Posts Tagged ‘European volunteering’
On a recent trip to Warsaw to attend the Expert Group on the Mobility of Young Volunteers in Europe, I was invited to attend a specially arranged study visit at The Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation. Set up in 1992, the Foundation aims to preserve the memory of the victims of the Second World War and to promote reconciliation and understanding through dialogue.
Since 2001, the Foundation has facilitated a number of volunteering programmes, and in 2009 it achieved accredited status as a European Voluntary Service (EVS) project. During our visit, we had the opportunity to meet some of the young volunteers participating in the EVS scheme, and also a number of other volunteers who had joined the project through other routes.
There were a surprising range of motivations amongst young volunteers, which included a desire to travel, an opportunity to improve language skills and the chance to gain experience in the voluntary sector. Many also cited specific personal interests in Polish history, and in particular, the impact of the Second World War on Polish citizens.
One motivation in particular stood out for me though, and it came from a very unassuming young volunteer from the Ukraine called Oleksiy Teliuk, who said: ‘I wanted to do something important.’ I was particularly struck by the honesty and simplicity of Oleksiy’s response. It reminded me that every day, volunteering gives us the chance to do something important. It provides a unique opportunity to share our skills, to change lives and to work towards a better future.
In the case of the young volunteers who had travelled from across Europe to work with the Foundation, it’s clear that their actions are having a real impact, both in terms of the intergenerational support they offer to victims of war and their families, but also in terms of the educational work they undertake to promote understanding and reconciliation. Over half a million people have already benefited from the Foundation’s work, among them prisoners of the concentration camps and ghettos, former slave labourers and other victims of Nazi persecution.
They’re doing something important. Something which helps us all to learn from the past and act for the future.
For more information about the Foundation’s work, visit www.fpnp.pl.
The European Year of Volunteering 2011 has provided an important opportunity for member states across Europe to celebrate the important role that volunteers play in our economies and societies. But something more interesting is also afoot where youth volunteering is concerned. The European Commission has issued a recommendation which invites all European member states to consider how best to facilitate and support cross-border volunteering, with a particular focus on young people.
What does that mean?
Basically, the recommendation is encouraging all member state governments to develop volunteering programmes and opportunities which encourage and enable young people to volunteer across European borders. Perhaps the best-known example of this currently in operation is European Voluntary Service (EVS). This scheme provides support to ‘hosting organisations’ – those who receive volunteers from across Europe, and also ‘sending organisations’ – those who arrange to send UK-based volunteers to accredited volunteering placements in Europe.
In England, the EVS programme is managed by the British Council, and offers young people aged 18 – 30 the opportunity to participate in an volunteering placement for between 2 – 12 months duration. The programme is fully funded, enabling young people to claim for travel costs (including one return ticket), accommodation and a volunteering allowance to cover subsistence and expenses. Extra funding is also available for young people with additional support needs. What’s interesting about the EC recommendation on the mobility of young volunteers however, is that it seems to want to go further than existing EVS programmes, expanding the provision of volunteering opportunities, and making it easier for young people to cross borders and participate in social action projects throughout Europe.
Improving access and affordability
For many young people, international volunteering is often defined by an exclusive focus on the developing world. Certainly in the UK, the volunteering trend sees many young people ‘leap-frog’ over Europe to share their skills in Africa or South America. However, international volunteering is not easily accessible to all young people – many of whom are excluded from participating on financial grounds alone. Could volunteering in Europe be the answer? The UK has much in common with many other member states – high youth unemployment, rising levels of poverty, cuts in public services. Charities and other non-profits are stretched to capacity, so it’s easy to see how an influx of talented and enthusiastic young volunteers could make a difference. It’s not a cost-free alternative of course, and investment is still required to make access to European volunteering a reality – but it’s potentially a more affordable option.
And for young people – in fact for people of all ages – the opportunity to travel, to improve language skills, to become immersed in new cultures and experiences and to contribute their talents for social good, is potentially life-changing. It creates opportunities to improve skills and capabilities and broaden young people’s horizons – away from the domestic context of their street, their borough, their town and towards a wider world of possibilities. A new type of inter-railing for social good?
What happens next?
If the recommendation is to gather momentum across Europe, there is much work to be done, including expanding the quantity, quality and diversity of volunteering placements, streamlining the application and approval of volunteering visas and attracting young people from diverse backgrounds to get involved. Here at vinspired, we’re committed to working with colleagues in the Department for Education, the Cabinet Office and the European Commission to explore ways in which we can help to implement the recommendation in England.
If you’re a hosting or sending organisation, it would be great to hear more about your experiences of supporting cross-border volunteering. And if you’ve participated in a European volunteering programme, how has it helped you?