A college is building international partnerships and making sure vocational students don't miss out. Martin Whittaker reports
Many students take a gap year after their A-levels and head to Third World countries to do voluntary work. But those on vocational courses are missing out, according to City of Bristol college.
Now, the college is trying to redress the balance. It is offering vocational students a chance to broaden their horizons and use their practical skills by giving them voluntary work in an impoverished community in Tanzania.
There are also plans, backed by the Association for College Management, to extend the scheme. The college wants to build a partnership of UK colleges linked with the Tanzanian district of Morogoro.
The main focus of the partnership is the Amani centre, a non-profit organisation in Morogoro that provides healthcare, education, food and recreation for children with mental disabilities.
At present, some 200 children receive care and education at the centre. It also seeks to improve the quality of life for nearly 1,800 other disabled people in its district, promoting greater awareness of disability, HIVAids and malaria as well as supporting the elderly.
The Amani centre has a popular volunteer programme, and more than 170 students from the United States and Europe have had placements there.
Tanzania is the seventh-poorest country in the world and life expectancy is 42 years. But, unlike many African countries, it is peaceful and well-governed.
City of Bristol college has raised funds for the centre and for scholarships for Tanzanian students.
A recent visit there by a delegation from the college and its partner schools left a lasting impression. Judy Stradling, the college's vice-principal, said: "Morogoro is a very poor area. We visited schools which are in dire need of desks, but also a vocational college which is in a similar situation.
"In some ways, they are trying to do what we are trying to do with our inner-cities - community regeneration and developing skills. The college is trying to teach basic tailoring and motor-vehicle skills to help people set up their own businesses and bring in some income."
Ms Stradling now wants to develop this link to raise Bristol students'
awareness of global citizenship and open up more volunteering opportunities for those on vocational courses.
"We have 800 A-level students and they're often the kind who will take a gap year. But then we have another 3,000 vocational students, and they aren't the kind who tend to - or could even afford to - take a year off.
"So I was hoping that we could give them the opportunity while they're studying with us - even if it's only for a couple of weeks - to go out and get that kind of experience that many young people get from a gap year."
The college is now looking at how this could work in practice, and whether it could support its students to go to Tanzania. It is also examining whether the experience could become part of an enrichment activity under the new specialist diploma qualifications.
The initial link with Tanzania was made through Dr Ken Spours of London university's institute of education. He is involved in helping a partnership of Bristol schools and City of Bristol college to pilot a new 14-19 curriculum.
He first visited the centre two years ago when his son was working there during a gap year, and has since returned twice.
What he saw on a tour of the area shocked him. "I found 35 old people starving in an old people's home," he said. "They were getting just one meal a day."
A subsequent fund-raising campaign in the UK raised pound;3,500 to provide these elderly people with an extra meal and medical checks, and to install a water pump.
"Their lives have been transformed," said Dr Spours. "But they are still living in poor accommodation. You can imagine, in a year or two, Tanzanian and British students working alongside each other helping to rebuild this home."
Organisations such as World Challenge and Raleigh International increasingly offer young people the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Prince William, who spent part of his gap year as a volunteer in southern Chile.
But such opportunities don't come cheap. "It costs around pound;3,000,"
said Dr Spours. "And they have to raise that money themselves, or their affluent parents pay it for them. Working-class kids don't often get gap years. They don't have this experience, and they get narrowly channelled into vocational routes."
Other colleges have already expressed an interest in the Tanzania partnership, and Dr Spours wants more to get involved.
The ACM is supporting such developments and promoting wider links with related organisations such as Natfhe, the lecturers' union, to develop the partnership. The association aims to debate the issues with ministers later this year.
Nadine Cartner, the ACM's head of policy, said: "We think the idea of partnerships that offer value for people in Tanzania and our college students is a really inspiring one.
"ACM wants to work with other organisations to look at how we can build on the work that Ken and Judy have started."
For further information on the Amani centre and links with Tanzania, email Ken Spours: firstname.lastname@example.org platform 17