Kenya Masai

Gap year volunteering – stronger than ever – but make it count!


As the UK’s largest independent provider of gap year volunteering placements we have a broad range of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds and everyone is welcome to have a go!

Gap year volunteering is a unique experience and volunteers often recall afterwards how much more they got out of the experience than they thought possible. For example, in Africa, playwork volunteers may decorate the nursery walls, take part in local celebrations and make friends for life amongst their fellow gappers.


But…..can you make your trip count? Here’s how in 3 easy steps.


Not everyone knows that gap year volunteering can offer more than your average backpacking holiday so don’t be shy on your CV and at interviews.

Don’t leave your volunteering at the bottom of the page resigned to one line, “I volunteered in Africa for 2 weeks with X company”.

Gap year volunteering can provide valuable work experience during a period of fierce competition at home for jobs. A working gap year can also provide a far wider skill set than doing the same activity at home. Whilst a nursery worker at home may assist the qualified teacher, in Africa by contrast they may work alongside other volunteers just like them where there are opportunities to discuss, organise and negotiate activities on an equal level and get involved in things outside of the classroom from decorating to repair work which would be possible as a volunteer at home.


Don't let someone else paint their own picture of your trip!


Your employer or recruiting officer may know nothing about gap years or volunteering, or worse still they may know all too well from their own experience and might assume you just had a jolly good time partying on yachts like they did (above)!


1.How to include volunteering on your CV


Now it seems everyone is volunteering abroad you will need to work harder and smarter to stand out but it can be done easily!

Be specific – describe what you did as if it was a job like any other on your CV.


1.Name of sending organisation.

2. Name of school, project or a location name.

3. Responsibilities and tasks you had to complete each day.

4. Describe in some detail an achievement on your project or a challenge you overcame which does not sound vague and generic or copied from the description of your volunteer agency’s website! Aims, results and detail is hard to make up. Aims and results prove that you are a goal focused individual. The detail and will help your CV stand out in their memory. Compare the following two descriptions on two different CVs, what do you imagine as you read each?


We built a toilet block for the school during my stay which was an incredible experience and very rewarding.


Noticing the children were using the bushes at play time we asked the school director how much it would cost to build two drop toilets and whether he would be happy to support us. We spent two days buying the materials, hiring a couple of labourers (they come with their hire tools!) and a week digging the pit under the toilet as there was no mains sewage outlet. The children were able to use the toilets the following week with ten of us working dawn until dusk. Total cost £200. Incredible!


You may also want to include a personal achievement which achieved results. For example, did you stay after class to help off your own back to improve learning or provide support? Compare the following two excerpts from two different CVs:


I set up an evening class on how to find work for local people which was extremely rewarding.


In the evenings I singlehandedly set up a class for young adults who were at work all day and could not attend our daytime classes. I had done some research chatting to families closeby and discovered the young workers wanted help with preparing CVs and how to find better jobs in the capital city. I gathered some materials from the net and gave two long workshops each week and set some homework. 15 to 25 attended each session all coming after working twelve and in one case fifteen hour shifts at local factories! I kept in touch with all those I could and two now have jobs in the capital and new careers! 


2. Teamwork – Independence – Leadership


Make sure you can demonstrate team work, leadership and independent-working in even amounts. No one wants to hire a bossy boots, a sheep-follower or a social recluse. You ideally need to show you are happy in a group, can supervise or take control if you need to and are happy to work independently.

Over the first few days look for opportunities to demonstrate all three. Not got enough time? A lot of volunteering abroad projects end around 4pm providing you with 7 more hours until 11pm to get more work and ideas in!


volunteer teacher at blackboard teaching

3. Make a video to prove what you did


A short (and it must be short!) video is a great way to make your CV stand out. Who couldn’t resist to click and look when your application comes through?

Make sure your video focuses on an achievement or task. No one wants to watch you strolling around a busy African market, however interesting the foreign fruit and vegetables were. Keep the holiday video completely separate!

Do plan your video that it has a beginning, middle and ending which tells a story. Your ending should clearly show a result, whether it is a building finished, good school test results, animals rescued, a beach cleaned or a presentation/performance staged.

You do not have to speak in front of the camera if you are camera shy, you could simply be filmed by a fellow volunteer. And do not worry about too much being filmed. The more footage the better as it will be easier to find clips. It can be useful if your assistant who is filming has a list of shots you need and tries to get as many clips as they can for each of the shots you want. It will be frustrating if for example you have a section missed out. For example if you have not one shot of anyone smiling or doing work in the class but plenty of you meeting families initially and handshaking at the end of the last session!


For the evening class example, with another volunteer to assist, you could aim to have very short 2-3 second shots of each of the following:


You speaking with a local family about what they think their son/daughter would benefit from by a workshop.
You speaking to a young worker when they return home.
At the local internet cafe googling job websites and printing off materials and CV samples.
The first session itself when the young people come into the room.
You demonstrating/explaining from the front.
A shot of the young people discussing or working together in pairs and groups on something you have asked them to do.
A shot of some class laughter and smiles somewhere!
You praising a student.
A student asking you a question.
Some handshaking and exchanging of contact details at last session.
A message from one of the students announcing they have found work!


A 30 second video of the type above which tells a story and is concise might just blow the mind of your interviewer. Do include a link on your CV and do double check it has nothing holiday-like in the video.


This needs to be a standalone video for formal purposes only which makes you look like an utter professional who went for it and got the results you wanted! If it is extremely professional and this was your first time making a video – include a mention of this too.


And we are sure we don’t need to remind you that you should get the permission of anyone who needs to know (project staff, school directors) and those who will be filmed. It can be helpful if you explain your final video will only be one minute long although you need to film much more to be able to edit it. Also that you will not include full names, contact details or locations and the video will only be used for your personal use for your own job application and if they do not want to be filmed that’s fine too!


No ideas? Not sure how you could set up your own standalone project?


We will be happy to try to suggest ideas based on your current job or subjects you are studying.

Tell us a bit about your background including courses studied (whatever the level) and your work history and we’ll be in touch to help! The more background the better as there may be a little gem you hadn’t realised you could make use of.


Quick test on what you’ve learnt here:

Which of the three photos (girl and children, group on yacht, volunteer at blackboard) on this page say “professional, organised and focused?”?
If you can see the clear winner – then you know what you have to do.