International #Volunteer Day 2015 – A Universal Introspective Approach

Ms. Akke M. Draijer-de Jong, Indonesia, International Youth Day, global education magazineMs. Akke M. Draijer-de Jong is initiator and co-founder of the Foundation Kebon Sepatu Indonesia-Netherlands. She leads a team of experts in the field of Educational Projects in Indonesia and is the liaison officer and spokesperson for the Team of Directors in th  e Netherlands.

amdraijerdejong@yahoo.com – http://www.socialpsychology.org/member/draijer-de-jong

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Abstract

The concept thought was officially established by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly through resolution 40/212 on 17th December 1985. By giving attention to the extraordinary efforts of an incredible large community of people, motivated by idealism, positivism, commitment and determination some of the most well-known institutions like Unicef[1], Foster Parents[2] and the International Red Cross[3], have been able to realise the majority of their goals by the sheer cooperation of a substantial voluntary workforce. The initial focus for volunteers to be recruited is primarily governed by an acute crisis management action and there is no time like the present to realise that the call for volunteers is ongoing for the current global support for war ridden countries[4] throughout the world and the need for various professional fields urges us to act vigilantly. This article direct its focus on what drives people to register as a volunteer, what motivates others to be contented to give donations, and how does society evaluates the extensive and sometimes risky activities that volunteers expose themselves to? When does altruism become a purely economic community feature[5] at risk to be exploited by society at large, how can we sustain the one character trait that is governed by a projection of the basic human attribute: the need to help another human being.

Keywords: United Nations, Unicef, Foster Parents, International Red Cross, volunteer, International Volunteer Day.

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“On this International Volunteer Day, let us be inspired by the many individuals who selflessly serve others, and let us resolve to do our part to contribute, freely and proactively, to change conditions now towards a better future for all.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for the International Volunteer Day

In examining the phenomena of volunteering, history takes us back to 1755, where the first recorded term was used in as a verb, and was apparently composed from the noun “volunteer”, applied in a military context (which is defined as “out of free will”[6]). I wonder if the gravity of this semantics is still felt so acutely, but in those days – where wars were fought by armies – it literally meant “to give one’s life” for one’s country. It is therefore a rather broadly accepted view that volunteers, in general terms, are regarded as idealists. But even earlier, around 1630 the word was first encountered out of this specific context, and is generally viewed as an altruistic activity, where no financial gain can be derived. What immediately comes to mind are professional areas that are primarily triggered by events that affect populations, geographical areas – in case of natural disasters – and emergency assistance. One of the consequences of the nature of call for volunteers determined the type of expertise that was generally requested, i.e. professionals in the medical sector, education, and rescue workers. When the American Red Cross was founded in 1881, it seemed a logical step forward to incorporate trainings in specialised fields for assistance in disaster relief operations. Whereas the majority of volunteers were already equipped by virtue of their expertise, the added advantage for those who were drawn to offer their assistance in areas of crisis, was their genuine sense of being of use, as well as the opportunity to be given training that would also enhance their future prospects.

Early charitable organisations felt it was good governance to recruit volunteers in order to project their aim and mission toward a greater audience, in case of the Salvation Army, and through this, were able to put financial support towards those goals for which the fund, by means of donations, was collected. Later on volunteer organisations were founded to pool resources and were commonly known as “Service Clubs”; Rotary International, Kiwanis International and the Lions Clubs International.

This huge area, peopled by volunteers and the activities they are involved in, is predominantly defined by a natural urge to help, to join forces and use the potential of a specific network. One of the strongest senses of survival stems from a basic set of paradigms that human kind seeks to fulfil their common needs, as was the outcome of Maslow’s research[7]:

maslow researchIn various stages of evolution human kind has thrived by and through the function of living and belonging to a group. We want to “belong” and we seek recognition to be respected by our peers, even striving for the status of “primus inter paris”. However, first and foremost we have a basic urge to give our lives purpose, and one of the most rewarding methods is to find a group that attempts to engage in a common cause and actively participate in “making things better”.

