By DUDLEY PLUNKETT
IN the weeks since the Volun teers for International Aid programme was publicised in THE CATHOLIC HERALD there has been a steady flow of enquiries from people asking how they may go to work overseas as volunteers.
Unfortunately, many of those who write are not sufficiently qualified for the type of aid that is being planned. Some young men and girls who recently left school, and who have a good record in work, games and other activities, are potential candidates for the Voluntary Service Overseas scheme, and may be able to go, as nearly 300 of their contemporaries did last year, to any of 50 different countries where there is useful work for them to do.
Only a small proportion of enquirers, however, were university graduates or people with equivalent qualifications. There were very few enquiries about medical work of any kind, or about social work; there were none at all from agriculturalists, even in the year when so much effort is being made to intensify the Freedom from Hunger Campaign.
And yet the British are proportionately over-represented in many international organisations, particularly the United Nations and its agencies. In the United States the Peace Corps has attracted the enthusiastic support of the younger generations; there are nearly 4,000 Americans working abroad as volunteers in the Peace Corps alone. It is doubtful if there are as many as 400 from Britain.
Why has there been such a conspicuous shortage of suitably qualified young lay Catholics ready to give a short period of personal service in the developing countries? It is realistic to recognise that funds will normally only be available to send qualified volunteers, but the sad fact is that these are not more than a small minority of the people who come forward. The qualified doctors, scientists, social workers and engineers take jobs at home, or, if they decide to go overseas, find it hard to resist the attraction of professional opportunities in the United States and other wealthy countries.
The encouraging response to appeals for Catholic teachers for Africa, on the other hand, is to the credit of the Catholic graduate community; though at the same time it throws into relief the deficiencies in the social and technical fields.
Is there not some fundamental contradiction in the situation whereby. on the one hand, there is a world-wide increase of international activities and interests and travel no longer takes any account of distance, while, on the other hand, Britain, having given up her Empire, and now with but few remaining colonies, sends fewer and fewer people to overseas careers?
What signs are there that this situation may change? In the commercial and political fields a reappraisal is being demanded on all sides. It is an issue beyond party politics. With the collapse of the Brussels negotiations on terms for
a British entry into the Common Market, the urgency of an expansion of our overseas trade for the development of our own economy is so evident as to convince the most hardened isolationists. But the isolationist is not a typical Briton; he is a myth created, for political and personal reasons, by a hard core of influential individuals.
There is a greater appreciation of other countries by the mass of the British community than ever before, mainly because we know more about them and are prepared to learn. Even if the modern international civil servant is a less glamorous figure than Colonel Fawcett, he represents a flexibility of attitude that is developing, and which will, in the long-run serve everybody's interests and ideals, whether we think in terms of politics, trade or the propagation of the Christian faith.
The growth of this idea should not encounter major obstacles in the future; both national and international interests and the disposition of many people in Britain lie in the same direction. Apart from the commercial interests which Britain has to safeguard, she has also complex political and prestige interests as well as ineluc
table m o r al responsibilities
throughout the world, and particularly in those countries over which she has had power in the past.
Part of the solution to these problems must come from the young generations in this country. It is already the symptom of a new attitude that people spend their holidays taking part in purposeful community development
activities in such projects as the United Nations Association workcamps for assistance to refugees in Austria, or in village development in Greece.
While the Peace Corps was still being planned in the United States, the British organisation Voluntary Service Overseas already had young school-leavers and apprentices in the field. Last year there were 286 young men and women working abroad under this scheme.
Other British organisations have also been building up their volunteer programmes and, last year, at the initiative of the Department of Technical Co-operation, they together formed a Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Lockwood so as to be able to coordinate their activities towards a greater effectiveness in their assistance to developing countries through personal service.
Up to the present this promising venture has lacked Catholic applicants. It has already become common in some fields for Catholic laypeople to seek work abroad with the dual motive of following a career and serving the Church in parts of the world where priests are few and Christianity is weak. There are many, too. who have gone with a more purely apostolic motive as lay missionaries. These people have gone to teach, tc serve as doctors and nurses, as civil engineers and agronomists—even to fly planes in the lying doctor schemes. It is to be hoped that this very practical scheme will encourage others to follow the same path.
Catholic teachers are already being placed by the Catholic Overseas Appointments office, and the volunteers for International Aid programme has been set up by the Sword of the Spirit to deal with enquiries from Catholics whose interests and abilities lie in other fields, such as medical, technical and social work. The most important function of this new office will be to provide information about the opportunities which exist in the developing countries. It is therefore closely connected with the organisations which are members of the Lockwood Committee.
It is an evident part of this main function that Volunteers for International Aid should seek to chan
nel help to Catholic Institutions, and this task will have a priority wherever the means exist to promote it. Clearly, the responsibility to answer the needs of the developing countries does not devolve only upon those young people who, at the outset of their careers, are prepared to give their services as volunteers, but it devolves at least equally upon those who are, in Pope John's words, "more blessed with this world's goods."
An enormous effort of co-operation towards the developing and christianising of those 'lands is a task which now awaits the Catholic community of this country.
The impressive national support accorded to the World Refugee Year, and the similar enthusiasm which is being aroused all over the country in answer to the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, is an indication of the positive way in which we feel the ties of responsibility towards the most remote parts of the world.
Response should be no less to this new, more involving and more fundamentally Christian form of assistance, the generous help of the competent volunteer.
Some immediate needs A doctor for Masai tribesmen in a new hospital in Kilgoris, Kenya (salaried post); Two doctors urgently required for rural hospitals in Ghana (salaried posts); Two or three young men of good academic standing, prepared to train as teachers using cinema techniques and to spend a minimum of two years in Africa with the Catholic film service, ACTOM (salaried when training has been completed);
A structural or qualified engineer, nurses and social workers for about nine months in a reconstruction project after the recent earthquakes in Iran (non-salaried); Teachers of all kinds, especially sciences, qualified agriculturalists, medical personnel, social workers and technically trained people wanted for the Lockwood Scheme.