Health & Psychology

Volunteering abroad with Habitat for Humanity

By Sophia Neuhoff – Habitat for Humanity
Imagine not having a decent place to live was something that our privileged children did not grow up with. Not having a solid roof over their heads when storm, rain or heat approach. This is an experience that our children fortunately don’t have to face. Maybe we don’t even know anyone who actually does.

It is not always just when disasters strikes that families lose their place to call home. Around the world, one in four people live in unacceptable housing conditions. A lot of them are closer to us than we might assume!

Everyone deserves a decent place to live!

A safe and affordable shelter plays a critical role in helping families to create a healthier and better life. A decent place to live empowers and fosters the skills and confidence of the people to invest in themselves, their children and their communities. They are empowered to overcome the barriers that so often stand between their families and better, healthier, more financially stable lives. A home is the solid foundation for all of this.

This is why we, the international non-governmental organization (NGO) Habitat for Humanity, focus on shelter as a core competence. We at Habitat build! Thus we mobilize volunteers from all parts of the world dedicated with their hearts and energy to fight poverty housing.

What we do

Since 1976, we have helped more than 13.2 million people to obtain a safer place to live. In 2017, we supported nearly 3.5 million people to improve their living conditions. More than 2.1 million volunteers annually are mobilized to build, advocate and raise awareness about the global need for shelter. Let your child be one of them!

At its core, Habitat is also about giving meaning to volunteers and supporters. Imagine a 3-year-old who is so excited about having a bathroom in her home that she gets up every morning to clean the sink. Now, imagine feeling like you have no purpose in life until volunteering alongside other families to help them create a simple place to live changes your outlook. Imagine moving into a healthy environment after raising children in what had been labeled a “lead deathtrap”. And imagine being a young woman who was able to finish law school because of the stability provided by living in a safe, permanent home.

We also know that housing is just as important to the health of a community as to the health of individuals. Investing in sustainable, affordable housing attracts new businesses, creates jobs and often makes communities safer.

“Habitat for Humanity is building more than just houses. We are building communities and hope. We give strength to those in need. Instead of talking about the willingness to help and charity, we put faith into action”. Jimmy Carter, ambassador of Habitat for Humanity 

The Global Village program

With our volunteer program called “Global Village”, your kids don’t just take a look from the outside, but they dive right in. This is an opportunity that everybody should experience at least once in their lives. We partner with international and IB world schools offering students the chance to get involved in building projects at the time they combine CAS activities with intercultural experience. Teams of students can travel to our projects and work at the construction site. Everyone works together to help build homes alongside the future homeowners.

Global Village offers international volunteers the opportunity to take part in the “hands on” construction or renovation of houses in more than 30 countries around the world. The teams travel to their chosen host country to build in partnership with the local people, learn about the housing need and become a part of the community. No prior construction experience is necessary and the students assist with unskilled work such as lifting, carrying and mixing, as well as hammering, sawing and laying blocks – depending on their conditions and abilities. All teams work with the future homeowners, local volunteers and skilled construction workers, and receive construction supervision.

Getting to know the Culture

Such a Global Village trip consists of mostly building activities, but it also gives a chance for participants to get to know the culture, the local people, Habitat for Humanity’s work at the grassroots level and to have unique hands-on experience.
By helping to build homes, students expand their world view and change the lives of families in housing need. This experience also helps them to get prepared for their role as decision-makers in their future professional life. A Global Village trip offers students the opportunity to get involved and benefit from an intercultural experience at the time they serve and learn. The leadership skills gained by the students and other benefits are innumerable.

How do we organize a Global Village trip?

We require our volunteer teams to have a teacher as a team leader who would be responsible for the administration of the team, organizing the logistics, paperwork and finances in the name of the team as well as being the contact person between the students and Habitat for Humanity. The required chaperone-student-ratio is 1:5.
The time of the hosting changes according to the location of the country. It is typical in Europe and Central Asia that Global Village teams are hosted from March to November, whereas project locations in Asia, Africa and Middle East might be hosting throughout the year.

A life-changing experience

Global Village projects last for between one and two weeks and offer a challenging yet deeply rewarding cultural experience for volunteers aged 16 and above. Individually tailored itineraries ensure that the team’s needs and interests are met, and that both the local community and the team have many chances to interact, share their stories with one another and build lasting relationships.

The team will travel to one of our project countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America or Africa and help to build a house for a family living in circumstances that are hard to imagine for us. At least four or five people sharing one dark room without running water, electricity or a stable roof. Parents having to worry about the health and education of their kids due to the inappropriate living conditions. And this does not only happen in faraway countries like Malawi or India; situations like that can be found just around the corner in Romania, Poland, Macedonia or Armenia.

Get the best out of your experiences!

A Global Village trip is an exceptional way of collaborative engagement while also providing a memorable experience! Hand in Hand with their classmates, teachers and, most importantly, the selected partner families, students help to build a house with their own hands that a family will soon call their home. This new home will keep them safe from diseases and help to break the circle of poverty. The partner families finally get the chance to gain strength, stability and self-reliance.

And so do your kids. Reflecting their own life, learning to think outside of the box and experiencing that they can help. Not only for the others, but along with them as a team. Brick by brick. Day by day. Coming home with a broadened view and an unforgettable experience might change their perspective at exactly the right time in their lives.
The feedback is excellent. Many students describe their experience as transformational or eye-opening. They finish the volunteer program with a deeper knowledge and understanding for other cultures, countries and the effects of housing poverty. “We came to give, but what we received was so much more”. Give your child the opportunity to also receive so much more!

Why volunteer?

  • As a volunteer you can actively contribute to a better understanding among different cultures and show solidarity with people in need
  • You will experience the community’s culture, language and social practices while working alongside homeowners and volunteers of all backgrounds, races and religions
  • With the help of volunteers, the construction costs are lower for the family

Quotes from student volunteers:

“I gained a lot from this trip. The skills of building are nice, but they don’t even stand near with the feeling of that you did a great thing not for yourself or some one of your friends, but for an unknown person who really needs it. That feeling made my day every time I thought about it!”

“I have heard about the organization for years but now I got to experience what it actually is like. It helped me reflect on the impact that HFH actually has not only for individuals, but also on communities.”
“The trip to Romania was one of the biggest highlights of my life. I liked everything about it!

One of the most important things that made this trip so amazing, was the amazing unity of our class. Romania put all of us to work together as one. As we know, friends can conquer mountains – building a house is even easier!”

Report of Valeria, a Surval Montreux student that participated in a Global Village trip to Kenya in 2017:

There were no buildings like those we are used to seeing; even having proper walls or a backyard seemed like a luxury that sadly no one could afford. Then, as we drove from the airport to our hotel, everything got worse. Houses built from aluminum sheets or even mud. So, when we reached our comparatively comfortable hotel, we found ourselves feeling guilty. This contrast was a bleak reminder of the stark difference in what we have that the people around us are not lucky enough to have.

I don’t mean “things”, the material luxuries that lend our lives comfort. Smartphones and designer bags and expensive jewelry. I mean the essentials: shelter and electricity and running water. Most of all – a home. When we watched the Habitat for Humanity introduction video, one of those interviewed stated that. “A home is not just a house where you live. It’s a home where you get all the energy that you need in order to achieve in life everything that you can be”. This jarring visual was a reminder that not everyone in our world is fortunate enough to have a home environment that will enable them to fulfil their potential. This was the spark we needed to energize us for the journey ahead.

This is an experience everyone should have at least once in a lifetime, because it is life changing. Not only for the family you are helping, but for yourself as well.
You can find out more about volunteering with Habitat for Humanity here:

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