Organisations offering volunteer placements overseas are
seeing a rise in applicants from people in their late 50s and
"Older volunteers are wanting to put the skills they have
learned in their professional life to practical use in building
God's Kingdom," Krista Gilbert, from Cross-links, says.
Wayne Robinson, of WEC Trek, says that it, too, is seeing a
steady number of volunteers in their 60s and above. "It has been
great to see, and the fields really appreciate the experience and
the 'grandparent' quality they bring."
At the same time as this rise in older applicants, charities are
reporting a drop in the number of younger people undertaking a gap
year, a fact that they blame largely on the rise in tuition
Most organisations ask volunteers, whatever their age, to
undergo a health check to ensure that they are fit to travel.
Provided there are no problems, there is usually no upper age-limit
on volunteer opportunities.
"I always tell people that they are never too young or too old
to go and serve," says Simone Phillips of Smile International.
"There is always something people can do and get involved
with. We encourage people to use their talents and skills to help
our projects overseas."
On offer: International placements from five
months to two years for those over 21 (although these may be
extended). Placements are mainly geared to individuals, but some
opportunities exist for couples and families. About 25 per cent of
placements go to over-35s.
What and where: Individual placements are on
existing Oasis projects in Asia and Africa. They use the medical,
educational, IT, administration, and business expertise of
volunteers to fulfil the projects' needs.
Cost: About £10,000 per year, including flights,
living costs, and rent. Oasis helps you draw up budgets and plan
Apply: Any time.
Contact: Phone 01732 851373; or visit www.oasis.uk.org/volunteering/international
On offer: The short-term programme "Next", for
over-30s, is available to couples and singles. Short-term can mean
anything from a few weeks to two years. Volunteers send a
description of skills, interests, and preferred destination (if
they have one), and Crosslinks will use mission partners and other
contacts to match volunteers to needs.
What and where: Anything from teaching to
administration, to placements requiring financial or business
skills, as well as medical opportunities, such as working as a
psychotherapist or physiotherapist. Placements are offered in Asia,
Africa, or Europe.
Cost: Varies with location. Flights range from
£600-950; living costs from £400-700 per month.
Apply: Any time. Projects are tailor-made; but
allow a lead-in of three to four months from interview to
Contact: Phone 02086 916111; or visit www.crosslinks.org/next
On offer: "Transform" offers trips to
people aged 18 and above throughout the year. Applicants are placed
alongside one of Tearfund's partners in teams of four people or
more, from two weeks up to six months. Transform provides
comprehensive pre-travel training and support, as well as services
such as medical checks and insurance.
What and where: From India to Zambia, Bolivia to
Burkina Faso, there are many different options. Each partner
project works through the local church to serve its community in
some way, whether through practical building projects, educational
work, health visiting, or other ministries. More information on the
Cost: From £900 for two-week trips to £3500 for
six months, excluding visa, flights, and injections.
Apply: Application dates apply per trip; see the
Tearfund website for details.
Contact: Phone 020 8943 7777; or visit www.tearfund.org/transform
On offer: "Step Out" trips to Smile
projects are available for up to four weeks to all aged 18+. Longer
trips are usually for a minimum of three months. Contact Smile to
discuss individual expertise and requirements.
What and where: Smile works across Asia, Africa,
and Europe, relieving poverty through long-term development
projects. Volunteers could be teaching or cooking for school
children in Sri Lanka, offering medical help in Kosova, or offering
practical, IT, and educational skills in Uganda, Zimbabwe, or
Cost: Smile International asks team members to
make a contribution to cover expenses. Flights are on top of this,
but Smile will book and do all the organising for you. Two-week
contributions are from £399 in Asia, £399 in Europe, and £499 in
Africa, plus flights.
Apply: Any time.
Contact: Phone 01689 870932; or visit www.smileinternational.org
On offer: Short-term WEC treks are
available from one month to two years. Volunteers tell WEC what
skills and time they can offer, and WEC set up a suitable
What and where: WEC works in more than 80
countries worldwide, from central Asia, Africa, and South America
to Europe, and has "creative access" in countries less welcoming to
Christians. Placements are available for those offering a specific
professional skill or who just want to lend a practical hand.
Cost: Varies with location. The initial cost of
£200 covers five-day orientation, medical questionnaire, £50
deposit, a T-shirt, and devotional books.
