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Debunking 4 myths behind youth volunteering

At ICS, we know that young people are an incredible force for change, pushing for progress all over the world. We also know there’s a lot of misinformation about youth volunteering. Here we debunk four common myths. 

Here we debunk four common myths. 

Young people on an ICS Deaf project march to protest their rights
© VSO / Jeff DeKock
We may lack the years of professional experience - but we make up for it in energy

Myth #1: Young people lack the skills and experience to make a difference.

Youth does not equal a lack of skill in any way. Young people have a unique ability to inspire, energise and mobilise diverse communities and bring new people on board. 

In youth volunteering, it’s not technical skills like carpentry or business management that matter. Younger people may have fewer years of life experience, but they have other skills on their side: new perspectives, different passions, energy and drive to influence the future of their world. 

Youth volunteers also better placed to build relationships with local young people. For example, in Bangladesh, youth volunteers have used ‘courtyard sessions’ to share information with other young people about sexual health and rights. This message is infinitely more powerful because the audience are able to relate to the youth volunteers.  

An ICS volunteer delivers a business development session
© Balloon Ventures
Nine in ten ICS project partners said they could better create positive change by working with volunteers

Myth #2: The world’s problems are too big for any one person to fix – so volunteering is a waste of time.

What difference can one person really make?  When you look around at the world’s problems, it can be easy to slip into feeling too small to make a difference. But it was the Dalai Lama who said, ‘'if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito’. It’s something we can fully get behind. 

At ICS, the energy and enthusiasm of each and every volunteer makes a substantial difference to individuals in the poorest and most marginalised communities. And when you scale this difference up, you see each new volunteer putting on an ICS t-shirt continuing along a path beaten by countless cycles of fellow-minded people determined to make a difference. 

Just look at the scale of what ICS volunteers delivered in 2018 alone:  

  • 16,000+ hours of peer education 

  • 2000+ research projects 

  • 1800+ community networks developed 

Nine out of ten project partners who worked with ICS volunteers said they were better able to create positive change in their community as a result — that’s a massive achievement! Our problems might be big, but ICS is a huge solution. 

Plus, ICS isn’t just a 10-week experience. All ICS volunteers contribute to powerful social actions before and after their placement phase such as advocacy and fundraising. You’ve put in thousands of hours of work in and after ICS that has changed not just the communities you worked in, but the locations you come from. 

At ICS, we’re committed to offering opportunities for you to stay engaged with our causes and use what you’ve learned through the programme to make an even bigger difference. ICS volunteers have been trained in persuasive speaking, met with powerful politicians and shared their experiences at the highest global forums. 

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Think ICS will be a holiday? Think again

Myth #3: Youth volunteering is just a holiday. 

People who believe this definitely haven’t volunteered with ICS. The ICS programme is designed to challenge you to change your world – it’s certainly not a holiday. 

ICS volunteers work intensely in teams for 10-week cycles on important development projects.  They don’t stay in fancy lodges with their feet up – their downtime is spent with the community they’re integrated with.  

For many of us, memories of learning to help our host families with cooking will last a lifetime. It’s a real cultural exchange far beyond the average holiday, and it builds long-term bonds across continents. We know that over a third of volunteers are still in touch with and supporting the people they met on placement in some way. 

But it’s important to be aware that less responsible youth volunteering does still exist, and you can help eliminate this by finding out how to spot the difference and raise awareness with our guide to responsible volunteering

A diverse group of volunteers in Ghana pose for a photo
© ICS / Nick Adatsi
This is what youth volunteering looks like.

Myth #4: Youth volunteering is just for the privileged few.  

There’s a stereotype that volunteering in developing countries overseas is for affluent Westerners on their university gap year.  

At ICS, we believe passionately that all you need to bring is your enthusiasm and commitment to strive for positive change. ICS placements don’t have a cost and we actively support young people from diverse backgrounds, with a range of abilities and lived experiences, to access and participate on the programme.  

We firmly believe that diversity is strength. Part of the power of ICS comes from teams of young people from different countries, backgrounds, and experiences collaborating towards a single goal. We want ICS teams to be truly representative of the populations they come from — whether that’s the UK, Kenya or Nepal.  

By bringing together volunteers from different sides of the world we can find youth-led, innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. 

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Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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