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Planning Retirement Online

Voluntary Service Overseas in later life

Do forget your birthday (but you will certainly need a tooth brush)

You can choose from 74 countries with accommodation provided and a minimum wage thrown in. You can use existing skills and acquire new ones. If it's adventure you're after, don't let birthdays stand in your way. VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) welcomes volunteers in the 50-70 aged group. Helen Brown reports

VSO, the charity Voluntary Service Overseas, has traditionally attracted young people willing to live and work in some of the world's most remote countries. But things are changing. In the past seven years, the proportion of volunteers over the age of 50 has quadrupled from 4% in 1992-3 to 16% in 1999.


Many come from professional backgrounds and want to 'give something back', as well as face new challenges and adventures. They will usually be committing themselves to two years volunteering, using their skills as teachers, nurses, carpenters, builders, technical workers. Their posting may be Russia, China, Cambodia or one of seventy-odd other of the world's poorest countries. They will be provided with free accommodation and usually a basic living wage.

For Nottingham teachers Ken and Liz Pye, the posting was Papua New Guinea. When they decided to make it their retirement home, friends and family reacted with incredulity.

"Most people said we were mad," says Liz, a 62 year old sports teacher, "but we’ve always wanted to do VSO and it seemed an ideal time for us. When we were offered Papua New Guinea it was a complete unknown, a really exciting opportunity."

So in the summer of 1999 Liz and her geography lecturer husband, Ken, 60, traded Trent College Nottingham for St. Ignatius High, a rural Papua New Guinea secondary school. St. Ignatius school is short of trained national teachers, and Ken and Liz were required not only to teach, but to work alongside local counterparts, sharing their skills.

It didn't take long for them to know that they had made the right decision.

"I have to pinch myself sometimes, as I can’t believe I’m here," Liz Pye exclaims, sitting on the verandah of her house, against a backdrop of coconut trees.

Teaching in Papua New Guinea is not like Nottingham. As a sports teacher, Liz is providing some totally new lesson programmes and is also training a local counterpart to carry on when she leaves.

She found that many students were too shy to participate at first, and has had to adapt her teaching methods to make students feel more secure and confident.

But she has also had learn how to fit in to local ways, which means dressing and behaving differently to the way they do in Nottingham. "You can’t show your legs. Bosoms yes - that’s not really a problem, thighs - no!"

It's also pretty quiet, give or take the odd barbecue. "Not a place for people who crave an active night life," says Liz. "It’s too relaxed and rural".

Students come from varied countryside communities, and there is great linguistic diversity. Some speak not only English and Tok Pisin (Pidgin), but a plethora of Tok Ples (local) languages. It is vital that these Tok Ples languages are kept alive so that they help maintain the unique traditions of each tribe. For Ken and Liz it means acquiring new language skills.

Ken in his English and Geography lessons is also developing new techniques, blending together modern communicative methods with traditional Papua New Guinean ‘chalk and talk’ style. Western teaching may have moved on from this, but for Ken and his students, the combining is constructive and rewarding.

The principal of St. Ignatius High has been delighted with the way students have responded. As an experienced older couple, Ken and Liz are highly valued by the school .

So do they have any regrets about this post retirement life change?

"No," Liz says emphatically "Yes, it is hard work, yes there is the odd snake and loads of mosquitoes, but we’ve never done anything like this in our lives before. Our friends are all envious of us now. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend retirement!"

VSO website is: and email is:



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