By Polina Pallieraki,
Volunteering is people’s contribution in a frame of a non-profit and unpaid action, which does not predetermine personal attribution. It is a selfless action without expediency or personal and financial benefits. Volunteering is defined as a supreme act of humanity which is manifested by either taking individual initiatives or in a collective manner through organised groups at a municipal or worldwide level. Lately, with the decision of opening the borders and the arrival of many foreign populations in different countries, such as ours, we have realized that individual action, daily care of our fellow human beings i.e. providing them with food, clothing or medicine is of vital importance for those who really need it. The spaces of actions of volunteering can be divided into three categories, acording to CAF (Charities Aid Foundation). In the first category, we have people who help strangers, . The second category is for those who regularly donate money and in then there is the category of people who spend much of their time involved with voluntary organisations.
Volunteering in an emergency
It is observed that due to the respiratory disease of COVID-19 most voluntary organizations have fell back in action. Yet, volunteering often plays a pivotal role in the recovery of destructed habitats following natural disasters, such as tsunamis, floods, draughts, hurricanes and earthquakes or starvation from which several Third World countries suffer. Moreover, these countries face a number of other problems too such as lack of medicine and drinking water, beggary, illiteracy, etc., so voluntary groups aim at covering all of their needs, starting with the most important one: to offer them food in the type of social groceries, which means that people can enjoy their meals every day. In a pre-confined state of affairs, we would have the chance to volunteer and help those in need. Today, we can help by registering remote donations or by sending provisions to voluntary grocery and kitchen addresses. Although food is considered as one of our most basic needs, it is not a given for everyone.
Additionally, there is need for help in a national and also municipal level. In the national context, those who need our help are refugees, immigrants, minorities, and all of the abused groups within them, such as women, kids, or victims of violence and human rights violations. In the municipal context, we ought to be particularly sensitive towards the elderly, those who live alone, those who are facing serious health problems, people with financial needs etc.
Volunteering in hospitals
A permanent need for people is blood and organ donations. As blood donors and bone marrow donors, we can really save a person who we biologically fit very well. Except for the World Blood Donor Day on the 14th of June, when blood donations take place at the centre of many cities around the world, we can also donate blood into special hospital wards on a daily basis.
What is more, we can focus on the environment and find ways on how to protect, maintain and highlight it. Volunteers conduct a range of activities including environmental monitoring, ecological restoration -such as re-vegetation and weed removal,- protecting endangered animals, and educating others about the natural environment. Volunteers can also participate in tree planting, reforestation and coast cleaning activities, which are carried out by a variety of non-profit organizations. Τhe thought of a better and more beautiful tomorrow can take on a green colour.
Volunteering in schools
State schools around the world rely on government resources and support or on efforts from volunteers and private donations, in order to run effectively. In some countries, whenever the economy is down, the need for volunteers and resources increases greatly. There are many opportunities available in school systems for volunteers. Yet, there are not many requiremets in order to volunteer in a school system. Whether it is a high school/ college student or a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language school) graduate, most schools require just voluntary and selfless effort. Much like the benefits of any type of volunteering, there are great rewards for the volunteer, student and school respectively. In addition to intangible rewards, volunteers can add relevant experience to their resumes. Volunteers who travel to assist may learn about different cultures and languages. Volunteering in schools can give additional experience to students, as they might have the opportunity to fill in the gap for local teachers. Cultural and linguistic exchange during teaching and other school activities can be the most indispensable learning experience for both students and volunteers.
Social or welfare volunteering
In some European countries, governmental organisations and non-governmental organisations provide auxiliary positions for a certain period in institutions, like hospitals, schools, memorial sites and welfare institutions. The difference to other types of volunteering is that there are strict legal regulations, what an organisation is allowed to engage volunteers with and about the period a volunteer is allowed to work in a voluntary position. Because of that, the volunteer is getting a limited amount of pocket money from the government. Examples of organisations which have the biggest manpower in Europe are the Voluntary Social Year with more than 50.000 volunteers per year, and the Federal Volunteers Service with about 30.000 to 40.000 volunteers per year.
