In an article published in the Sunday Telegraph on 12 February 2012, "Gap year holidays that reveal the madness of overseas aid", the writer Andrew Gilligan quoted from the personal blog of Monju Meah, an ICS Progressio volunteer in Peru.
Monju wrote the following letter to the Sunday Telegraph in response:
"The snippet your article quotes from my recent blog is the only piece within it of critical reflection on the ICS (International Citizen Service) programme and is not an accurate representation of my whole experience by quite a stretch. Your readers would see this if they were to read it in its entirety.
"Your highly unbalanced article paints the ICS programme in a bad light without considering everything volunteers like myself have done and will do. I have no regrets in joining this programme and am thankful for everything it has done for me. I wholeheartedly believe it has been worthwhile sending me to Peru. I am confident our reports and evaluations will reflect positively on the outputs achieved.
"I now intend to make the most of the remaining few weeks of my placement."
You can read Monju's thoughts on his experience with ICS at Monju's Peru Blog.
Progressio and the ICS agencies' response
The Sunday Telegraph did not publish Monju's letter, but the partner agencies in the ICS programme also sent a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, which was published by the newspaper on 19 February. Here's what it said:
"Despite Andrew Gilligan’s claims, youth volunteering does make a difference. We have delivered countless projects around the world which could not have been realised without hard-working volunteers.
"We endorse the Government’s international volunteering programme. Young people’s enthusiasm and skills can effect positive change, and it is right that the volunteers should gain as well as contribute. They return with training, skills and a firmer grasp of global issues.
"If volunteers ever question the value of their contribution, this is not evidence that they are not making a difference, but that they care. That is exactly the type of attitude that we should nurture and develop in Britain."
The letter was signed by Progressio, VSO UK, Restless Development, International Service, Skillshare International, and Thet.
Photo: A girl during an English lesson delivered by ICS Progressio volunteers in Peru in January. Photo taken from Monju's Peru Blog.