Apply: Any time: there are four or five
orientation courses a year.
Contact: Phone 01753 278114, or visit www.wec-int.org.uk/cms/trek/wec-trek
Us (formerly USPG)
On offer: The "Experience Exchange
Programme" offers placements for self-funding volunteers to spend
six months to a year overseas. All placements are tailor-made.
There is no upper age-limit; there is a volunteer in his 70s
currently on placement.
What and where: Volunteers share in the life and
mission of partner churches worldwide. This may include teaching,
agriculture, building, health, administration, children's, and
youth work. No special professional skills are required; placements
are tailored to individual volunteer's preferences,
background, and availability. Destinations have included Africa,
Asia, Europe, and South America.
Cost: Varies with individual and placement, but
an average is about £2500 to £3000 to cover training, travel,
insurance, and some living costs. The programme does not charge
fees for setting up the placement. A small grant may be available
Apply: Any time. Discernment and selection
weekends run all year, and preparatory training held in January and
Contact: Phone: Habib Nader on 020 791 2215; or
On offer: "Transfom 2013" is an
initiative to reach out to people in the Mediterranean region. It
begins with a week of worship and training before a period of
outreach, from one week to several months. Another short-term
outreach project focuses on the thousands of people from Arab
countries who holiday in Switzerland in August. John and Jane
Broadley, who describe themselves as "well over 50", went on the
Swiss outreach: "We were amazed at the opportunities that God gave
to OM and our team to meet Gulf visitors, whom it would be
virtually impossible to meet in any other situation to talk about
What and where: OM works in more than 110
countries. Volunteers may be involved in evangelism, teaching,
development projects, or work among the poor, either on land or on
OM's mission ship, Logos Hope.
Cost: Costs vary greatly, depending on location
Apply: Short term: throughout the year. Longer
term: training conferences are held each year in January and
August; so applications need to be in before these dates in order
to make the conference.
Contact: Phone: 01691 773388; email
email@example.com; or visit: www.uk.om.org
Habitat for Humanity: Global Village
On offer: One- to two-week international
volunteering trips to help a family to build a new, safe, decent
What and where: Volunteers work alongside a local
community, family, and local and international volunteers to build
or renovate a home. This is coupled with a fund-raising challenge
to help more people to escape from poverty housing. Opportunities
Cost: from £2650 for trips of about 12
Apply: Via www.habitatforhumanity.org.uk/volunteer.
Contact: Full details and booking forms on the
website, or call 01295 264240.
On offer: Short-term individual or
team-trips are available for people aged 18 to 99 and in good
health (16/17-year-olds can apply if accompanied by a parent or
guardian). Trips range from a weekend to two years: placements are
tailor-made. CMS also has a missionary association programme for
Christians who want to arrange placements independently but want a
link with CMS, which can offer training and advice.
What and where: CMS has links with Christian
communities across Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East,
and Europe. Volunteers can work in health-care, teaching, project
management, community development, the arts, or church
Cost: Varies depending on location and length of
time; from £99-2000 for a team member, individual placements about
£4000 per year. CMS helps with budgeting and offers advice for
Apply: Any time for individual placements, for
teams look on the CMS website.
Contact: Phone 01865 787415; or visit www.cms-uk.org
World Horizons UK
On offer: As well as gap years, which
are open to people of all ages and backgrounds, there is also a
short-term mission programme called "Global Journeys".
What and where: The gap-year programme consists
of three months' training in Wales and a six-month placement
overseas. Previous placements have included West and North Africa,
South-East Asia, India, South America, and Europe. Global Journeys
involves people of all ages in travelling on trips together, for
anything from one to six weeks. World Horizons UK is also keen to
help facilitate other groups' running their own trips, and can help
with training and planning if contacted in advance.
Cost: from £275 plus flights.
Apply: Any time via the website.
Contact: Phone: 01554 750005; or visit www.worldhorizons.co.uk
Christine Hutchings, 67, spent eight months in Botswana
with Us (formerly USPG)
I MET my husband through VSO, in Tanzania in the 1960s; so we
always had a pull to Africa.
I retired in 2010, after having spent the last five years of my
career managing a befriending charity in Scotland.
On retirement, I immediately volunteered to go on a US trip to a
children's home in Ghana for a month. My church supports the home,
and wanted to strengthen the link by sending parishioners.
