Volunteering through time
The actual term “to volunteer” was supposedly first used in 1755. It was in direct connection to “offering oneself for military service”. Later also firefighters, priests and medical personnel got a long history of volunteering.
Volunteering is not a new thing. But the meaning has changed somewhat over the years.
The idea itself – doing something out of good will – dates back centuries. Even in the 12th and 13th centuries hospitals were run by volunteers. At least in England more than 500 hospitals were established by volunteers. Most people have heard of Florence Nightingale, who started a nursing school in 1860 based on her experiences as a volunteer nurse in the Crimean War.
Shortly before that YMCA first opened in London in 1844 – mainly focused on improving men’s economic opportunities – and has since engaged in a wide variety of charitable activities, including providing athletic facilities, holding classes for a wide variety of skills, proselytizing Christianity, and humanitarian work.
The mid to late 1800s saw the rise of many of the institutions that are almost synonymous with voluntary action. All were created to serve the needs of people in crisis of one kind or another, but all were focused within their own country.
The end of WWII brought yet another shift in volunteering as efforts were, for the first time, focused overseas. Australian Volunteers International (1951) and The Peace Corps (1960) are prime examples of these globally-minded volunteer efforts. At the Peace Corps’ very first beginning they received invitations from leaders in India, Ghana, and Burma to place Peace Corps volunteers in their countries.
The various civil rights movements of the second half of the 20th century had their impact on how we view volunteering as well. The women’s rights movement, civil rights, student- and environmental movements were all part of the changes worldwide, and the awareness spread mainly throughout the young generations and into volunteering.
In recent years the accessibility of international volunteering has increased significantly with many smaller charities connecting volunteers with non-governmental organisations in developing countries. This has however led to the invention of voluntourism, where mainly young people take a gap year to explore their possibilities and sometimes try to volunteer without any knowledge of the country or the task. The expression White Saviour Syndrome has surfaced, since some voluntourists thought they could come and ‘save the poor’, by undermining the workers knowledge and showing no respect for existing projects and ways.
The importance of training and education before joining a volunteer project is becoming more obvious as the respect for other cultures is surfacing. Now the terms Responsible Volunteer and Sustainable Volunteering have become the synonyms to the healthy ways to volunteer and to leave a better planet for the generations to come.
Example of what volunteer work can do.
The world’s largest wind turbine is located at the school Tvind in Ulfborg, Denmark. The teachers at the school wanted to find a way to control their energy bills better and provide a cheap, sustainable source of energy in an eco-friendly approach. The idea was implemented with the building of a 54-meter high wind turbine. It stands strong with three 27 meter blades that make it the biggest wind turbine in the entire world. The building time was three years. It was constructed by the Tvind’s Teacher Group and the collective effort of volunteers.
10 months Volunteer programme
3 months study and preparation in Denmark
6 months RESPONSIBLE/ethical volunteering in Zambia, malawi, Mozambique, guinea bissau
1 month REFLECTION period and SPREADING the word by traveling around europe
24 months Volunteer programme
12 months study and work in Denmark
8 months VOLUNTEER IN MALAWI
4 months REFLECT & SHARE
As great of an endeavor as volunteering is, it is not as simple as “going somewhere and doing something good for people”. Contrary to popular belief volunteering can do more harm than good if not done ethically.
Long-term volunteering is more complex than most people think. A lot of things can go wrong unless participants are adequately prepared for what to expect and the tasks they will have to undertake.
The dos and don’ts of volunteering! The purpose of volunteering is to invest time and energy into assisting a project that will produce value, empower people to achieve more, and contribute to a long-term positive effect. As much as we like to believe there is no...