish during your time abroad. For those who are traveling to a developing country for the first time, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of need in certain locations; whether it be clean water, medical care, or healthy food, you can’t provide everything to everyone, but you can make a difference. Keep that in mind throughout your time abroad.
While there are many international volunteer programs that incorporate aspects of solar, water, and wind energy, there are few programs that focus explicitly on these issues. Most renewable energy volunteer opportunities take a wider view and allow you to learn about many aspects of living sustainably. While it may have been your specific interest in solar panels or wind power that brought you to this page, consider choosing options that encompass a variety of sustainability projects. This will not only teach you new skills, but it will also broaden your understanding of how people around the planet live, survive, and thrive.