Oxford. 14 August 2007. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) issued a warning to gap-year students this week, urging them to watch out for badly planned volunteer projects.
Judith Brodie, the director of VSO UK, said: 'While there are many good gap-year providers, we are increasingly concerned about the number of badly planned and supported schemes that are spurious - ultimately benefiting no one apart from the travel companies that organise them.'
Earthwatch, the international environmental charity, has been recruiting volunteers to support its research projects for the past 35 years and reiterates VSO's concerns about gap year travel companies.
Nigel Winser, Executive Director of Earthwatch (Europe) comments, 'There are a lot of providers out there but not all have the same level of expertise. We recommend asking to see a responsible travel policy that clearly outlines how local communities benefit from receiving visitors, how they are involved in the decision making process and how money is distributed.'
He continues, 'Visiting any indigenous community requires a level of understanding of the possible negative social and cultural and environmental impacts. We all have a duty of care to assess these risks before we travel.'
With 35 years experience of matching volunteers with scientists who need hands-on support for genuine field research, Earthwatch strongly believes that volunteers can - with the right organisation - help to make a difference for people and planet.
'Working in partnership with local people and establishing meaningful connections with communities has always been integral to Earthwatch's work,' continues Winser. 'Our field research projects are led, or co-led by a local scientist who then informs our international volunteers about local cultural and environmental issues. The close working relationships that develop between volunteers and local field staff engender respect and encourage lasting friendships'
For the gap year traveller of any age Earthwatch projects present rare opportunities to work alongside leading experts, support genuine science and develop environmental understanding.
'The support and the enthusiastic assistance of volunteers enabled me to collect types of data that would have been impossible without their many eyes,' says Earthwatch supported scientist Dr. Daniel Rubenstein who is studying Kenya's endangered Grevy's Zebra.'The volunteer model heightens people's awareness and helps to generate research that is shaping conservation plans.'
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View Earthwatch's responsible travel policy
View Earthwatch's results from the field
Read the VSO report
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