That started the ball rolling. Coming back, I managed to whet my
husband Gerry's appetite, and in September 2011 we arrived in
We were attached to the diocesan office, and in the first week I
was asked to investigate an employment dispute at the diocesan
hospice. As I looked into it, to see if they'd followed
constitutional procedures, I found they'd got all kinds of
As well as helping them develop a new constitution, we worked on
refocusing where they were heading, as the doctors and board of
trustees had a plan to become a centre of expertise in palliative
In the last couple of months, I worked with a hospital
administrator to help the hospice prepare for and hold an AGM, so
that next time they could run it themselves, unaided.
My husband was asked to help to improve the financial
record-keeping and reporting of the 13 parishes, and all their
organisations. As part of that work, he designed a form for
expenditure and receipts that could be produced easily in Microsoft
Excel, so that the treasurers didn't have to pay anyone to do their
Since coming back, I've taken a more active role in my church,
taking the reserved sacrament to residential homes in our parish,
and studying at diocesan level with a view to becoming an
authorised lay minister.
We're not actively planning another trip, but if something came
up, we'd consider it. The adventure unfolded when we stepped
The Revd Stuart Foster, 65, spent two months in Tanzania
I RETIRED in 2009, having felt burnt out as team rector for nine
parishes in Lincolnshire, although I still serve as chaplain to the
Duke of Rutland.
My health had deteriorated, but I just wasn't ready for
retirement: I'm a guy who rides motorbikes and climbs mountains.
Then I read a book, which helped me realise that I needed to do
something: I couldn't just exist in retirement.
Since retiring, I've had two motorbike accidents and had skin
cancer. One day, out of desperation, I turned my computer on. After
three years of waiting and thinking "What does God want me to do?"
I came across the "Go Mad" logo and thought, "That's me."
Go Mad works with Tearfund's "Transform" programme, to send
people to Tanzania. So I emailed Tearfund and said: "I'm 65. Is
there any room for a person like me?" And they said yes.
Arriving in Musoma, Tanzania, in October last year, with a team
of young people, being met and affirmed by old and young, I
experienced a totally different attitude about age. I was affirmed
as "babu", which means "grandfather".
I worked on a project to build toilet blocks, water tanks, and a
house; taught in schools; was involved with health-care, and
preached in churches. I was told we would save lives, but I didn't
expect to see that almost daily in different ways.
It was the best experience I've had in 30-odd years of ministry.
It was everything I wanted to do in retirement, and I have come
home a new man.
The first Sunday after I retired, I went to a church where the
priest preached about God saving the best until last. At the time,
I believed it was a word from God; now I am convinced of it.
I think Go Mad is one of the best-kept secrets in Tearfund.
Since returning, I've been asked to work with Go Mad to help
strengthen their partnership. I can't wait. CM
Mary Brown, 69, went to Peru for six months with
MY HUSBAND died five years ago. We'd been involved in church
work all our lives, and also ran a pet shop together; so I was used
to doing everything with Len.
When he died, I kept thinking: "If Len was around, I could do
things so much better." I cried out to God: "If you want me to go
on serving you, you've got to find something for me that doesn't
hark back to the past."
Soon after that, I read a Leprosy Mission leaflet. In it, a
group of ladies were being taught to sew. Then I had a dream that I
was teaching the ladies. I felt God was speaking to me, as I had
trained as a dressmaker.
I contacted CMS, and, in May 2011, I arrived in Lima, Peru. I
ran dressmaking, cross-stitching, knitting, and crocheting classes
with different groups, and took craft lessons in a primary school.
I also worked in the high-security ladies' prison, teaching
I got involved with other things, too, including making clerical
shirts for all the clergy in the diocese, at the request of the
bishop. The clergy don't get paid, and shirts are expensive to
If somehone had said, could I go out there to make shirts for
clergy, I'd have said: "Can't I just send the money?" But it was so
much better, having the contact with people, getting to know the
clergy and the work they were doing.
I also volunteered to work on the cathedral altar drapes that
needed altering. And I did a lot of work mending things around the
cathedral. It was a blessing to be so useful.
Being out there, I realised that I don't need to have Len
around, but that I do need God. I realised, too, how much I missed
my family; so I've been doing a lot more with them since I've come
back, and we've become a lot stronger.
I would consider another trip, but I think it was a one-off: God
just needed to teach me something. CM