Thinking about a gap year?

Many people planning to take a gap year consider volunteering with a development NGO (non-governmental organisation). 

Gareth Wall is an alumnus from the University of Birmingham who is a Research Officer with the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and also undertakes part time doctoral research at the International Development Department at the University of Birmingham. He encourages students and graduates who may be planning a gap year to contact local NGOs directly, as this can help to minimise the costs involved.

Where should I go?

When considering a location, Gareth recommends undertaking some research, using local organisations’ websites and then contacting those organisations directly. If they have an English language website this means they may well be interested in hosting international volunteers and are more likely to have the capacity to do so. He also advises:

"When planning any overseas experience, it is imperative to ensure that your intended destination is safe for travellers. The most comprehensive advice is given by the UK Government’s Foreign Office."

What should I do?

Try to align your skill base/ interests with the organisation, whether those may be language skills, computer skills or other specialisms (such as music, engineering, providing assistance to children or vulnerable adults with special needs). This way you are much more likely to be useful to the organisation and to have a positive and constructive time.

How much should it cost?

  • Flights – As a minimum, you should expect to have to cover the cost of your own flight. The destination will dictate the cost to a large extent. Eastern Europe can be cheap (<£100), whilst Africa, Asia and South America are likely to be £500+.
  • Accommodation and food – Typically it can be sensible to budget around £100 a week, although it may be possible for you to arrange to stay and eat with the organisation through which you are volunteering (especially if it is a residential organisation, such as an orphanage or school). You may also need to budget for local transport.
  • Fundraising - Effectively you are trying to get other people to help cover the costs of your trip abroad, which is fine to come from family and friends - you can even do a sponsored challenge to enable people to give you money. However, unless you are fundraising directly for the organisation beyond your costs of volunteering, it is advisable not to try community fundraising (street collections, bag packs etc.) using the logo of the charity. The Student Development office in the Guild of Students can provide you with information regarding fundraising. 
  • Vaccinations – It is likely that you will need at least some basic vaccinations, many of which are free with the NHS. Book an appointment with your GP or the nurse at your GP’s surgery to obtain advice. You can also check the NHS "Fit for Travel" website for advice as to what you need for where. 

There is a wealth of information available to students and graduates planning a gap year. Resources include Lonely Planet, travel websites such as India Mike and case studies from others who have travelled before you.