The significance of volunteering can be observed in our society, beacause, through this, social issues are mitigated and also vulnerable social groups are relieved. Moreover, voluntary actions contribute to social cohesion, interconnection among different social groups, which can help to develop a spirit of cooperation and teamwork in crisis management and problem solving. Such values protect the democratic state, not only as a constitutional body, but also as a lifestyle, which is confirmed in everyday life through the recognition of equal rights for all of us and without any discriminations. In addition, volunteering helps people socialise and grow. As active citizens, we manage to escape from the narrow confines of selfish orientation and we participate in actions which focus on mitigating collective problems and in this way, we fulfil our individual responsibilities. Last but not least, in a global community, people who invest in volunteering are the ones who ensure high levels of cooperation and solidarity during difficult time periods. So, they guarantee common progress and prosperity, or in other words they guarantee peace.
How to cultivate voluntarism
It is crucial to say that there are numerous ways on how to cultivate voluntarism and they should first and foremost be observed in the school environment. Schools should develop the students’ voluntary spirit through collaboration in order to teach them how to address the important problems of our days. Students’ support and their integration into voluntary groups, which are activated in the collection of bare necessities, can relieve one from human pain and also sensitise people in a social level by teaching them in practice about their social roles. Moreover, students’ participation into informating programs which are created by groups of activists and volunteers can motivate teenagers to create the right behavior patterns and reproduce similar demeanors.
Living in the age of technology, the media has penetrated into peoples’ lifes. Due to the grave affect they have on people, however, what we should do is take advantage of them by sharing our experiences, difficulties, problems or adventures. This way, people who really have the intention to help can get informed and they can offer valuable advice, help or essential information to their human fellow beings. Last but not least and due to their recognisability, celebrities have the capability to influence others through their speeches and actions. So, their voluntary actions and their presence next to people who suffer from serious problems -although at times some of these actions have been deemed immoral as they enhance personal promotion and public image improvement,- they can motivate youngsters, as they get inspired by their actions, which go viral on the internet.
Benefits of volunteering
So why should you be interested in volunteering? The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that the essence of life is “to serve others and do good”, and it seems an increasing number of us are starting to wake up and see why volunteering is important. People are starting to understand how serving and helping each other and different communities, benefits not just others, but ourselves too. It is not far from the truth to mention that if one leads a busy life, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. As I have mentioned above volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community as a whole but the benefits can be even greater for oneself. The right match can help us improve our mental and physical health and acquire new skills in the social and academic environment.
Community and social benefits
Working together with a group of people who have a different ethnicity, background or views can reduce stereotypes and also promote cooperation and friendship and avoid loneliness.
Community voluntarism has also been proven to improve students’ academic skills. Volunteers learn how to work together with other people as a group, which improves teamwork and sociability skills and it increases appreciation of other cultures etc. Furthermore, it is important to note that at colleges where there is three hours/ week of community service included, students report a much higher consideration for cultural differences. At the end of the semester those who had participated in service-learning were noted as saying that the most important things that they had learned were not to judge others, and to appreciate every type of person. Moreover, community volunteer work has proven to be a powerful predictor in students’ academic lives and college experience as a whole. Studies have shown that students who participate in community service as part of their course of study, have much higher correlation of completing their degree. College students who participate in community volunteer projects as part of their college experience report finding much greater relevance in their academic studies after completing community volunteer projects.
Participating as a volunteer may improve the quality of life and health including longevity of those who “donate” their time. There is some evidence to suggest that adults over the age of 65 who volunteer may experience improved physical and mental health and potentially reduce mortality. There are barriers that can prevent older adults from participating in volunteer work, such as their socio-economic status, opinions held by others, and health issues or physical limitations. Volunteering improves not only the communities in which one serves, but also the life of the individual who is providing help to the community.
Mental health benefits
Volunteering is known not only to be related to happiness, but also to increase happiness. Also, giving help has been reported as a more important benefit to our mental health than receiving help. Studies have also shown that volunteering can cause a decrease in loneliness and that volunteers through their actions, can develop a sense of purpose and deeper self-confidence.
To sum up, there are many proven personal benefits of community voluntarism and the right match can help us improve our mental and physical health and create new skills in the social and academic environment.
HelpGuide, Volunteering and its surprising benefits. Available here.
The balance smb, 15 Unexpected Benefits of Volunteering That Will Inspire You. Available here.
Σχεδία στην πόλη, Προσεγγίζοντας την έννοια του εθελοντισμού. Available here.