Do something great for others! How to volunteer overseas


Volunteering overseas needn’t be the preserve of gap year students, thanks to the wide range of opportunities for retirees and older people to put their skills to use abroad.


Several organisations that send volunteers overseas accept applicants into their seventies, or older, provided that they can prove that they are medically fit. According to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which places skilled professionals with partner organisations in Asia and Africa, about two-fifths of its volunteers are in their fifties or sixties, with around 2% of volunteers in their seventies. The split between male and female VSO volunteers is 50/50, although there are slightly more women in their fifties than men.

Emma Harrison, head of global communications at VSO says: “We find that older people often have skills that are essential for working in development, including listening skills, flexibility, practical problem solving and resourcefulness. “There’s a wealth of talent amongst retired people in the UK, which could be used to transform lives in some of the world’s poorest countries.”

Where you can volunteer

When it comes to volunteering opportunities, the world really is your oyster, with most organisations running projects in a wide variety of locations. For example, GVI, which runs community development and conservation volunteer schemes across the world, has projects ranging from teaching English to Buddhist monks in Laos, to helping with vital conservation work in a private game reserve in South Africa.

GVI says: “We are seeing more and more over-50s looking for volunteering opportunities. Often it’s because they’ve now got an empty nest and want to put some of their skills to good use.” Although GVI does not impose a maximum age limit – its oldest volunteer to date was 84 – you will have to complete a medical form and disclose any health conditions prior to being allowed to go out. If you do have any medical issues, a doctor must provide a letter stating that you are well enough to volunteer.

Some organisations require volunteers with specific professional skills. Vision Aid Overseas, for example, is always on the look-out for volunteer optometrists, dispensing opticians, technicians and ophthalmologists to volunteer, and is happy to accept volunteers over the age of 50.

Vision Aid Overseas says: “Retired technicians are especially sought after as they can deal with equipment. We have a retired non-registered optometrist going to Ethiopia this week to retrain the staff on good practice, record-keeping and so on.”

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) has an upper age limit of 75 for volunteering and prospective volunteers need to have between 2-5 years’ professional experience and an official qualification, such as a degree, to help secure their work permit. They must also pass VSO’s medical assessment and clearance process, which includes a criminal record check, before being accepted as a volunteer. Placements last from six months up to two years.

If you’re uncertain about spending a long time overseas volunteering, and would rather just dip your toe in the water first, then Hands Up Holidays specialises in upmarket volunteer holidays where you spend four or five days volunteering as part of a longer luxury trip.

What it might cost

You will usually have to pay for your volunteering experience abroad, with costs varying, depending on how long you want to be away. GVI, for example, charges £945 for two weeks in Laos teaching English, but this does not include your flights or Visa costs. It does include safe and basic accommodation which is usually shared, and an airport pick-up on arrival. Some organisations ask you to fund-raise a set amount before your trip, but will then cover your travel costs. For example, Vision Aid Overseas asks first-time volunteers to raise a minimum of £1,500 for their first assignment and then £1,000 for each assignment after that. The charity then covers flights, accommodation, food, water, visas, and any reasonable expenses to travel to Heathrow.

Top tips

•  Make sure you take out comprehensive travel insurance before you go, comparing several different quotes before buying.
•  Find out whether you require a visa, and if the organisation you are travelling with can sort this out on your behalf.
•  Check whether you will need any vaccinations
•  Think about your expenses while you are away, and which costs you will still need to cover at home, such as council tax and utility bills.

Real life: “Working in Nepal has been a life-enriching experience.”

Simon Kettlewell, 54 (pictured), went to Nepal with GVI as a volunteer working for four different childcare projects. He says: “Working with the children in the different projects has been life-enriching experience. Many of these children come from families where opportunities are limited and some don’t have families at all. The work can be emotional and in term of limited resources, quite challenging at times. “In addition to the work and the great support from GVI team Nepal, I shared my time with volunteers much younger than me. Despite my ‘advancing years’, they included me in all their activities – white water rafting and paragliding at 2,000 metres to name a couple.”

(Article source: Retire Savvy)

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