VSO says 'voluntourism' helps no one

Voluntary Service Overseas has advised students that they may be better off backpacking than wasting their money on over-priced gap-year aid projects that do little to help developing countries.

The international development charity said that the growing gap-year industry was increasingly catering for students rather than the local communities it claimed to support. The charity is now drawing up a code of good practice to help gap-year students find genuine voluntary work abroad.

It warned that ‘voluntourism’ was often badly planned and that spurious projects were springing up across the developing world. Instead of benefiting those involved, some projects actually had a negative impact on young people and the communities they worked with, the VSO said.

Judith Brodie, director of VSO UK, said: “There are many good gap-year providers, but we are increasingly concerned about the number of badly planned and supported schemes that are spurious and ultimately benefit no one apart from the travel companies that organise them."

Separately, domestic volunteering charity CSV is promoting UK-based gap-year projects as more environmentally friendly options to projects overseas. The charity offers placements on UK-based projects working with young offenders, homeless people and adults with learning difficulties.

Research by CSV shows that 79 per cent of employers believe that graduates with volunteering experience have skills to help them gain promotion faster.

“We are becoming increasingly aware that young people are looking for more from a gap year than just a 12-month beach holiday,” said Is Szoneberg, CSV director for gap-year volunteering. “Irrespective of concerns about the impact of flying, rising university costs mean young people are really keen to get experience that will help them land their dream jobs.”

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