International Volunteering in a Rapidly Changing Society

SCI delegates were invited to attend a pubic debate at the Redfern community centre in Sydney. The panel of distinguished speakers included Francesco Volpini, ex-director of CCIVS based in South Korea, Thi Phuc Do, president of NVDA in Vietnam, Malgorzata Tur, acting president of SCI based in Belgium, Dr Hannah Middleton of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network, and Bill Armstrong, co-chair of Indigenous Community Volunteers. 
 

Presentations
 
Francesco shared a quantitative study with impressive statistics on the number of work camps and volunteer placements, and how it equated to economic value in dollar terms.  Key findings included that the economic equivalent of educational value of international work camps increases subjective wellbeing before and after the work camp.  The importance of volunteers reflecting on their experience enhances their learning and increases integration into their everyday life.
 
Phuc shared her heartfelt journey, which started with upgrading the life of the local villagers living on a river in Vietnam by fixing their boats and providing children with non-formal education so they may be admitted to school.  Eleven years on she sees the main volunteer benefits are in the cultural exchange, the bonding of friendships, and in learning and sharing responsibilities.
 
Dr. Middleton from Peaceful Australia expressed her concern about the location of US military bases in Australia and throughout Asia Pacific and their direct threat to maintaining peace in the region.  She sees volunteering playing an important role in undermining the US global domination strategy towards realising independence, peace and security.
 
Bill Armstrong referred to the importance of closing the gap between the immigrants and tribal people of Australia by stressing; the gap is only in our heads.  He highlighted how aid programmes for the indigenous people have been used to impose cultural values and attitudes and indoctrinate them into a western way of life, which has proven to be destructive to the aboriginal heritage.  He said rather than volunteer organisations being controlled by government mandates, better they review their original directive of supporting and rebuilding societies, and let the aboriginal people determine for themselves how they want to take control of their own community and development.
 


Debate Findings
 
What is your view of volunteerism?  
Voluntary service is an exchange between volunteers cultivating peace as they work together. As they come together in service that benefits the community, the personal and collective development of these invisible heroes is incalculable.  
Young people want diversity of projects however there is no tourism during work camps as all excursions have learning objectives. Volunteers become better engineers of their life as they become globally minded.
 
How to sustain volunteerism?
Listen to what the community wants and design projects with them.  Don’t accept tourists or travellers. Make sure you do volunteer orientations. 
 
Communication
Use social media and share stories. Engage local people to connect with their peers, and listen to volunteers about what they want to experience.  
Tap into what is already happening. Generational knowledge is being passed down with the wisdom of the elders. 
Define volunteerism as increasing life skills and making contacts.
 
Funding
Funding from corporations threatens independence as they use NGOs for attracting customers and for their own market positioning.
Funding from the EU is dependent on showing the direct benefit to increasing employment in developing countries.
 
How to make volunteering a way of life?
Promote core life balance principles that include giving back to others.
Promote self-development benefits to volunteers rather than just focusing on them helping others.