VSO seeks a more 'mature' volunteer

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The Independent Online

Voluntary Services Overseas, the charity which sends British people to work in developing countries, is launching a recruitment drive aimed at pensioners.

The charity has raised its retirement age to 75, and is urging people in their sixties to join its two-year work placements in some of the toughest areas in the world.

Faced with falling numbers of applicants and increasing demand for experience and skills rather than brawn and youth, VSO hopes to cash in on the increasingly active older generations. The average age of VSO volunteers is now 38.

More than 35,000 people have worked with VSO since it was launched in 1958. More than 2,000 people will travel this year to 40 countries, each on a two-year placement. But fears over terrorism, Sars and the uncertain economic climate have led to a drop in numbers recently.

Next year, VSO will send only 750 volunteers to work abroad as English teachers and education trainers, compared with more than 900 in 2000. "If we had more people apply, we could increase the number of volunteers we promise to countries," a VSO spokeswoman said. "When it was launched 45 years ago, VSO was about young people who had either just graduated or were taking a year off before going to university. But times have changed."

Anne Thomson, 63, a retired bank manager from Glasgow, has just returned from a two-year VSO placement in Zambia. She said: "Because of Aids, the locals' average life expectancy is under 40, so an elderly person in my position was quite amazing for them."

"I was definitely the oldest in my group, but the wonderful thing about VSO is that it's not age that counts."