Everyone who has ever considered traveling to volunteer abroad has probably heard of the VSO, an organization that is dedicated to “fighting poverty through volunteers”. Unlike many organizations that offer to help would-be volunteers connect with communities in need, the VSO requires all their volunteers to have specific skills that can help the communities they’re immersed in in concrete ways. These go beyond helping rebuild wells and libraries in third-world countries, and they are always on the lookout for teachers, doctors, advocacy advisors, and even human resources personnel. They have trained over 170,000 people, given over 321,000 volunteer days, operate in 22 countries, and have helped over 2 million people in sectors including education and health. The organization’s volunteer program is perfect for gap years, as they not only allow you to give back, but also give you a chance to develop professionally, readying you for future employment.
This means that the selection process for joining one of their programs is quite strict, but the results of their stringent selection process are unquestionable. Last year, the VSO was able to accomplish a rather admirable feat by successfully utilizing mobile technology to help teachers in various countries. With mobile technology continually growing, the VSO set its sights on using it to help teachers get across to their students. Finding that 92% of the teachers in Papua New Guinea had access to mobile phones, they partnered with the Department of Education and conducted a research project to see if using “SMS stories” and “text message lesson plans” would help students grasp lessons more easily, and according to Purna Shrestha, Global Research and Advocacy Advisor (Education) for VSO, “By the end of the trial, the reading scores for children in the participating schools were far higher than for children in the control group. There was clear evidence that text messages that carried lesson plans and stories to teachers improve children’s reading ability significantly and change teaching practice in the classroom.”
It doesn’t stop there. With smartphone and tablet technology improving, the VSO has also made use of this technology to bring a more contemporary form of education to students. According to the company behind mobile gaming website Iceland Bingo, smartphone and tablet installed bases were expected to exceed PC installed bases in 2013, and in Malawi, the VSO made full use of this fact. They teamed up with app developed Onebillion to create an app that helped teach Malawian school children math, and they found that the app “helped to greatly boost children’s maths knowledge compared to the other options.”
“It is essential we continue to invest in education and ensure teachers are equipped with the right resources to do their job whether that’s via technology or not,” says Purna. “VSO is committed to ensuring that improvements in pupils’ learning outcomes are possible when teachers are well-trained and effective in helping their pupils learn, through a combination of volunteers, technology and research.”
If you’re interested in joining the VSO and feel you have the skills to contribute to their campaigns, visit their website and view their open job vacancies to get started on the application process.