Charity attacks gap-year "voluntourism"

LONDON (Reuters) - Gap year students should go backpacking rather than waste time and money on “spurious” voluntary work, an international development charity said on Tuesday.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) said many “voluntourism” trips to developing countries are expensive, poorly planned and unlikely to help local people.

“While there are many good gap-year providers, we are increasingly concerned about the number of badly planned and supported schemes that are spurious,” said VSO Director Judith Brodie.

Some gap year trips, that can cost several thousand pounds, ultimately benefit no one apart from the travel companies that organise them, she said.

“They would be better off travelling and experiencing different cultures rather than wasting time on projects that have no impact.”

Taking a year off before university has become a rite of passage for thousands of young people each year. South Africa, Tanzania and India are among the top destinations, according to a survey last year.

Perhaps the most high profile “gappers” are Prince William, who spent time in Chile and Princes Harry, who went to Lesotho.

Many “gappers” choose to teach English or work on development projects. But VSO said some schemes are pointless.

It cited the example of Hannah Saunders, 19, from London, who paid 1,000 pounds for a work placement at a school in India.

“I didn’t have any training or preparation from the organisation before I went,” she said. “I had a really tough time and suffered from culture shock.

“I turned up at the learning centre and the teachers didn’t even know I was coming. It was very hard to find out what I was supposed to be doing.”

VSO, which organises work placements for volunteers in 34 countries, is drawing up a code of good practice to help people to find worthwhile projects.

The Year Out Group, which represents 36 gap year companies, said students should take time to research their time abroad.

“If you do that, or go through one of our companies, then you have got an excellent chance of being a round peg in a round hole and doing some really valuable work,” its Chief Executive Richard Oliver told the Guardian.