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The Impact Volunteers have on the Progression of Foreign Aid

The aim of foreign aid is to try to redress some of the global imbalance of wealth by combatting the effects of poverty in the developing world. But it is not just about providing money; it’s about sharing skills and helping these countries build up a sustainable, locally-managed infrastructure. It is in this objective that volunteers can play such an important role.

What Do Volunteers Do?

Volunteers abroad bring a specific set of professional skills to help run development projects in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. The vast majority of placements fit into one of the following sectors: education, health, business management, IT and engineering.

Whilst development projects take a wide range of forms, the overall aim is always to help build up an infrastructure that is both sustainable in the long-term and is led and controlled by local people. So, although volunteers will use their practical skills on a daily basis, the overall objective is to share knowledge, build up local expertise and develop systems that fit local priorities which will continue when the volunteer has returned home.

What Kind of Person Becomes a Volunteer?

The simple answer is almost anyone who can bring passion and commitment to the role. But whilst there are always short-term opportunities for young people who have lots of enthusiasm but few specific skills, the most crucial requirement for most volunteers, particularly those seeking a longer-term placement, is a relevant professional qualification and practical experience in their chosen field.

Volunteers clearly need to be committed to the aims of the project they are engaged in and share the vision of the partner organisation they represent. They should also be prepared to listen and learn, as well as giving a lead to others. In fact, adopting this kind of approach will not just make for a more successful placement, but will help the individual volunteer get far more from the experience. This is the kind of person volunteer organisations are looking for.

People like Dr Kate Darlow, for instance. Kate is an obstetrician and gynaecologist and spent six months with VSO in Ethiopia. She succeeded in training local health care workers and helped reduce the region’s high levels of maternal mortality.

Another VSO volunteer, Lorraine Dodge, spent two years volunteering in rural Nepal following her early retirement from a senior post in the UK. She worked as an education adviser helping teachers, headteachers and education officialsclassroom  deliver a higher standard of education for Nepalese children.

How Does One Measure the Impact of Volunteers?

Setting up a sustainable project is a long-term commitment. Developing countries do not need a simple ‘quick fix’. What they are looking for is support in setting up structures and systems in the vital fields of health, education for example; structures and systems that will grow and develop for many years to come. The key requirement in this process is growing and developing local leaders and professionals.

For a UK-based professional who is interested in volunteering in a developing country and wishes to be assured that the project they are considering is truly sustainable, the biggest assurance comes from applying through an established and respected organisation such as VSO. Organisations such this have a long track record of successful work in the developing world.

But just as profound as the impact volunteers can have on their host countries is the impact the placement can have on the individual volunteer. Dr Kate Darlow, for instance, refers to her time in Ethiopia as:“brilliant…you forget about everything at home. Life experiences are worth so much more than a salary.” 

Lorraine Dodge, talking about her time in Nepal, echoes this sentiment:
“Ultimately, I would like to think that a number of teachers I worked with began to enjoy working with their classes much more and have started to create a wider world of opportunity for the children they work with.” 

Ali first began volunteering during his D of E award at school, and has taken part in many fundraising activities. He currently works for a global development charity, and it used to giving practical advice about volunteering and career options! 

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