A life changing experience volunteering with VSO

VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. So far 40,000 VSO volunteers of 94 nationalities have made a difference in 90 countries. Eteach caught up with Emily Lomax, Head of UK Volunteering at VSO, to learn more about the organisation, about current volunteering opportunities, and about the enormous benefits of volunteering for both communities and volunteers.

Please introduce VSO, its aims and objectives

VSO is a development organisation that fights poverty through volunteers. Our vision is for a world without poverty and our mission is to bring people together to fight poverty.

This is underpinned by our values which are:

  •   People are the best agents of change.
  •   Knowledge is our most powerful tool.
  •   Progress is only possible through working together.
  •   By thinking globally we can change the world.


VSO began in 1958, when Alec and Mora Dickenson recruited and sent 16 young British volunteers overseas in response to a letter from the Bishop of Portsmouth asking for people to teach English. Much has changed since then. We’ve gone from being a UK charity to an international one.

Volunteers now work in whatever fields are necessary, including education, health, secure livelihoods, gender equality and advocacy, to fight the forces that keep people in poverty.

We’re always looking for new ways to turn human energy and ingenuity into lasting change.

We’re not a relief organisation, so we don’t respond to disasters or emergencies.  We work in countries with clear development needs, but where it’s safe and stable enough for volunteers to make a sustainable impact.  If you become a VSO volunteer, your time and efforts are focused on the big issues.

Tell us about your work in the education field

VSO works in education in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Our programmes are developed through a consultative process that analyses the education context, and identifies the people who are disadvantaged within and outside the education system in each country.

VSO’s vision is that all children should have access to good quality primary education. This includes ensuring the most disadvantaged – such as girls, those with disabilities, ethnic minorities and children affected by HIV and AIDS – are also able to go to school.

How do VSO volunteers help?

 Volunteers support improvements in education by working in teacher training colleges and with groups of schools on developing teaching methods. They also work within the mainstream education system to overcome the barriers facing marginalised groups – for example, improving the provision of inclusive education. By improving classroom techniques so that lessons are enjoyable, practical and interactive, more children leave school with skills and knowledge that will improve their chances in life.

We also work with local government offices and ministries of education in areas such as assessment, strategic planning, national curriculum development, monitoring, evaluation and national quality standards.

 Where is VSO active?

 We work in 36 locations in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America.

What kinds of education roles are you recruiting for currently?

 Within education we’re specifically looking for the following professionals with a certain level of experience:

  • primary teachers with two years’ experience;
  • primary head teachers;
  • secondary teachers with at least 3-5 years’ experience, and preferably with management experience;
  • English language teachers;
  • Education managers or advisers;
  • and occasionally we have roles for SEN teachers too.

What are the benefits for interested candidates?

 It’s a life changing experience! VSO can offer you something other volunteering organisations can’t: the opportunity to make an enduring difference by helping improve the institutions that serve poor people. The idea is that you work together with your colleagues to improve practices, techniques and procedures. That means that when you go home, the impact you’ve made will live on.

 VSO also supports all volunteers financially: you don’t pay to volunteer. The idea is that you share your time, but you won’t be out of pocket.

How does your recruitment process work?

 You can find specific VSO volunteering opportunities in education via the Eteach website following this link; information on how to apply is given for each post. You can also be proactive and register for the VSO Talent Pool from the above link. We’ll then invite you to complete an online registration, which takes a snapshot of your professional skills and availability.

If it looks as if your skills are likely to be in current demand, and you’re available within the next 12 months, we invite you to complete a full application, giving us a fuller account of your professional background, experience, and personal circumstances.

Follow this link to view current VSO placements within the education sector, to join VSO’s Talent Pool, and to find out more about how you can have a life changing experience – as well making a positive impact on the fight to eradicate poverty.

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