When I decided to finalise my studies in the UK, my parents were not at all convinced that this was the right decision; I was entering my fourth and final year of my Drama and Theatre studies, and England was involved in the Northern Ireland conflict; bombs in pillar boxes and alarming television reports showing the devastation when a bomb exploded outside Harrods. Later on during my continued residence in the North-Western region of the UK, news of the Yorkshire Ripper caused my mother sleepless nights; somehow my parents must have had the illusion that my daily groceries were shopped at Harrods, and I was roaming some dodgy areas late at night, or very early in the morning when I was living in Manchester[8]! But having arrived in London first, and not knowing a soul in this capital, I took my mother’s advice and registered as a volunteer in the Belgrave Children’s Hospital[9], which was just around the corner from my bedsit, which I rented at £10 per week (1976). I was immediately assigned the task as co-driver of the minivan which was generously donated by the Variety Club, and my fellow volunteer driver and I were given a list of addresses around the South-East side of London to pick up children who needed to be taken to the hospital to have special therapies and treatment.

Aged twenty, brought up in an academic environment and a relative comfortable and stable background, I was also equipped with a rich and romantic notion of Great Britain; grandeur of Theatrical traditions, graceful and elegant lifestyles of the “upper-classes”, associated with King Arthur, the Tudors, beautiful gardens and estates, such as recently shown in successful series like Downton Abbey etc. etc., the actual reality of life would prove differently. It may sound cynical, but the simple word “Estate”, was an experience that made me land on my feet instantly, and stood in shrill contrast compared to all the impressively austere buildings that are associated with British nobility, and could in some cases be replaced by a conventional impression of any “Ghetto”.

Working as a volunteer, introduced me to another segment of our society, where people were dependant on charity to ensure a reasonable amount of medical care for their severely sick and/or handicapped child. Limited financial resources brought these families to near bankruptcy when their child was critically injured through a mishap or an accidental inattentive moment, and the often so desperate situation seemed to be reflected, as well as accentuated by their living environment and social conditions. Being brought up by parents who could – particularly in this day and age – easily be regarded as my very young grandparents, the generation gap, plus their overly concern for my wellbeing and safety, had not prepared me for the harshness that stark poverty brought to people who were burdened with the added worries of having to care for a sick and handicapped child.

loveThe Variety Club (UK)[10], sponsors a great deal of activities for children, and it is largely due to the generosity of these organisations that the children of less fortunate families – and this still applies to a great portion of the population in the UK – will find support and assistance for the very tough challenge they need to face. I will always remember the impact my involvement with these young patients and their parents, had on my own life, and the way I looked at the world around me. It gave me the opportunity to do something useful for others, which enriched my own life in a much-needed process of becoming aware of other people’s suffering and a way to put my own life, upbringing and privileged position into perspective. It seems tempting to review one’s life from a somewhat hindsight bias perspective, but it also seems quite evident that these experiences shape one’s mind-set….

Personally I am not overly fond of the word and interpretation of the semantic “Charity”. It conjures up images of Charles Dickens’ novels and does not pay adequate respect to the poverty stricken people that need to “hold up their hand”, as it were. There is also another aspect, as it suggests a certain hierarchy, i.e. superiority of those “handing out” pennies and discarded clothes to those who are less fortunate. There have been numerous studies carried out what is the prime driving force for people to make donations, or give freely when an appeal is launched on national Television and what governs the subsequent impulse to react in that specific way.[11] The reflex, closely associated with this surge of generosity, seems to stem from the need to alleviate the sense of guilt, clouding people’s conscience, when confronted with hardships of fellow human beings. However, once the crisis has been addressed and the fundraising proved successful, very little follow-up actions are instigated to substantiate the original request. Moreover, the uneasy feeling arises that the capital raised is very often consumed by paying the costs of the massive overheads that most of the big charitable organisations seem to incur, and have absolutely no bearing on the financial support that was given by the donators.

Taking this to a global level, there is a similar tendency when the motives and criteria of Third World Project support is examined closely, which fare under the umbrella of Development Aid. These projects very often are thought up by Western countries, investigating the poor areas in the world to see where they would be able to commence projects that may – in the long run – assist them in achieving a better chance in persuading the ruling Governments to “allow” them to get a favourable position with any rivalling partners. The intention and motivation is far from altruistic and serves no other purpose than their own interests. It is commonly accepted in balancing the yearly accounts that stimulate organisations to embark on this development aid projects, offering an opportunity to accommodate financial loss in an equivalent of “unrecoverable” posts. It should put those to shame that in our current economic system no common ethic understanding was heeded, while Europe’s finest philosophers, like Immanuel Kant[12], have debated this issue at length. Kant draws a fine line between the concepts of altruism and touches a sensitive nerve, as he evaluates that being altruistic distinguishes a narrow margin between a narcissistic tendencies when it is not supported by a true sense of duty, in fact if unexamined, may even lead to behavioural and attitude patterns closely bordering to neo-colonialism, and actions based on immoral motives; double agenda’s that we allow the governments to draw.

