Many engineers wish to give back to their profession, and one of the most noble ways is to volunteer your time overseas. I have done this multiple times, and I intend to do it again. Here I will give you some options for how to do it and what it looks like. First, let me list a few organizations:
- Engineers Without Borders
- ASCE Disaster Assistance Volunteer Program
- Engineering Ministries International
- Water charities
Engineers Without Borders
EWB is a very loosely knit organization. Each country has independent chapters and a global organization, EWB International, is not necessarily endorsed by all. Thus, I can’t tell you what a project would look like for you: Big or small, long or short term, highly technical or managerial. EWB Canada, one of the largest of the chapters (and where I happen to live), generally sends people on 6 or 12 month terms to supervise some sort of sustainability project. Often it’s agriculturally based, and seeks to make communities more self sufficient so they can continue on their own. Projects don’t usually require high levels of engineering experience but seek to engage the locals in development toward a sustainable economy.
EWB in Canada and the United States are generally run locally, thus you would need to get into contact with the chapter in your city. Generally, they are managed at one of the local universities. The majority of members tend to be students.
ASCE Disaster Assistance Volunteer Program
This program, run by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) seeks to build a list of members who are available and willing to assist in disaster management. Before a disaster occurs, ASCE provides numerous training courses in disaster management (planning, preparedness, response, and recovery), and once it happens the directory is made available to emergency management authorities.
I am not on the list, but I would imagine you will be called on short notice and could require service for extended periods. In the meantime, though, the training programs are probably very interesting.
Engineering Ministries International
I have personally volunteered three times with EMI (www.emiusa.org), which has led me to South Sudan (before it was its own country), Burundi, and Haiti. EMI works well for professionals that have full time jobs, as you spend one week (usually) at the site and then several months doing some sort of design afterwards. EMI is a christian organization which seeks out client organizations that require the development of a property. Once a project is identified, they enlist the services of volunteers, usually consisting of architects, civil engineers, electrical engineers, structural engineers, draftspeople, and surveyors. A project team of 7-10 people produce a fully engineered design for the client organization. I’ve been involved with orphanages, medical clinics, a 3,000 person church, a 4 story educational institution, and others, without any noticeable impact on my full time job (just one week vacations).
There are many charities which attempt to use civil engineering expertise to provide drinking water and sanitation to the third world. Global Water (www.globalwater.org) works with other NGO’s to drill water wells and provide water-related expertise. Lifewater International (www.lifewater.org) is a christian development organization that believes all people should have safe water for life. They run the full gamut from drilling wells to design of sanitation facilities. Other organizations are Water For People (www.water4people.org), Pure Water for the World (www.purewaterfortheworld.org), and Water Missions International (www.watermissions.org).
Here is a non-comprehensive list of other volunteer opportunities for engineers.
- Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (www.aidg.org)
- Architecture for Humanity (www.architectureforhumanity.org)
- Bridges to Prosperity (www.bridgestoprosperity.org)
- Bridging the Gap Africa (www.bridgingthegapafrica.org)
- El Porvenir (www.elporvenir.org)
- Engineers for a Sustainable World (www.eswusa.org)
- GISCorps (www.giscorps.org)
- Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org)
- National Engineering Projects in Community Service (www.epicsnational.ecn.purdue.edu)
And if you just can’t find a volunteer opportunity on this list, I could also mention that I’ve known several people who have volunteered with non-engineering related charities, like Africa Inland Mission, and Sudan Inland Mission. If you’re into construction management, almost any charity that’s building something will take on a project manager who manages a building project.