Build a school, change the world

One problem, one solution, one week. A new volunteering travel initiative sets its sights on universal primary education

It was Nelson Mandela who said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Indeed, through education we reduce poverty and inequality. We encourage fair and sustainable economic growth. Through education we improve health and help fight the spread of disease. Education is more than reading and writing. It is hope; it is the chance of a future for the people who need it most.

Right now there are more than 100 million children worldwide without access to schools. That is an astonishing figure: imagine the entire population of Great Britain growing up without ever having looked at a book. Now double it.

There’s no easy solution, but positive travel initiatives can help. Initiatives such as social enterprise and volunteer travel organisation Global Vision International’s Global Initiative 2014: a week of school building in some of the world’s most desperate areas.

Taking part simultaneously in Costa Rica, Thailand and South Africa from 16-23 August, the new initiative is aimed at helping the UN reach its millennium development goal of universal primary education by 2015.

The project is open to everyone aged 15 and over, the work will be physical but no special skills are required. Volunteers will work alongside members of the local community, giving them a unique chance to find out more about the lives of the people they are helping. At the end of the week there will also be time allocated for exploring the local sights or just taking a well-earned break.

Volunteers can choose between the rainforests of Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica, the rich culture of Phang Nga, Thailand, or the stunning setting of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. But wherever the destination, building schools will have lasting effects for these, and future, generations, providing a safe environment with support and supervision close at hand. Studies show that education promotes gender equality, lowers child mortality rates and increases concern for the environment. Through these schools, kids will learn life skills; they may receive life-saving vaccines, fresh water and nutrient supplementation.

But building a school will have positive benefits for participants, too. Psychological research has shown that volunteering abroad increases wellbeing and an individual’s sense of meaningfulness and purpose in life. It also provides a richer and more intimate cultural experience than is possible on many traditional forms of travel, allowing genuine connection, insight and positive personal change.

“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.” Nelson Mandela said that too. If we want to change the world, we need to start one school at a time.

One week on the Global Initiative programme costs £795 including accommodation, all meals, transfers and on-site training. Flights not included. Departs 16 August.