Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is an international development charity that works through experienced volunteers living and working as equals alongside local partners. It is the largest independent (non-governmental) volunteer-sending organization in the world. VSO has offices in the UK, Ireland, Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya and the Philippines and a recruiting partner in India; as of December 2004, it has volunteers of 14 different nationalities on placement. Since its founding in 1958 VSO has placed over 42,000 volunteers in over 140 developing countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
It currently develops programmes in six "goal areas":
VSO was founded in 1958 by Alec Dickson through a bishop's letter to the London paper, The Sunday Times, as an educational experience overseas for school-leavers, initially only boys, before starting university. Volunteers offered unskilled help in exchange for basic accommodation and pocket money. In 1962, the more recognized scheme of using 'qualified' volunteers came about. By 1968, VSO had 1420 volunteers overseas.
By 1980, the unqualified volunteers had been phased out and the period overseas had been extended to two years, with a more professional approach. Active volunteer numbers initially fell to around 750, but by 2003, the number had returned to around 1,400. As of December 2004, applications to volunteer are accepted from people aged between 20 and 75, with at least two years' experience in their field, and the average age of current volunteers is 38. Unlike almost every other organization of its type, VSO places no restriction on nationality.
In the early 1990s, in order to meet growing demand for highly specialized and skilled volunteers from its partners in developing countries, VSO established partner agencies in Canada, the Netherlands, Kenya/Uganda (VSO Jitolee), and the Philippines (VSO Bahaginan). In 2004, VSO launched a partnership called iVolunteer Overseas (iVO) in India with iVolunteer, an existing volunteering program of MITRA, an Indian NGO. At the same time, the charity's operations in Ireland are also becoming increasingly independent of the UK. VSO's structure is evolving into an international federation of these recruitment bases. International volunteers are recruited through all of these bases, and they can be placed in any one of VSO's programmes (e.g. a Canadian volunteer working in Nepal, or a Ugandan volunteer working in Mongolia).
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