The International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent is currently holding more than 13 million active volunteers. There is a UNV – United Nations Volunteer programme to which volunteers can submit applications directly, as Unicef does not recruit her volunteers directly[13], but their volunteer force is estimated at around 8 million people[14]. In the US alone some 62.8 million people act as volunteer, and various independent organisations are actively involved in disaster relief[15]:

Volunteers: who are they?

voluntarism in usa

According to the NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations-UK), there are some 33.000 registered volunteers in the UK[16], of which they hold 33% in the total numbers. They publish the “top 10” of charities in the UK, which confirms the historical , c.q. traditional model for charities in a societal context[17], as it also reflects the mechanism of an extremely important segment of society as a whole. In the Netherlands research has shown that around 40% of the population takes part in any volunteering activity during an average year[18]

Although hard to believe, there are a number of factors that could be considered to be a risk by some parties. Even though Governments give lip service in support and acknowledgments to any worthy cause, when it comes to economic consequences it would also explain the rather cynical approach that a system – predominantly run by what is known as the third sector – that would also mean a substantial loss for the Inland Revenue. It is not hard to imagine the objections that may be raised if free labour would replace salaries and financial remunerations. Presently the basic hourly rate for volunteering work can be averaged on $ 22.14[19], whilst the minimum basic wage in the US is $ 15 per hour (minimum gross rate).

It is for this very reason that in some countries Volunteers are obliged to register their unpaid activities when they claim unemployment benefits, and in some institutions employees are required to submit all voluntary and outside activities for approval. We must also look critically at expressions like “this development (project) is good for the economy”, and “The economy is recovering”. Question marks should counteract such statements, i.e.: “which economic system”, and “whose economic agenda”? That also implies that we need to develop an objective, as well as a positive-critical perspective on all the various charities and organisations that appeal to our “better” selves, in order to obtain the self-actualisation that Maslow refers to in his studies.

Particularly during the last economic crisis in Europe the difficult situations that employees found themselves – once they were made redundant and over 50 years old – reflects the general attitude of companies, and the lack of responsibility governments wish to take to explain how they justify their decision to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 years. Whereas the measure of respect towards middle-aged population can differ significantly in Northern and Southern Europe, the trend is to view the group 50-67 as common “write-offs”; too old, not flexible and slow[20].

The lash-backs on this age-group is devastating, and the years of experience, expertise and confidence lost together with the hope in ever becoming valued members of a workforce again. Statistics over the last five years relating to increases of bankruptcies, suicides, major depression and burn-outs[21] are self-evident, just a few side effects resulting from the last economic crisis. The possibility to break out the isolation of being unemployed and sitting at home on a fraction of the income that people were used to can be counteract by actively join a Foundation, Charitable Organisation or any other institute that can offer a renewed sense of self-worth and purpose. The latter being the most important condition for wellbeing and happiness for any human being.

 Another, and in my view, just as serious an issue is that the actual management of Volunteers has developed in an extremely challenging task. Too often little time and attention is given in a good structure of communicating, expectations and giving adequate direction and support. Often those with a great sense of responsibility are overburdened with tasks that should be distributed equally. The confusion also occurs when people assume that voluntary work does not entail any obligation in being responsible for tasks and actions that are assigned; no contractual and financial consequences are at stake here.

One of the pitfalls in attempting to set up projects that would be seen as an attribute to a community is the unguided enthusiasm that may cloud any idealist vision and motivation. Too often projects are being initialised from an unrealistic perspective, or from an experience level that the benefactor sees as priority, whilst the receiver has a totally different idea on where the solution of the immediate problem should be focussed on. This is an illustrative example:

During a recent mission to Indonesia, where our Foundation, Yayasan Kebon Sepatu Indonesia[22] realises her Social/Educational projects, I visited one of our friends who needed an orthopaedic operation. She was admitted to the Rumah Sakit Umum in Mataram[23], where I had a brief meeting with the surgeon who had operated on her. Firstly, the general hospitals in Indonesia are not nearly in the same league as the hospitals we are visiting in the Netherlands and patients are expected to have nursing assistance from their respective families and not solely from the hospital staff available. Meals are also provided by the family members, who will be staying in the corridors of the clinic.

