Marc Horne, Sunday Times (London), June 25, 2006
IT HAS traditionally been a chance for gap-year students and skilled people from affluent backgrounds to do a good deed in the world’s most destitute spots. Now it seems Britain itself is a suitable case for help from the developing world.
The charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is bringing volunteers from Indonesia into some of Britain’s roughest housing schemes to help tackle deprivation that is sometimes worse than in their own homelands.
The visitors have been warned they will be working in areas with “shocking” levels of violence, drunkenness and other social ills.
Nine Indonesians, aged 17-25, will be sent for three months to districts of Glasgow. Paired with British volunteers, they will work on projects addressing poverty, racism and disability.
Here they will become acquainted with the city’s endemic crime, random violence and such terms as “a Glasgow kiss” (a headbutt) and “a Glasgow smile” (a mouth extended with a cut).
Under the programme, known as Global Xchange, young people from other developing countries have spent time in deprived areas of Birmingham, Luton, Bradford and Blaenavon in Wales. In return, young people from those British cities have been able to spend time in the developing countries.
Youngsters from Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, India, Nigeria and the Philippines have also worked in parts of Bradford, Luton and Selby.
The Glasgow districts are among the most impoverished in Britain, with life expectancy rates below those of many developing countries. Average life expectancy in Indonesia is 66, compared with 60 for men born in Maryhill and Milton.
Rebecca Metcalfe, the project supervisor, said the visitors have been told to prepare themselves for the harsh realities of inner-city Britain.
“Before arriving in the UK, the Indonesians had preconceptions that they picked up from movies and adverts,” she said. “They saw the West as glamorous with everyone being affluent and having access to high-technology gadgets. But the next three months are really going to challenge those preconceptions.
“They are going to see and experience things which will surprise them. They are going to be shocked.”
The visitors, members of the Indonesian Scout Association, will live with families in Glasgow during their stay. They have been told that there are areas of the city where there are problems of drink and drug abuse and they have been briefed about the country’s growing secularisation, according to Metcalfe.
“Poverty in Glasgow is at a different level from Indonesia but it is a serious and very real part of life here.
“In Indonesia, most people never drink alcohol and drug use is very much underground,” she said. “They will be especially surprised at the number of young people who use drink and drugs.”
She added: “They were surprised to learn that people in the UK have the right to have no religion. In Indonesia it is expected that you must follow a faith.”
Indonesia is among the poorest countries in the world. The monthly average wage is around £40, and most people have to survive on less than £2 a day. According to figures published by Unicef, as many as 140m people, around two-thirds of the 210m population, live below the poverty line.