International Citizen Service is a scheme proposed by the UK government designed to give young people the chance to volunteer in some of the poorest communities in the world.
In many ways this could be a thoroughly laudable project, but it is also one fraught with potential pitfalls, especially when one considers the criticisms that have been aimed at organisations like Voluntary Service Overseas in the past.
Think tank Demos is also aware of the dangers.
A newspaper article late last year (Sarah Harris - Is the Gap Losing it`s Lure ? - Daily Mail 6 Sept 2011), indicated that Demos welcomed the intiative and the possible benefits for young people`s job prospects, but "pointed out that projects must be properly planned". Jonathan Birdwell, author of the group`s report `Service International` was quoted as saying "There is a risk of such programmes perpetuating negative stereotypes of Western `colonialism` and `charity`, a new way for the West to assert it`s power. And projects that do not appear to have benefits for communities abroad leave volunteers unmotivated and disaffected."
The group`s web site explain that the report draws on "the most recent research on the impact of overseas volunteering, best practise and experiences from similar schemes in other countries". Generally their comments seem supportive of the government`s initiative, but they stress that "it must ensure that the programmes both have a direct benefit to the communities abroad and recruit young people who wouldn`t otherwise consider such an experience, and who would most benefit."
The important point to remember here, I think, is that the days of "all aid is good aid" (if they ever existed) have long since gone.
The Demos report can be downloaded free of charge from www.demos.co.uk/publications .
The Daily Mail followed Sarah Harris` initial article with two more quoting from the report, both signed only by `Daily Mail Reporter` and both boasting rather more combative headlines than Ms Harris` piece ; A Waste of Time that Raises the Spectre of Colonialism ; Damning Verdct on Parts of Gap Year (1 Aug 2011) and Gap Years Are "A Waste of Time" and Risk "Perpetuating Colonialism" (2 Aug 2011).
The actual articles are, in fact, rather more balanced than the headlines indicate !
The choice of language used in the headlines and indeed some of the comments made in the articles may surprise many, given that the Mail is generally regarded as a `true blue` Conservative paper. It may well be a case where ideas and attitudes that were once effectively sidelined have now become far more pervasive. For anyone wanting to read the articles, the Daily Mail website is at www.dailymail.co.uk .
The International Citizen Service is currently being put into practise on a small scale on a trial basis. It`s expected that it will be rolled out more completely at the end of it`s pilot year, which will be some time this month, I believe.
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