Faces and Fakings of Volunteering

Submmited by Maaret Jokela on Friday, 10 December 2010

This event began on Friday evening with a warm welcome coffee with our Belgian hosts and a presentation about the definition of volunteering, held by Agnes Uhereczky (AVSO, Association of Voluntary Service Organisations), a member of the planning committee of EYV. We shared our experience on the Saturday morning before the first workshop - “Motivations for Volunteering” - and immediately discovered a number of different faces of volunteering:

Some of us had participated in youth work, political activism or the corporate sector, while others had grown up in small communities where baking a cake for a festival and other activities were taken for granted by everyone. The term “volunteering” was harder to define than expected. Following the criteria presented on Friday (volunteer work is done out of free will and without a financial gain, motivated by a need of identification and aimed at a benefit for others) we asked whether an active member of a neo-nazi party or a suicide bomber could also be defined as a volunteer?

Therefore, we asked, how could a normative element be introduced into the whole definition? Was it necessary to consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Two further questions were raised during the workshop round “Volunteering and Exploitation.” Does volunteer action become exploitation when is it not done with free will and is only for the benefit of others? Do internships count as volunteer work? In the afternoon we enjoyed the lovely centre of Bruges with the best tour guide of the city, our Belgian friend Hugo Ramon (AEDE, European Association of Teachers). After a break we gathered together again to see a film presentation. Sunday morning started with the last workshop round of the weekend, “Volunteering as a lifestyle” based on a series of questions like the TV show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”: The harder the questions, the more they were worth. “What do I expect from myself and the others?”, “What do others think of my lifestyle and how do I see myself as a volunteer?” were easy to respond to and raised an intensive discussion, whereas the 1 million question “What am I afraid of and what is my purpose?” was more difficult to answer. In the last part of the program we had a special guest, the Minister of the Flemish province of Belgium, Dirk Defauw, who presented the contributions and measures Flanders takes in volunteering.

So, what is volunteering? Just like the planning committee of the European Year of Volunteering 2011, our group could not agree on one single definition. We did agree on the following criteria though: Volunteering is an action performed out of free will and not for financial gain, it is carried out for the benefit of others and responds to a need, it is organized and within a structure and - should not necessarily be fun but gives us satisfaction.

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