A new government scheme is offering to pay for up to 7000 people to volunteer on gap years abroad each year. 18-25 year olds may apply for the programme begins this year in July and will continue for the next three years until August 2015.

The scheme is an attempt by the government to revive gap year student numbers, which reduced to 16,000 last year, considerably fewer than before the recession.

One reason for the lower numbers is due to high the cost to individuals, which can be up to £4000. Young adults are being encouraged to delay their studies. Instead, the gap years are intended to give young people a period of time abroad, volunteering in developing countries.

The ventures are being heavily subsidised by the Department for International Development, a government department.
The funding covers flight costs, visa procurement, insurance, vaccinations, food, accommodation costs and a small allowance. £800 of fundraising is requested and encouraged to be raised by the applicants.

Selection for the scheme is based on the perceived effort of an individual’s application and skills, including motivation, good working ability and commitment. Individuals will spend 10-12 weeks directly working in a country. They will also receive several months training beforehand, and afterwards are encouraged to share their experiences.

The scheme is part of the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, a UK-based global volunteering opportunity for students to work abroad, set up by the government and run by volunteer organization. David Cameron announced the pilot scheme in October 2010, and it was launched in 2011, with 1250 volunteers taking part. The pilot scheme was deemed to be successful in the nine months between 2011 and 2012.  The ICS programme has officially been launched now.

One benefit cited by the organization is that it can improve an individual’s CV. People who get involved will be placed with major charities who are involved in projects, including British Red Cross, Islamic Relief and humanitarian charities.

Activities will involve making a positive impact in poor developing countries, for example water conservation projects, teaching and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Volunteers will work in over 28 of the world’s poorest countries, such as Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Palestine, Ethiopia, India, Malawi and Nepal.

The UK volunteers will work with national volunteers within the countries. Projects undertaken will include IT and media training, sport and activities for life skills, climate change awareness and opportunity improvement.

The scheme also needs project leaders, mature individuals over 23 years old to manage projects for between three months and a year.
Native language skills are a requirement for some positions.

Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell, a member of the government cabinet said: “[Participants] will gain new perspectives, greater confidence and make a real difference’.

He said the scheme helps let people who might otherwise not be able to afford it to volunteer abroad. The National Union of Students (NUS) has welcomed the scheme, saying it was good that the government understood the need to create opportunities for young people at the moment.

Andrew Mitchell also said: “This is an important opportunity for young people not only to broaden their own horizons but also to have life-changing impact on others.

By making this contribution, volunteers will show what a difference one person can make in the world.  I’m sure they will return from their experience full of enthusiasm for helping others, and with an understanding and appreciation of the results development can bring.”

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