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Matthew Bell, VSO's director of communications
"Average age of volunteers in now 35"
 real 28k

Monday, 4 September, 2000, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
Overseas volunteers reach record levels
Ethiopian women
There are currently 2,000 VSO volunteers in developing countries
Professional workers are volunteering for development work overseas in record numbers, including a higher proportion of older people.

The annual report from the international charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) reveals that the average age of a volunteer is now over 35 - the highest ever - with a growing number of over 50-year-olds.

The need to give something back to society as well as to face a "real challenge" were the most common reasons given for applying.

The new generation is light years away from the common image of gap-year students digging wells

Mark Goldring, VSO

More than 58,000 people contacted the organisation last year, with over 900 being posted to one of the 74 countries where VSO runs projects.

"People feel fed up with the stress and a materialistic lifestyle. They want a job which is rewarding professionally and offers them the chance to give something back," said VSO's director of communications Matthew Bell.

'Tough conditions'

He said that people in their 50s often had 20 to 30 years' professional experience to offer, as well as a more "phlegmatic" approach to the task in hand.

Voluntary working
VSO operates in 60 countries
About 2,000 volunteers working at any one time
Most placements last two years
One in three volunteers extends their posting
It costs 15,000 a year to recruit, train and equip each volunteer
Recent volunteers included a bee-keeper and an ostrich farmer
"They are able to do a job in tough conditions incredibly well," he said.

The report, published on Monday, also revealed that entire families were applying to work abroad.

Yet despite a growing number of applicants to VSO from all ages groups and backgrounds, the organisations says demand continues to exceed supply, with around 500 vacancies not filled last year.

Primary school teachers, carpenters, builders, mechanics and metal workers were all "desperately needed", said chief executive Mark Goldring.

"The new generation is light years away from the common image of gap-year students digging wells," he said.

Latest project

In a bid to attract more specialist medical workers, the VSO has joined together with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to allow trainee consultant paediatricians to receive professional recognition for their work while spending a year as a VSO volunteer.

The scheme will allow 10 trainees to become a volunteer for a year in one of five developing countries.

City traders
People are fed up with stress of office work
Clare Hamer, a specialist registrar in paediatrics, will be the first to take part and leaves for the Gambia this month to take up a post at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Banjul.

She said: "It'll be a big challenge for me, as I'll have to adapt to a totally different work environment and take on staff management responsibilities. "I think it's a brilliant step the Royal College has taken and many of my colleagues have expressed a real interest."

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