Today is a very important day for millions of people around all corners of the earth, who volunteer by all means, in order to make our world a better and a more viable place, and for those who receive the products of these efforts. Today is the International Volunteer Day (#IVD)! According to United Nations, the 5th of December celebrates all those people who contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (#UNSDGs) at all levels – local, national, international and recognize the significance of the fight for equality, inclusion, environmental protection, quality of life, and many more. This year’s theme (#IVD2019) is “Volunteer for Inclusion’’ and gives to people, governments, Organizations the opportunities and incentives to get involved into actions that pursue the diversity and solidarity among people, whoever they are, particularly among those who are marginalized, excluded or being a minority in their respective communities.
Volunteerism is not just an idea nor just a word; volunteerism is a different perspective and way of living that does not assess life based on money but based on values. Through volunteerism people and communities provide their time, skills, knowledge and support in order to promote various goals and encourage people to get out of their comfort zones, act and react. A volunteer acts selflessly, tries to dedicate time and effort in order to combat specific issues, for instance racism, or environmental threats, without expecting financial gains, working as a team, for a common goal. A volunteer offers something that is not required or obliged to, but needs to get involved into a cause that cares about. As a result through volunteerism people become more experienced, develop new skills, become more aware about the various problems and issues that come up to every society and give something back to their community. In this way the effects of volunteerism are spread not only to the target groups, but to the whole community in a productive way, making it more active and more resilient to the changes.
In this part of the article I am going to mention some of my own experience through volunteering in order to inspire and encourage you by examples! My first steps date back in 2012 when I was a volunteer in WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the Organization that conserves our planet, natural habitats and species. In particular, my most supportive role was when I helped in organizing an amazing event namely ‘Panda me Mesa’, which was literally a play on words. Whilst the Panda bear is WWF’s symbol / logo, the word “panda” means “always” in Greek. Hence, Panda me mesa, can literally be translated as “Always with mass transport.” It was an amazing experience, but demanding at the same time, because millions of people were entering the multi – purpose rooms of Syntagma metro station, where the exhibition and event were held. From that day on, I never stopped being involved! What is more, during my studies in Athens I voluntarily participated in an Erasmus+ youth exchange project of the EKOgreece NGO, a short – term project that had the intention to educate us against xenophobia and prejudice. I was amazed by the variety of Countries the participants came from, and how many things we had in common.
My experience in this project mentioned above, as a member of the Greek team that was the organizer, made me continue being a volunteer in that NGO, which is now my employer! Specifically, I continued being in touch with the organization, supporting the planning of exchange programs, giving ideas and participating in youth workers’ trainings. As a result, I gained significant project administration, implementation and management skills as well as awareness of critical contemporary social issues. For example, I have developed inter – cultural conscience that helps me being open – minded and embrace diversity, having understood that we are all people; we share the same thoughts, the same feelings and the same dreams. At the end of the day, we all have the same rights – at least we should. In addition, I am a volunteer member in Diavazo gia tous Allous NGO, an Organization that includes reading and storytelling to people who cannot do it on their own due to being deaf, blind, or having other special needs or difficulties. My actions in this organization include audiobook audio recordings for blind and deaf people. This experience has not only helped many people that really need someone to read for them, but has broadened my own knowledge and perception about the meaning of life.
To conclude, volunteerism is an opportunity to open our eyes to the reality of life, to understand that out there exist millions and millions of different problems but all of us share almost the same values and needs; we all need love, we all need friendship, we all need peace and care. Volunteerism has made me a better person, volunteerism taught me that money cannot always buy what we need and when we offer something to the others, this offer comes back twice. By this I want to spread the message of ‘giving without second thought’; hundreds of people are alone or helpless out there and even a voluntarily act of free hugs can make them feel significant, and give them a chance or hope. It is never too late to love. Just try to find some time away from your smart – phone, in order to reflect and start being open in order to learn how to do it for the others, not only for you!
Konstantina Roussidi, Political Scnientist – Volunteer