Construction Volunteering in Developing Nations

Many architecture firms collaborate with non-government organisations to help in developing nations. A.gor.a Architects for example, are currently designing and building a new health clinic to provide free healthcare to burmese refugees and migrants. Auburn University Rural Studio works with architects and students to build homes in rural communities while instigating community-action, collaboration, and sustainability.

build-abroadImage Source Left: A.gor.a Architects, Right: Auburn University Rural Studio, Photography by  Timothy Hursley of the Greensboro Boys & Girls Club.

A number of organisations also facilitate construction volunteering. Architecture for Humanity provides architecture, planning and project management services for disaster reconstruction. Architects without Borders is a global operation to provide ecologically sensitive and culturally appropriate design assistance to communities in need. 

build-abroad2Image Source Left: Architecture for Humanity, Right: Architects without borders

Over the past decade, volunteering abroad has become an increasingly popular and important part of the architecture and construction industry. Volunteering abroad offers short to long term opportunities to experience a new culture while giving back to the community. Construction volunteering offers the potential for a lasting impact on the affected community. Patrick McLoughlin, co-counder of Build Abroad describes the following benefits and how you can help to make a difference:  

1. Construction provides a lasting physical impact:

Building a home or school for a community in need a tangible representation of development. Unlike some other forms of volunteering, you can see and experience the physical difference long after your volunteering trip is over.

2. Construction encourages community involvement:

Construction projects often encourage active community participation. When volunteering, the role of the architect is to facilitate growth from within the community, breaking down the notion of the ‘visionary architect.’ One of my favourite organisations, Hug it Forward has constructed schools in Guatemala from recycled plastic bottles. Members of the community, including children, work to clean up the streets collecting thousands of bottles. The bottles are then used as a construction material.

hug-it-forwardImage Source LeftRight.

3. Construction projects will serve the community for years:

In 2008 I built a school in Ghana with Miami University. It was a 6 week design and build architecture program. The rewarding experience inspired me to establish Build Abroad. While,I have not been back to Ghana since the construction project, I know the work I did is still serving the community. Since the school was built, 6 years of elementary students have cycled through the classroom.

4. Construction can make an environmental impact:

One of the largest architecture humanitarian design organisations is Architecture for Humanity, who develop socially and environmentally responsible design. The incorporation of local material is one of the most sustainable things that can be done when building abroad. Building Trust International is also a nonprofit organisation that establishes competitions to explore how architecture and construction can serve communities in need.

building-trust-internationalImage Source LeftRight.

5. Construction can directly help other service opportunities:

Every construction project serves a purpose; a new school serves as a classroom for students to learn. A new home gives shelter to a worker in the community. A new medical building gives a place for people to be cared for.

Thank you to Patrick McLoughlin for sharing his advice. Build Abroad was conceived in 2010 by two friends (Patrick McLoughlin and Chad Johnson) who met in architecture school, wanting to find a way to serve in developing nations by offering their construction and architecture services. Today, Build Abroad has developed into a volunteer organisation, working with local communities to provide socially conscious construction services. Build Abroad is an organisation that offers construction volunteering trips to Peru, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Checkout their website to sign up. The volunteer trips are affordable and will make a lasting difference in a developing country! I am planning to volunteer myself in 2015 and I would absolutely love to see you there!


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