60 years of volunteering
To celebrate VSO's 60th anniversary, we take a look at six remarkable volunteers through the decades.
The world was a different place 60 years ago. Humankind was yet to land on the moon, yet to encounter the world wide web, yet to worry about climate change. As the world has changed, VSO has changed with it.
VSO has gone from a shoestring operation dreamt up by VSO’s founders, Alec and Mora Dickson, at their kitchen table in 1958, to an international organisation. We now work in 23 countries, helping hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year through the power of volunteering and the dedication of our supporters.
To mark our 60th birthday, VSO has dug out the old photo albums, inviting you on a trip back in time to hear from six VSO volunteers on the memories that endure across the decades.
Sixty years ago, Chris Tipple was one of the first volunteers to be sent overseas by VSO, to Ghana in 1958. Chris taught at a school 30 miles north of the capital, Accra, and at the time it was difficult to contact home.
“There was no telephone to ring England. Airmail letters were the only way to keep in contact with home. I had never been abroad before I went to Ghana.”
Chris found it easy to teach his students: “They were desperately keen to learn. Education was seen as the passport to success in Ghana.”
Chris later returned to Ghana in 1998, visiting the school he’d taught at, where he met with former students.
“When I went back after 40 years it was obvious the students enjoyed me being there, and I could see how much I’d been able to help them in their careers.”
In 1965, VSO broadened its focus beyond education to health and livelihoods. Two years later, Dr Nick Maurice volunteered as a medical assistant, while still a medical student, in Papua New Guinea. In the photo above he is examining a man for goitre (swelling of the thyroid gland).
While in Papua New Guinea, Nick travelled to remote communities in the hills to give health check-ups and vaccinate children for diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
Dr Nick Maurice became a lifelong volunteer, having first volunteered as a teacher with VSO in Togo in 1961-2, and, following his time with VSO in Papua New Guinea, volunteered with other organisations in Nepal, Cambodia and The Gambia.
For Nick, international volunteering is just as vital today as it was 60 years ago. “With Brexit and Trump, there seems to be a relationship between a lack of diversity and a fear of difference.
“The more that people can engage with people of other cultures and faiths, the more the world will become a safer, more just and peaceful place.”
Dr Heather Thomas was 22 and had just finished her teaching degree when she volunteered in Jamaica as a science teacher.
“You can have a massive impact. Immediately you had influence that you wouldn’t have in this country as a probationary teacher.
“The simple fact was that had I not been teaching biology in the school no one else would have been, there being a big shortage of native trained teachers at the time in Jamaica.”
On her return from Jamaica, Heather became a VSO champion, opening two charity shops, working on two supporter groups, and founding her own group in Shropshire.
Forty-five years on, Heather is now in the senior management team at Wolverhampton’s Refugee and Migrant centre, still working across different cultures, just as she had done as a VSO volunteer.
“The broadening of an individual’s horizons whilst on VSO placement is probably the best contribution to a better world.”
Kate Iorpenda volunteered with VSO for three years as a primary teacher trainer in the south of Nigeria: “I think lots of people thought I was mad – at the time Nigeria was under a military dictatorship.”
The curriculum at the time was limited, and Kate says she “spent a lot of time making teaching fun” through creative and interactive learning.
“VSO was able to invest in someone with the time, energy, and resources, and this helped the teachers who really wanted to make the most of the opportunity.”
Kate later became a programme manager in Sri Lanka and Nigeria and has seen the changes to volunteering over the years.
“VSO changed from being a small organisation in London to this global network. It became about finding the best skilled volunteers around the world. Now today we’re seeing how they’re joined by even more diverse kinds of volunteers, and how this enriches volunteering.”
George Awalla, from Kenya, spent two years volunteering as a project coordinator in Nigeria, where managed projects in agriculture and forest conservation.
“The community embraced alternative livelihoods like growing crops that are friendlier to the environment and that did not require the burning of fields.
“I had always wanted to change people’s lives and help them earn an extra coin by undertaking good agricultural practices.”
Through volunteering, George acquired a more complex understanding of development and became more active.
“I came to value the role volunteering plays in development. Through my VSO volunteering work I got more involved in HIV and AIDS work, youth empowerment, and employability.”
Today, George is still passionate about development, now working for VSO as a country director in Kenya.
Evelyn Okorley volunteered with VSO-led youth volunteer project International Citizen Service (ICS) just last year, becoming one of more than 34,000 youth volunteers since 2011.
Evelyn worked with farmers in rural cocoa communities in her home country, Ghana, setting up community-led groups where people have learnt skills in snail farming and bread baking.
“ICS taught me that knowledge and awareness are very powerful tools for development – tools far more powerful than physical infrastructure.
“I never underestimate the abilities or knowledge of the community members I work with. We share ideas and have open discussions. They’re the ones who take the lead and it is they who take ownership over their own development.”
Since volunteering, Evelyn has noticed a profound change in herself.
“Today, I stand as an active citizen, fully-equipped and renewed in thought to create a positive impact in my world.”
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