International Volunteers Day 2008: On December 5:
Volunteerism for human development and peace-building
You have heard that your neighbour is ill, so you make sure that on
the way home from work you stop by her house to make sure that she has
been to see the doctor. If not, you may help her to get there. You may
even help her talk through what it means for her and her family if it
affects her income.
On the outside, this doesn’t seem like much. It is an act of kindness
that takes five minutes of your time. But in real terms, you are making
a difference to her life by helping to ensure her health and livelihood.
It is you, volunteering to give of yourself to the benefit of another.
Volunteerism has many different definitions. Some volunteers give
selflessly with no expectation of rewards, for many of us, it is an
opportunity to learn or improve our skills in a genuine two-way
exchange. Volunteers can be local, international or even ‘virtual’.
Volunteers may be individuals or organised. They may be focused in a
specific area, for instance, peace-building or development, or they may
have a philosophy of helping anyone in need. At the end of the day,
one’s reasons for volunteering are highly personalized, but all will
embrace the value of service and the belief that each voluntary action
makes the world a better place. In the words of Ghandi, “The best way to
find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
Globally, volunteerism contributes to many areas of human development
and peace-building. Volunteerism can be the ideal link between global
and local: volunteers may have experience of doing things in different
ways, with different approaches, and commit themselves to transferring
this information in a way that is beneficial to the people whom they
serve. An example of this is in agriculture, where people can learn
about new organic rice planting techniques that an international
volunteer has learned while serving in a neighbouring country. Local
volunteers can also be an excellent way to deliver health services.
For example, mothers may trust other local women who have volunteered
to be community focal persons in newborn hygiene and nutrition.
In their commitment to serve, volunteers often make a commitment to
building the capacity of those they work with, so that in the future,
these people can make their own decisions and are better able to manage
their own development. In Sri Lanka, this happens informally at a
community level, through national organizations such as Sarvodaya and
through the programmes of international agencies such as UNV or VSO.
There is ample evidence that this work is having a tremendous impact,
such as through UNV support to national disaster management plans, where
national UNV volunteers are placed in the Disaster Reduction Centres in
several districts. These volunteers are paired with a Government
counterpart, and the objective is for the volunteers to transfer the
skills and knowledge necessary in order to build the capacity of
Government officers and the community to better respond to local
emergencies such as the recent flooding in the East of the country or
national disasters such as the 2004 tsunami.
The future of volunteerism is bright, and with people giving their
time and energy for a range of reasons, volunteers will continue to be a
driving force behind our societies. Developments in technology will
continue to play a large factor in volunteerism globally. More and more,
it can be seen that the digital divide is not as wide as it was once
suspected: people in rural communities can now be linked by mobile
phones and youth who were once isolated find themselves connected to the
global community via the internet.
Because of this, online volunteering and organised volunteering
through online social networking sites will continue to grow in
popularity. Other areas of growth for volunteerism lie in capturing the
human capital available from retired or disabled people. Although they
may not be able to integrate into the traditional workforce, they have
enormous amounts of energy and ideas to give. Local volunteerism and
family volunteerism are also on the rise. As people begin to feel more
disconnected from their communities and families, global trends indicate
that there will be a revival of grassroots volunteering, allowing people
to build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with their
communities. Finally, we see an increase globally in corporate
volunteerism, with Government organisations and businesses recognising
their corporate responsibilities and acknowledging that is good for
their productivity to have active and engaged staff.
On December 5 each year, volunteers around the world celebrate
International Volunteer Day or IVD. IVD is an opportunity to reflect on
the voluntary contributions made to development and peace-building and
to thank volunteers for the efforts they have made. It is also an
opportunity to stimulate discussion around volunteerism at all levels.
Some volunteers use IVD to start local grass-roots initiatives; others
use it as a way to draw the connections between the local and the
IVD 2008 will see the launch of a new project initiative on 11
December. The project, called ‘Establishment of a ‘Legal Empowerment
Volunteers’ Scheme in Sri Lanka’ will mobilize university students to
support the legal empowerment of various marginalized and vulnerable
groups in Sri Lanka. It will be jointly launched by the Ministry of
Social Services, the Legal Aid Commission and UNDP on 11 December 2008.
It is an excellent example of how local volunteers, Government and
community can link together to ensure the success of the development