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Project PolVol gets MPs volunteering overseas with VSO

This summer’s 12-week recess will be a little different for 11 MPs taking part in VSO’s Project PolVol. VSO, the international development charity, has invited the MPs to undertake voluntary work overseas. But rather than digging wells or building schools they will be putting their knowledge of lobbying to good use, helping to advise community organisations on how to influence government and policy making processes.

Project PolVol will see the MPs spending two to three weeks overseas, in 10 countries, joining the 1,500 volunteers currently overseas. Initiated by VSO, Project PolVol not only aims to help VSO’s partner organisations in Africa and Asia by providing them with skilled volunteers, but also hopes to give the MPs first-hand experience of global issues including poverty and HIV and AIDS.

VSO’s Project PolVol involves MPs from across the political parties, and MPs who volunteer will be contributing to VSO’s long-term development goals, including education, HIV and AIDS, disability and governance.

Judith Brodie, director of VSO UK said: “Our partners will be making use of the MPs’ valuable skills and knowledge in lobbying and influencing policy. The MPs will be working with disadvantaged people in some of the poorest countries in the world, helping them to get their voices heard by decision-makers. We hope their VSO experience will provide the MPs with a unique and valuable insight into development issues which will inform their work back in parliament.”

VSO is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Over 32,000 people have volunteered with the charity. The first serving MP to volunteer with VSO was Gillian Merron in 2005 when she spent five weeks working with the Guyana Teachers’ Union. She was followed by Kerry McCarthy MP who volunteered in Uganda in the summer of 2007.

Who’s going where?
  • Hilary Armstrong – Labour, north west Durham
    Although more than 80 percent of children now attend primary school in Tanzania, the quality of education they receive is often poor and less than half of the children pass their leaving exam. Hilary will be working with TENMET, a national network of education bodies and organisations, to help them lobby for better quality education for all children. Hilary Armstrong’s first VSO placement was in the 1960s when she volunteered in Kenya. Hilary is also a VSO trustee.
  • Tony Baldry – Conservative, north Oxfordshire
    In April 2008 the people of Nepal abolished its monarchy and elected a Constituent Assembly that, over the next two years, will write a new constitution for Nepal. For the first time there are a large number of Assembly members from marginalized groups, such as Dalits. Tony will be mentoring Constituent Assembly members from marginalised communities on their roles and responsibilities as elected representatives.
  • Jim Fitzpatrick – Labour, Poplar and Canning Town
    Bangladesh is a country considered to be at high risk of HIV and AIDS. Jim will be working with the Population Services and Training Centre, which provides condoms and advice to sex workers. He will help them lobby for policies that help people at risk of HIV and AIDS receive prevention and treatment services.
  • Julia Goldsworthy – Lib Dem, Falmouth and Camborne
    As in many countries, Cameroon is undergoing decentralisation of government, and Julia will be working in one of the poorest Anglophone provinces of Cameroon. Julia will be working with the United Councils and Cities of Cameroon. She will provide practical training on influencing policy, legislative processes, government decision-making, and lobbying power holders.
  • Keith Hill – Labour, Streatham
    People with disabilities are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in Ghana. Keith will be working with the Ghana Federation of the Disabled to help them ensure the provisions of the Ghanaian Disability Act 2006 are fully implemented.
  • Sadiq Khan – Labour, Tooting
    In Sierra Leone one of the reasons for the 11-year civil war was the exclusion of people from decision-making processes. Sadiq will be working at the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights whose work focuses on ensuring people know their rights, and that government operates effectively. Sadiq will help to improve their advocacy and lobbying work, using his experience as a human rights lawyer and MP.
  • Susan Kramer – Lib Dem, Richmond Park
    Ethiopia has the third largest number of people in the world with HIV and AIDS. Susan will be working with a new body, the National Association of Positive Women Ethiopians, to advise them in lobbying techniques so they can ensure equal access to treatment and services to women and children affected by HIV and AIDS.
  • Angus MacNeil – SNP, Western Isles
    Cambodia’s education system is still suffering from the decimation by the Khmer Rouge. One of the biggest issues it faces is the lack of value placed on education and the under-motivation of teachers. Angus will be linking his experience as a primary school teacher and as an MP to work with an education organisation to lobby the government for better salaries and conditions for teachers.
  • Laura Moffatt – Labour, Crawley
    Laura will be using her 25 years experience as a nurse in the NHS to work with the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone. She will help the country’s central referral hospital to assess the nursing management and training structure, to ensure nurses are well trained and supported to deliver better healthcare for the community.
  • Sarah Teather – Lib Dem, Brent East
    There are an estimated five million people living with HIV and AIDS in India. Sarah will be working with the Gujarat State Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, mentoring them in campaigning and coalition-building techniques so they can lobby for universal access and treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS.
  • Jenny Willott – Lib Dem, Cardiff Central
    In Zambia almost one in five Zambians is living with HIV. Because the Zambian health system is weak the responsibility of caring for people infected often falls on family and community members. Jenny will be working with VK Home Based Care, an organisation which supports communities to provide care for people living with HIV and AIDS in their own homes. Jenny will help VK to raise the profile of these community carers and lobby for them to receive better recognition and support.

For more information please contact Abigail Fulbrook in the VSO Press Office on 020 8780 7410/ 07748847135 or

Note to editor

Photo Call

VSO will launch its new volunteering initiative for politicians, Project PolVol, with a photo call with the participating MPs, Wednesday 9th July at 1pm on Parliament Square, Westminster. Images will be available on Wednesday afternoon.

VSO is the leading international development charity that works through volunteers. For more information about volunteering visit www.vso.org.uk or 020 8780 7500.

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