Volunteer Service Overseas is an international charity that aims to fight poverty around the world, and is part of the umbrella organisation International Citizenship Service. VSO works in 23 countries in Africa and South Asia, implementing projects there which focus on four areas: education, health (particularly HIV and AIDS), participation and governance, and secure livelihoods.
Instead of sending aid to a country in terms of money or material aid, which can often be passed into the wrong hands or lead to short-term outcomes rather than sustainable ones, it sends volunteers into countries instead. The volunteers work on one project in cycles until completion: when one volunteer team finishes their placement, another will take over and so on. A project may last for about 3 years. The volunteers work towards educating and empowering the community that they are working with, in order for the people to learn the necessary skills to be able to improve their own lives after the volunteers leave, rather than just temporarily relieving the situation.
I am currently working for VSO as a volunteer in Banan District, Battambang Province, Cambodia on a Secure Livelihoods Programme. One of the concerns VSO has targeted in Cambodia is the high rate of immigration, which is due to people in Cambodia seeing little future or money in staying home and trying to earn a living there. It is particularly prevalent in the youth of Cambodia, who usually express a desire to study or live abroad in Thailand or America where there are more jobs.
VSO are trying to combat this by establishing youth co-operatives in places like Banan so that the young people can support each other and learn the skills necessary to succeed in their future career. At first the youth co-operative we are working on was aiming towards creating interest and knowledge in agriculture, due to 85% of the population being farmers. However, after researching our community’s ideas we are currently reviewing this.
An important part of development is assessing the needs of the community and adapting to any changes that arise. This can make development a very slow process but gives a much better outcome in the long run. Although the statistics pointed VSO towards an agriculture-orientated youth group, after speaking to the young people we felt it might be more valuable to them if we instead facilitate learning soft skills such as leadership, conflict management and ICT skills. This will not only provide the youth with a greater chance of earning a higher wage at home, but it will also help them with their applications and future studies if they do decide to go to University abroad.
If you are interested in volunteering abroad, I could not recommend VSO enough. The experience I have had so far working for them has been full of highs and lows, and has not been devoid of frustrations and obstacles, but the positive outcomes are far greater. You can expect a lot of hard work, but also learn what real teamwork looks like, experience the reality of a country from an intimate perspective, and make a great impact which will outlive your stay in the community. Read more about it and apply here.