Elderly patients, some in the last phase of their lives, share the same ward as young children. I want to state clearly that the professional staff employed at the general hospital in Mataram, are dedicated, committed and extremely capable, and they are respected for their professional know-how, limited by means of facilities and modern equipment. My first priority lies with the most vulnerable of the patients; the children and I would have proposed to see if our Foundation would be able to generate fund to build a Children’s Wing for the hospital. Fortunately the young surgeon, hearing that the Foundation’s action plan for their educational program would welcome any ideas from local experts, he suggested that what they needed most was a program for qualified nurses to train as operation/surgery assistants, which would mean a specialisation for qualified nurses, in the hospital for the practical training, but would need support and a location for the theoretical lessons. This is the essence of how projects should be developed; by asking for feedback of people with sufficient local and professional expertise, and avoiding all patronising “know-all” opinions that may lead to counter-productivity. The old colonial attitude: “We have a wonderful plan, and you are going to do it!” projects a way of thinking that is no longer appropriate….

This example is one of the basic and primary principles in ensuring local communities to become closely involved with projects and planning, as it will enable all segments of the local society to support and benefit from the facilities that will be provided by the organisations who are seen as initiators. From an organisational and executive point of view, it should be acknowledged and equally valued, that community projects can only be successful if the local people are allowed to be involved. The agenda of action should carry out inventories of actual issues that can be addressed by asking local experts to provide input in drawing up the Annual Work Programs of the organisations; at least that is what our Foundation Kebon Sepatu carries out and assures that all the volunteers are committed to carry out the various tasks that can achieve the goals we have set out for the coming years.

The way forward for any organisation, by relying on local expertise, experience and offering their assistance by way of development projects should always focus on empowerment, independence and self-sufficiency. A sustainable development contribution does not depend on the mere purpose to obtain that much sought after trade MOU, or business contracts. A reliable source of funding should not project the empty gesture of a “donation of large sums of money”, with the intention that at some stage this would be “reclaimed” by the donating party. A genuine investment will not only be beneficial to the investing party based on securing a foothold in the country concerned, and combined with a cheap labour force to boot. It will incorporate solid values; provide professional training, education and initiatives that will guarantee continuum and prospects for the future.

Whenever the Board of Directors of SKS Netherlands (Stichting Kebon Sepatu NL) presents her activities to the relevant International communities like the Indonesian Embassy in the Netherlands to raise awareness in relation to socio-cultural and educational issues, we stress the uniqueness of having such a large group of volunteers realising projects through a “long-distance relationship”. To put it plain and simple; the SKS would never have managed to reach such a broad, expansive field of community interest if she wouldn’t have had the assistance, guidance and advice of our Board of Directors on Jawa, Yayasan Kebon Sepatu Indonesia; where the sister-foundation keeps its HQ by courtesy of her co-founder Irawansyah Tasrif, and President Adi Boreel, agricultural advisor Mohammad Djaeni in Bogor, whilst the Project Bureau is based where the current projects are being carried out on Cemara, Lombok NTB, by her Board and Team members, Akhmad Saufi and Lalu Akhsan Anan, plus their advisors Martadinata, Diswandi, and Ibu Ace Robin and others; all volunteers[24]. Looking at the work and commitment from the team in Indonesia, I often feel overwhelmed by what has been achieved in terms of good-will and dedicated support from people who sometimes have to struggle for their own livelihood, and simultaneously need to devote their time to family, careers and children. They have proven to be excellent teachers, guides and carers; and for that – as well as for their ongoing endless patience – I am truly grateful!

The issue of global sustainability and effect that the current system of integrating the workforce of volunteers into the regulated societal constraints, is one of economic balance in a conscious attempt towards a Global Altruistic awareness. In the greater scheme of things, we need to encompass the intrinsic value of the volunteering network, in relation to the actual attributed talent, experience and expertise in terms of an unmeasurable source of added value to the greater good of our societies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could turn the phrase: “You have to think of yourself first!”, and achieve a fundamental attitude change and start applying “compassion first!”

