Overseas volunteer likely to be student or retiree offering their summer to a good cause
Comhlámh report reveals 70 per cent of placements were less than four weeks
Sara McMurray with pupils in southeast Rajasthan, India. Students constituted 40 per cent of all volunteers from Ireland last year, while employed people made up 44 per cent, a new report reveals
The Irish have a long history of working in the developing world, but the typical overseas volunteer in 2013 is much more likely to be a student or a retiree offering their summer holidays to a good cause than a missionary spreading faith.
One of the most striking statistics contained in the Comhlámh report on international volunteering, to be published today, is the typical length of the estimated 4,500 overseas placements carried out by Irish people last year.
Fewer than one in 10 volunteers spent longer than three months abroad, with 70 per cent of placements lasting less than four weeks.
This preference for short stints is most likely linked to the high proportion of students and employed people making up the volunteer force.
Students constituted 40 per cent of all volunteers from Ireland last year, while employed people made up 44 per cent.
Just 7 per cent were unemployed, while 3 per cent were retired.
While half of all volunteers were under the age of 30, almost half again were aged between 30 and 65, with the numbers split evenly between males and females.
People studying or working in the area of education, human health or social work made up the majority, but the report notes that a considerable percentage of those who are employed at home took up placements unrelated to their work.
This may indicate a desire among volunteers not only to share knowledge and expertise but also to gain new skills and experiences.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 62 per cent have had some experience of voluntary work at home already.
This finding is corroborated by other international studies which have shown a positive relationship between domestic and overseas volunteering.
Many of these volunteers are using time off from their job or college to work in the developing world, but their time abroad is far from a holiday. More than 70 per cent of the organisations surveyed by Comhlámh estimated their volunteers worked between 30 and 49 hours per week while on placement last year.
Africa received almost half of all overseas volunteers from Ireland in 2013.
Some 22 per cent went to Asia and the Middle East, and 16 per cent to South America and Central America.
While most volunteers were sent to projects in the nine priority countries for Irish Aid funding, other countries such as Haiti, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Albania and Kosovo, where a greater need for assistance has been created by natural disaster or conflict in recent years, also received a considerable number of Irish development workers.
The most popular projects Irish people worked on around the world were those involving building and construction, community development and youth activities.
Some 85 per cent of the volunteers sent overseas were Irish.
Participation was highest by people from Dublin, with 35 per cent of the volunteers coming from the capital when just 28 per cent of the population lives there.
Leinster overall accounted for 61 per cent of volunteers, followed by Munster at 18 per cent, Connaught at 14 per cent and Ulster at 7 per cent.
Given the short-term nature of the projects, and that many of the volunteers participated in activities unrelated to their job at home, it is not surprising that many reported learning practical and transferable skills like team work and problem-solving while on placement.
Skills like language-learning and campaigning or advocacy, which would take much longer to learn, are less likely to be reported.