THE MEANING OF VOLUNTEERING
In history, in Europe, and in my personal experience
Volunteering is now a well-known activity, since in the last years the number of volunteers all over the world have been constantly increasing. In general, volunteering could be considered “a voluntary act of an individual or group freely giving time and labour for community service”. But some aspects and aims, as well as also the structures and forms of organisation are changed throughout the decades.
In the Middle Ages, there was a great welfarism, most of all connected with religious organisation. The word ‘volunteering’ started being used in the 18th century when people were willingly joining the military service. It started to be more organized with the great wars when young people, and especially women, helped wounded soldiers and collected supplies. The officially organized volunteering started in the 19th, and some organisations are active even today. In the European context, the reality of volunteering is now strong, organized and developed: Europe institutions want to improve the volunteering system and to sensibilize young people about volunteering. Now, we have so many platforms and opportunity that it is not easy to choose one!
A turning point for European volunteering has been the crisis of the welfare state. With the growing difficulties of public authorities to respond to the needs of society, a new wave of organisations appeared on the scene. The volunteering organisation started to have a leading role in humanitarian intervention and social support, thus compensating for the shortcomings of the state system. This is a negative aspect of volunteering because it means that something is not working in that country and people need a help or an opportunity that their governments is not interested or able to give to them. At the same time, for this very reason volunteering is an extremely important phenomenon, because where there are a lot of volunteers it means that people want to be proactive in their society. Indeed, volunteering offers many social, economic, and cultural benefits, because allow people to improve their skills and so their self-esteem, reduce the risk of social isolation, create a people network, and facilitate the integration of socially disadvantaged individuals, etc.
For what concern the number of young volunteers, in recent years there has been a revival. The youngest generation is more aware of the importance of volunteering, is really interested in being useful for others and for the society, and is generally open-minded and politically active. Personally, I have always believed in the strength of volunteering. One of the first benefit for me is the sense of usefulness, which responds to my desire to help other people. But with volunteering I also learned many things, I met different and wonderful people, I broadened my horizons and learned to look at the world with different eyes. To date, it has also become an opportunity to sensitise young people to become responsible citizens. This has an enormous influence on local and European communities, because create active citizens aware of their environment and so able to contribute to find solutions to the challenges faced by their countries.
I really believe in the wonderful opportunity that volunteering can be for young people. We must be stimulated to volunteer, because I think it is one of the best ways to learn more about life and other culture, to find our own way and to achieve new skills, being at the same time useful for others and for the entire community. We can achieve more awareness of our world and learn how to act to try to make it better. Young people have fresh energies and ideas that must be used. And volunteering is a good way to use them. For our own personal growth and for our world community.