Last October I was pleased and honoured to join with the Italian delegation in participating a learning mobility project ‘Step Inside Volunteering’ in the Balkans, a small Bulgarian border-town Ruse, organised by Association ‘Inspiration’ within the financial support of Erasmus+ Program. The overall aim and objective of the training-course was to learn more on how to plan, develop and manage volunteering projects under the European Solidarity Corps and to support the creation of a network among the participating organizations in order to implement joint volunteering and youth projects in future. 27 young people from 9 European countries representing Poland, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Slovakia, Greece and Romania during five intensive days discussed the up-to-date aspects of volunteering using the tools of non-formal education. The packed agenda of the training-course highlighted again an in-depth topic coverage and parallel networking opportunities which is guaranteed the productive and informative time.
The activities of the program is split into five separate parts:
- European Solidarity Corps (ESC) description (application procedures, project management, planning future joint projects under Erasmus+ and ESC)
- Sharing information on legislation, recognition, traditions and state of play of volunteering in training-course participating countries
- Conflict management
- Team work in intercultural environment
- Software application in project management processes (Google Analytics, MindMap)
What is volunteering as an act and who is a volunteer? Charity, Pro Bono services, Solidarity initiatives and Volunteering - what are the meaning and the difference? These questions were the core for every participant. Notwithstanding volunteering can have a real and valuable positive affect on people, communities and society in general, this term is always under discussion and this is more country-by-country thing. Common in Anglo-Saxon cultures, originally it is associated with particular aspirations and values as commitment, SHARING, a taste for exploring, discovering, it goes with a belief that encourages curiosity, meetings between cultures and travel. During the various sessions we analysed the meaning and understanding of concept ‘volunteering’ in 9 countries - participants of the training-course. And so far we concluded among them only in Italy this activity has a deep historical and legal background: the first organised form of volunteering founded in 60s in Tuscany linked to religion like the Catholic mission centers or Caritas. Implementing legislation, today non-profit organizations play a crucial role in providing social services and contributing to achieving social policy goals. The number of volunteers in Italy keeps on growing. According to the latest data published by ISTAT (National Institute of Statistics), 9% of the total population has volunteered, for a total of 5.500.000 people [ISTAT, “Censimento permanente delle istituzioni non profit”, 2017]. This is a figure still far from other countries‘ data. For example, data from the UK report that about 27% of the total population volunteers at least once a month.
Volunteering can mean many different things. For example, in Portugal it seems like more a charity than volunteering: different NGOs, university hubs, schools gathered food and clothes for beggars and poor people, even the Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio in case of some kind of emergency (hurricane, flood, earthquake) spent the nights with homeless and helps them. In Romania and Greece the definition are narrow: they have legislation base, it implies it has a precise legal status.
Meanwhile, some countries are very much behind on implementing-act front, and many are in Eastern Europe. Neither Poland nor Slovakia has done so - in recent years the wave of volunteering started to rise, day-by-day more young people have joined NGOs to do something useful for people with disabilities and mental diseases and for society in general. Actually the vast majority of the countries (Turkey, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia) still don’t have a state will to implement a special law which would regulate the volunteering.
Have you seen the changes in a society? Volunteering has become an opportunity to sensitise young people to become responsible citizens and respond to the needs not only of more vulnerable citizens, but also of their communities as a whole. The crucial role played by voluntary organisations in the health and social assistance sectors means that it must significantly contribute to social policy goals. Additionally, voluntary activities carried out by retired people have a particularly positive impact on their morale, as they feel that they can still contribute to society, and therefore on their health as a whole. Consequently, this does not only contribute to social policy goals, but also to economic goals in the area of health as less people are ill and need care and attention early in their lives.