Gap-year students told to forget aid projects

For many years I have been of the opinion that VSO did not really help those it was supposed to. However I do believe that it gave those giving this service an experience that aided their maturity and broadened their horizons. This aid should not be seen as only benefiting those receiving it. I'm fairly sure that most youngsters participating are better people for doing so.

The guy doing the complaining was actually from VSO and was pointing out that now gap year 'volunteering' is fashionable and has spawned volunteering package companies who are more interested in excuses to take cash of gap year students than actually helping any one.

VSO is a low key operation that seeks skilled, thus not gap year students, people to work on grass roots projects for people with real needs. Despite being government funded it is a low key operation that does do a lot of good
Having met some of these volunteers while working overseas I have come to the conclusion that many of them are being exploited. Whether they were working for VSO I don't know however some of their conditions were far from adequate. However many buckled down and carried out the task that they had volunteered for. I'm fairly sure that they would have ended up as a more rounded individual. But I'm in agreement with the VSO statement that they would have been better off back packing for a year. met plenty of those as well.


War Hero
Book Reviewer
I wonder if these kids learn anything except that if they are fool enough to pay to go and do manual labour, then the natives will enjoy sititng around and watching them. As for digging wells, surely all the locals need is (maybe) cash to buy shovels and bricks etc which coukld easily be had by flogging off the Mercs bought with our 'aid'. If a village needs a well one has to wonder why it hasn't been dug anyway in the last x thousand years. Hooray for totally sanctimonious vapid do-gooding.
The cynic might say that this kind of thing becomes inevitable as the market for volunteering expands. Clearly some firms are going to seek some form of return from the investment.

Interesting that it's VSO being quoted though, as they're not in the market for gap year kids. As Maxi identifies, VSO use experienced professionals who can make a difference to strategic or structural projects, rather than school refurbishment and well digging: IT professionals, Chartered civil and structural engineers, lawyers etc.

Raleigh International, on the other hand, might be feeling a squeeze as their traditional sources of volunteers may be diluted by the various other players in the market.
I agree it has becme another form of package holiday, I did like the comment about the group that found out they were the 12 lot to survey that particular coral reef.
I worked in a Development Project in South America for two years in the 80s and would agree with Slim to some extent. To imagine that you will contribute massively to any situation is perhaps a little naive and a good agency will warn against these delusions of grandeur and put you firmly in your place. It is important I think to distinguish between people working for the British Volunteer Programme (VSO, CIIR, UNAIS) and Gap Year Wallys who quite frankly would be better employed (IMHO) scrubbing toilets in hostels for down-and-outs or important voluntary work in the UK rather than trailing round the world and coming back with expensive diseases which the NHS has to cope with.

I was recruited because I had professional skills which were (so they said anyway) of use to the project where I worked. In retrospect I would say however that the scales are weighted very heavily on the side of personal development. The country where I worked was a military dictatorship at the time (and had been for a long time) and this was definitely one of the things that further developed my interest in things relating to the military and conflict generally. I had a good friend (sadly now dead) who was a military sociologist in the country where I worked and reading his work and talking to him also influenced my subsequent interest in civil-military relations.

Hope this contributes a bit to the debate …

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