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The British government is paying for unqualified teenagers to travel the world?

There is a report in today's Daily Telegraph, by Andrew Gilligan, that the Department for International Development  has committed almost ?9 million to send
1,250 British teenagers and young people overseas for ?projects of
development value?. But from internal DFID evaluations seen by The Sunday
Telegraph, the main beneficiaries of Cameron's flagship International Citizen Service appear to be the British youngsters
themselves, rather than the people of the developing world.

This is the kind of thing that gets gap years and volunteering abroad a bad name:

“The day was spent swimming, sunbathing and eating? As the sun set over the
sea, we headed back to San Salvador for a pizza,? wrote one young man. ?On
Tuesday, we went to work in a bakery, learning how to make Salvadorian
treats and cakes,? said another participant. Then it was back to ?relaxing
in our hammocks on our balcony, with 360-degree views of the cathedral, the
mountains, and the Parque de Libertad?.

Typical tales from young people on their gap year, perhaps. Apart from one
thing: these youngsters are among 1,250 British kids enjoying their
all-expenses-paid, three-to six-month journeys of self-discovery courtesy of
the Department for International Development.”

So the UK government whilst imposing austerity cuts at home is  undercutting businesses and social enterprises which compete to offer gap year experiences AND it is doing it is doing badly. 

DFID is reported to have spent around ?9 million on the International Citizen Service,sending
1,250 young people overseas for ?projects of
development value?. But the main beneficiaries appear to be the British youngsters
themselves, rather than the people of the developing world.

“The participants have been seeing the world. Countries in the pilot phase
include Brazil, South Africa, India, Zambia, Nepal, Kenya, Peru and other
gap-year favourites. In the full implementation, starting next month, the
number of places will rise to 7,000 over three years and the list of
countries will expand to include Sri Lanka and Fiji.

Flights, visas, accommodation and food are all paid for. Each trip typically
lasts from three to six months and the average cost to the taxpayer has been
?7,000 per person. (Richer travellers have to make a ?1,000-?2,000
contribution, but so far 81 per cent have taken part for free.)

The participants, understandably, are very keen on the scheme and told the
evaluators how much they appreciated it. Facebook and blogs are full of the
cable TV and swimming pools in their hotels (though not everyone is so
comfortably accommodated), their visits to the beach, tourist attractions
and ?lush forests? on their days off. But when they describe the
?development work? they are supposed to be doing, things get a little more

?Is there really a point to international volunteering?? asked Cristina, who
was assigned to a rural Indian village. ?What could three young girls do to
help in such a foreign environment? Everyone [in the local charity they were
supposed to be helping] was really welcoming and nice, but they were stuck
in their own jobs and did not know where we should fit in. Also, what skills
did we have that could aid in improving people’s lives? It seemed like none.
On our first field trip, it felt like we were VIP tourists? but that was not
what we signed off to do.?

?I feel, and the other volunteers would agree, that we have been very much
pampered and living in luxury,? wrote Monju, one participant in the Peru ICS
programme. ?It has been better than most holidays I have been on? We have
started to become very critical of what we have done so far and what the
orientation has really delivered.

?There has been a lot of talk about the cost of sending us to Peru, which is
?6,000. Is it better to send over a volunteer, potentially someone who has
not had any previous volunteering experience, to Peru to teach English, or
is it better to just give the ?6,000 to the people so they can help
themselves? Are we gaining more than the beneficiaries??

The participants? own concerns that they are just being given a
state-subsidised gap experience were reflected in the official evaluation
report for the pilot phase. Evidence of development impact from their work,
conceded the report, was ?weak,? with only ?tenuous and insubstantial
positive impacts? in many placements. There was ?considerable
under-utilisation? of the young volunteers, leaving them ?frustrated and
aimless,? with key problems being their ?lack of specific skills? and their
?lack of grit?. Some volunteers ended up on projects which taxpayers might
not expect to be funding. One group in Tanzania found itself teaching street
children to tap dance. According to another blogger, in El Salvador, some
youngsters ended up observing prostitutes in order to ?draw up a Gender
Positioning System? map of sex workers? movements in San Salvador. ” Read more

DFID can hardly claim that it is providing an example of good practice, the report in today's Telegraph makes  DFID look both wasteful and irresponsible.  It may object that not all the placements raise concern – but that is not the point, none of them should. We cannot expect less of a well funded government department than we do of business and social enterprises which are not subsidised by the tax payer.

Back in August 2011 Sallie Grayson of PeopleandPlaces, a responsible volunteering organisation of which I am non-exec chair, asked that DFID  “take this opportunity to set a gold
standard for gap volunteering ? young people do have skills ? and WELL
prepared and WELL managed they can make a positive difference. Some of
the young volunteers we have placed have been amongst the very best.”

The accounts turned up by Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph echo those Sallie gave as examples of poor practice amongst gap year providers.

Read more

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