Sometimes I feel guilty for enjoying surveying so much. It just seems like other professions like medicine, nursing, teaching and so on seem so virtuous in that they deal with people and directly improve lives. Putting in boundary pegs, by contrast, seems so detached from meeting the real needs of hurting people. In fact, a lot of the work surveyors do is doing developments for land-owners and in many ways just helping the rich get richer.
I've thought a lot about how on earth surveying could have humanitarian applications. A quick google search brings up plenty of stuff on minefield surveys, but somehow I think they need people with a different set of skills from what we learn here. Other things mention using remote sensing (ie. analysing satellite images) to size up the situation immediately after catastrophes such as earthquakes, tsunamis or volcano eruptions. But again, these all seem somewhat impersonal and indirect.
I had a bit of a brainwave, though, when looking into big infrastructure companies such as Beca, Opus or Cardno for work next year. It occurred to me that these big multi-disciplinary firms have all the resources to do massive infrastructural projects...and make lots of money. It would be so cool if some firms took the millions of dollars of profit they make from projects such as the new Dunedin stadium, and invested in giving a little village in the developing world a make-over. As surveyors, we know how to design and oversee construction of infrastructure such as underground sewage, stormwater and reticulated water systems. These are all things that the developing world desperately need, so if one day I wind up as the CEO (or some influential person) of Beca, I'd be all for it.
I assume that there are people already trying to put in systems like this in places, so I guess the other option (if I don't end up as a CEO) is to head out and help them out by doing the levelling (or whatever) myself.