Volunteering on a community project on your gap year is a fantastic way to make a real difference to a local community and to better the lives of a society in need. There are numerous projects to choose from, such as helping to build an orphanage in South America, improving medical care in Africa or encouraging the cultural development of people in Asia.
The one thing all community projects have in common is that they are ultimately geared towards changing collective lives for the better, and in helping to accomplish this you will experience your own personal growth, develop invaluable new skills and gain a genuine sense of achievement.
Volunteer on a Community Project
There are communities all over the world in serious need of outside assistance, and that help could come in the form of yourself if you opt for a community project on your gap year.
The most popular options for gappers revolve around social work, building and education, but keep in mind there is a variety to choose from, which extends out to facilitating cultural development, improving health and helping with agriculture.
Social work tends to be geared towards helping vulnerable people in certain societies, such as disadvantaged children, those at risk of disease, those suffering from poor physical or mental health, elderly people or substance abusers. And while projects are often based in second or third world nations – such as Kenya, Thailand and India – there are also opportunities to lend a helping hand in developed countries like New Zealand with traditional Maori communities.
Children and families
Another great way to improve the lives of local communities is by volunteering on a building project, of which there are hundreds to choose from throughout the world, especially in poorer countries such as Ghana, Colombia and Cambodia. The futures of children all over the world are blighted by a lack of schools and sufficient care homes, and many families have to endure sub-standard housing, which throws up added problems such as poor sanitation leading to disease.
People striving for a brighter future
While any kind of community work is ultimately driven towards creating better futures for those in need, education-based projects are one of the surest ways to achieve this. There are so many people throughout the world who are in dire need of more – or better – education, and this goes far beyond teaching English, though that is often a crucial avenue to explore. In some parts of the world, particularly impoverished African countries, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV are a serious problem, but the more people are educated about contraceptive techniques, the more chance they have of not falling foul of life-debilitating illnesses.
People living in rural communities
Many people residing in rural communities around the world, who live off the very land they inhabit, face various hardships, and your help on an agricultural community project could make a really positive difference to their future. A lack of resources, equipment and general knowhow in many areas can result in food shortages, poor harvests and ultimately a diminished family income, which can often be disastrous.
Some communities suffer from a general lack of identity, which if restored can result in a more cohesive, forward-looking society. For this reason cultural development projects can be hugely effective for the general psyche of a community, in that they aim to reintegrate people through teaching about their shared history and creating opportunities for people to become more active within their tribe or group.
If you choose to work on a community project on your gap year your help could be invaluable in creating a more positive future for a group of people.
Your day-to-day tasks will depend on the kind of community project you choose, but generally speaking you’ll be expected to work from Monday to Friday, with weekends free to explore the surrounding area.
If you volunteer as a social worker on your gap year you will likely be helping people suffering from a variety of problems, including mental illness, substance abuse and neglect. You may also come into contact with children who have been the victims of abuse, depending on what project you choose. Your help will come in the form of running workshops, analysing individual situations and organising services geared towards support, to name but a few. The main goal will be to reintegrate individuals back into society while maintaining a professional and sensitive disposition. This is a hugely rewarding way to volunteer on your gap year, especially if you are considering a career in social work.
Volunteering on a building project on your gap year will not only allow you to make a tangible contribution to any given society, but also give you the satisfaction of knowing the community will still be reaping the benefits of your work for years to come. So many communities around the world, in places like Belize, Malawi and South Africa, are in urgent need of schools, community centres, care homes, orphanages and basic housing. Most projects are 9-5, Monday-Friday, and responsibilities typically include digging trenches, putting down foundations, constructing walls and roofs, and assisting with plumbing.
One of the most rewarding ways to give something back on your gap year is to volunteer as a teacher on an education community project. The most popular options tend to involve teaching English as a foreign language (commonly abbreviated to TEFL); for many young people around the world being able to speak English can provide a way out of poverty and create real career prospects. It’s not always necessary to have a TEFL qualification, but be sure to check the requirements for each individual project. You can also educate communities about safe sex, sanitation and general health-related matters.
If you choose to volunteer on a community project geared towards cultural development you will likely be based in a homestay with an indigenous family, meaning you can really become absorbed in local life. A desire to really interact with the local community is essential, as this will allow you to gain a true understanding of local mind-sets and to gain the respect of the community itself. Each project will differ on day-to-day specifics, but generally speaking you will help local people to examine their own identities within the social group, and ways in which they can contribute positively to their communities.