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Volunteering on your gap year? Do your research first

Sustainable development charity Raleigh International urges young people who are keen to volunteer overseas as part of their gap year, to research why their contribution is needed and how sustainable it is. 
Georgie 1You’ve finished what you thought was the hardest part and now you’re waiting for results day. Thursday August 18th will be a big day for many young people around the country, and a lot of you will be weighing up what to do next. Take a place at university, go through clearing, or perhaps take a gap year. Some of you may be looking to volunteer overseas because you want to do something positive, experience a new culture and to develop skills for the future. However, sustainable development charity Raleigh International is urging young people to do their research before signing up to make sure their contribution is genuinely needed and will make a lasting impact.
Georgie 2“Many young people do want to make a meaningful difference, and there are organisations that need their time, energy and creativity to do that effectively. However, other organisations may place more importance on profit over impact,” says Rachel Harrison, Raleigh’s Director of Recruitment, Delivery and Communications. “It’s important that you do your research and ask the difficult questions.”
So what steps should young people take to ensure that what they are signing up to do will make a positive, lasting difference?
“If the main motivation of the volunteer is to help improve the lives of poor communities or the environment for the future, they should look to work with an organisation that runs long-term development programmes, based on local and national development plans. The organisation should also work with local partners and monitor and evaluate its work. Ask how your work will help local communities in the long-term, not just whilst you are there.” says Harrison. “The organisation’s experience in working through young people and running safe programmes is also crucial.” 
According to Raleigh, organisations that work successfully through young volunteers to make an impact are committed to helping their volunteers develop the skills, such as team working, communication, adaptability and global awareness, as well as the passion to become active citizens and contribute positively to society.
Georgie Russon, 19, from Cheltenham, volunteered in Costa Rica and Nicaragua after completing her A-levels last year: “I had applied to do geology at university but when my grades came through I didn’t get my place. I decided that I wanted to study global development and sustainability instead, and when I applied I wrote about how I was doing Raleigh. I think that played a big part in me getting my place.”
Raleigh International run development projects where a youth peer-to-peer model, empowering in-country volunteers, international volunteers and communities to work alongside each other, can be most effective, and where the energy, creativity and skills of young volunteers are put to best use. This could include raising awareness of safe water and sanitation practices, forming youth and women’s’ community groups, or supporting young entrepreneurs to establish small businesses.
Volunteers aged 17 - 24 from all over the world can apply for a Raleigh expedition for 5, 7 or 10 weeks. We run expeditions in Borneo, Costa Rica & Nicaragua, Nepal and Tanzania throughout the year - Apply now

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