The concept of community development, groups of people taking collective action to achieve a common goal, or solve a universal problem, goes back centuries. But it is in the last half-decade or so that it has become a global initiative, a major area of study and research and one of the best ways to accomplish real change through volunteer work abroad. The best community development projects benefit entire cities, countries, and regions, and often the overall environment, but the main focus of volunteering in community development is to raise the standard of living for a sub-population experiencing unique struggles or exceptional need in some way.
Why Volunteer Abroad
There’s no better way to expand your cultural knowledge and your professional and technical skills than to complete volunteer work abroad in community development. The field is so broad, and dispersed internationally, that volunteers can easily find a location and type of project to fit their interests and ambitions in volunteering abroad. Whether helping children gain access to technology or resources, creating green spaces and wellness programs to improve health and environmental protection, working on a sustainable agriculture project, or developing a community water system in a rural village, community development volunteer programs target people who need support and direction to build a better community and future for their children.
Volunteering abroad in community development is also an excellent way to decide on a career path. Community development projects are conceived, funded, and undertaken by many different kinds of entities, governments (usually local, but sometimes national), non-profit organizations, philanthropists, international aid organizations, universities, and faith-based organizations. As a community development volunteer abroad, you’ll learn how to develop and implement projects and how organizations function to achieve success.
Societal and environmental problems are universal, but methods to tackle them are not. Seeing how other people around the world approach a community problem and how they create a solution is a valuable learning experience for any international volunteer. Volunteering in community development is of course particularly beneficial for individuals with career goals in community development, economics, politics, civil service, and other community-focused fields.
Africa. It’s hard to generalize about a continent as big as Africa, but given its history of famine, disease, civil wars, and political instability there is probably no other place with as vast an array of community development needs than Africa. From agriculture assistance to infrastructure planning to child development and enrichment to women’s empowerment, community development projects in Africa span all aspects of development. The variety of programs within each country is nearly as diverse as the continent’s program diversity, whether it be HIV awareness, sustainable agriculture, or nutrition programs in Tanzania, land restitution or anti-corruption and gender empowerment initiatives in South Africa, clean water and public health awareness projects in Ghana, or reforestation programs in Zambia.
Asia. Community development projects that aid children are available in almost all Asian countries. Volunteers could help underprivileged youths in Nepal through both education and empowerment, help end child trafficking in Thailand, or contribute to micro-credit projects, aimed at rural women in Cambodia and Vietnam, and these are just a few of the many volunteer opportunities in Asia.
Haiti. Haiti was already desperately poor, its government ineffective, and its infrastructure in ruins before the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and left much of the country in ruins. Since then, volunteer organizations of all types have stepped in to rebuild communities where the government simply cannot fulfill the needs of their people. Some of the newer and potentially more society-changing community development projects in Haiti utilize new methods of disaster response, reforestation, the installation of alternative energy systems as well as micro-lending programs, such as those that connect small business owners, farmers, and artists with local markets and distributors, to make a difference.
Community Development Volunteering
Community development is such a broad field that volunteer programs are as diverse as the people they help. Basically, anything that helps the common good of a specific population or society as a whole can fall under the spectrum of community development volunteer work. Whether working on fire or flood prevention, setting up small businesses and micro-financing programs, teaching hygiene and nutrition, or working on building projects, individuals who volunteer in community development will make a tangible difference in the communities they serve.
Some programs may even allow volunteers to focus on improving specific neighborhoods or villages in a well-rounded manner, such as combining beautification projects, community gardens, adult job training, after school programs for youth at risk, outreach programs for the homeless, and renovation of abandoned houses into one community-wide initiative. But many volunteer programs will focus on some very specific key areas of community development.
Education. Teachers are always needed in schools, particularly in rural areas and in developing nations. Teaching placements can range from a year’s commitment to a summer session, to tutoring or coaching after school hours. There are also volunteer opportunities for teams of volunteers to focus on educating communities about specific public health concerns, such as disease prevention or hygiene practices. Community education placements may also include teaching young mothers about nutrition and parenting skills, raising AIDS/HIV awareness, or encouraging wildlife preservation and environmental protection practices. Some education-related community development volunteer work may require special skills or certifications, but most are open to applicants of all backgrounds, and some include short training sessions when needed.
Short-Term Projects. Faith-based organizations, NGOs, and nonprofits often concentrate on bringing groups of volunteers to underprivileged areas to accomplish a series of projects, such as home building, upgrades to water systems, and setting up medical clinics, in a one to two-week segment. These programs are ideals for volunteers who want to volunteer abroad during spring break or over a summer vacation. This type of program usually requires no special skills, however volunteers are often asked to help fundraise for the projects they will complete.
Research, Coordination, & Fundraising. A pair of willing hands is all that many volunteer placements in community development require, but if community development is your career path, you can greatly enhance your resume and your skills by choosing a volunteer program that allows you to see a community development project from beginning to end. These unique placements allow volunteers to create a project plan, and then fundraise and coordinate the project to its completion.
Very few people have the ways and means to change the world alone. The beauty of working collectively to achieve change is the lesson of community development, changing the world by working with others to make people’s lives healthier, happier, more efficient, more sustainable, and simply better.
By volunteering in community development, you will learn the ins and outs of conceiving, developing, and completing a project focused on solving a specific program within a community.
As the world continues to change rapidly and the global population expands, communities everywhere are facing new social problems and environmental issues that must be addressed to ensure a stable future for generations. By working to solve these challenges and prevent future problems, you will gain incredible skills, both personal and professional.