Voluntary Service Overseas - VSO

The Sunday Times

The Year between

The Sunday Times, March 23 1958

Britain's Voluntary Service Overseas organisation, VSO, was founded after this letter was published in The Sunday Times

Letters to the Editor


SIR - The interest occasioned by the Prime Minister's Commonwealth tour and the concern expressed generally that there should be a greater realisation of Commonwealth ties lead me to suggest that there is a simple way by which this link could be made more real.

A number of headmasters in this country are very much aware that many of their senior boys including the most gifted are having to wait a year (in some cases even longer) before vacancies become available in universities and in technical training. So many of these young people have something very worthwhile to give; but where and how?

It is, I submit, the underdeveloped territories of the Commonwealth that today offer opportunities of service that would not only make a positive contribution to those countries but would constitute an experience of inestimable benefit to many of our young people. Such service given over limited periods and often under hard or strange conditions would provide interesting and adventurous opportunities to put gifts to useful purpose and to gain experience.

I know of urgent appeals from Sarawak, from Uganda and from West Africa - not for money but for volunteer assistance - in the field of primary teaching, youth work, community development, adult education and social welfare generally, where a readiness to give service would not only be of value in itself, but could act as an inspiration to the young people of these countries.

The projects overseas that I have in mind - some governmental, some missionary, some the responsibility of social service councils - do not postulate specialist skills so much as a readiness to work alongside the local people: their need is urgent, just because of the new problems arising in this period of transition to self-government.

Equally urgent is the need for the best of our young people - in their difficult period of transition before university or career - to have the opportunity of doing something worth while, where it is most genuinely needed, and seeing a bit of the world into the bargain. If, as I believe, there will be no difficulty in finding volunteers, it will be necessary for some body - or bodies - to accept responsibility for three things: for selecting suitable boys and suitable projects, for finding travelling expenses, and for ensuring that at the other end there is someone who will meet the boys and set them on the right road.

Is it beyond our organisational capacity to unite these needs?

Launcelot Portsmouth


Read about Voluntary Service Overseas, VSO forty years on

Voluntary Service Overseas
Aid or self interest?

This letter appeared in The Sunday Times of London in 1958, and reprinted by Brian Deer in the public interest. Responses, information and other feedback are appreciated