2015-IVD: time for Global Action for our planet and its population

To freely give time, energy and commitment as a Volunteer is a very personal choice, as our inner voice suggests that it is not always possible to support a specific humanitarian action by financial means alone. It may even be far more satisfying to actively participate in realising the mission and vision of a given organisation that helps other people who are less fortunate and by following one’s heart finding reward in truly making a difference. In order to enhance the UNVB Strategic Framework 2014-2017, there is no time like the present to become aware of the cry for help that is ringing throughout the Universe; how do we set our minds to make sure that we reach out to all the many thousands of refugees that are forced to flee their homeland to find a safer environment? How do we instruct our hearts and minds to open up and condition ourselves to be brave enough to adjust our biases and preconceived ideas about; conscience, moral codes and unfamiliar cultures? How do we address instilled fears and extend a hand – not raised in aggression – but reaching out and bringing comfort. The world is practically being torn apart, and the Earth is holding its breath! The time has come to start sharing and caring, we must unite while there is still time to lift each other, this wondrous human race, sharing this wonderful Earth, to another and higher destiny[25].

 

Biography

Akke Myriëlle Draijer-de Jong was born in Indonesia[26], a former colony of the Dutch East Indies, in 1956. She was raised in the Netherlands and completed her studies in Dramatic Arts in London. Presently, working in an International judicial environment, she has focused her professional life on International Criminal Law, European Law and International Human Rights, combining her favourite field of interests of Social- and Forensic Psychology, and Neuro-pharmacology and Neuro-biology. She has raised three children by herself and enjoys the input from her three stepsons of her husband; they share an adopted son in Indonesia.

Bibliography

Volunteering, John Wilson – Duke University (Annual Review of Sociology, 2000)

Social participation and charitable giving; a multivariate analyses – Paul G. Schervish, John J. Havens (1997)

The Great Turning from Empire to Earth Community, Dr. K.A. Rouf (2006)

The Altruism Question: Toward a Social-psychological Answer, C. Daniel Batson (2014)

De Economische Vrijwilliger, E. de Vries MA (The Economical Volunteer-2008)

“HUMAN”- The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation/ Goodplanet Foundation: Yann Arthus-Bertrand (2015)

Links

http://www.unv.org/Official website: United Nations Volunteers

https://plan-international.org/and https://www.planusa.org/blogOfficial websites for Plan International (formerly known as Foster Parent Plan)

https://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/volunteers/: Official website International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Statistics and Annual Reports: the bigger picture

htp://www.unv.org/fileadmin/docdb/pdf/2012/annual_report_2012/UNV_Annual_report_stat_2011_en_hd.pdf and http://www.unv.org/fileadmin/docdb/pdf/2013/corporate/2013_09_Monthly_Statistics_Report.pdf

http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_82455.html

http://peoplesvoiceschallenge.org/

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm

http://www.ivr.org.uk/ivr-volunteering-stats/176-how-many-people-regularly-volunteer-in-the-uk and https://www.ncvo.org.uk/about-us/our-vision-mission-values

http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/ShowCharity/RegisterOfCharities/SectorData/Top10Charities.aspx

http://www.handsonnetwork.org/tools/volunteercalculator

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8235376&fileId=S0144686X10001224

http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/bedrijven/publicaties/artikelen/archief/2013/2013-03-11-m07.htm and http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/gezondheid-welzijn/cijfers/incidenteel/maatwerk/2010-suicide-nl-nhn-9808-mw.htm

Central Bureau for Statistics in the Netherlands

Additional Information

http://econ.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/28040/White_Kantian_chapter1.pdf – andhttp://www.philosophypages.com/ph/kant.htm :Immanuel Kant

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/maslow.html : Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3132629/Yorkshire-Ripper-butchered-35-women-one-MAN-according-gripping-new-book-police-covered-up.html : Peter Suthcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgrave_Hospital_for_Children: Belgrave Hospital, Kennnington-Oval, London

https://www.variety.org.uk/ : Variety Club Activities

https://www.sks-yks.web.comandhttp://sks-yks.webs.com/aboutus.htmStichting Kebon Sepatu NL/Yayasan Kebon Sepatu Ind.

Photographs IVD website (UN), Municipality of Mataram, Lombok NTB, Belgrave Hospital (Wikopedia)

NOTES

[1]http://www.unv.org/

[2] https://plan-international.org/and https://www.planusa.org/blog

[3]https://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/volunteers/

[4]http://www.unv.org/fileadmin/docdb/pdf/2012/annual_report_2012/UNV_Annual_report_stat_2011_en_hd.pdf and http://www.unv.org/fileadmin/docdb/pdf/2013/corporate/2013_09_Monthly_Statistics_Report.pdf

[5]http://econ.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/28040/White_Kantian_chapter1.pdf

[6]Latin: voluntarius – out of one’s free will

[7] http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/maslow.html

[8]Peter Suthcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3132629/Yorkshire-Ripper-butchered-35-women-one-MAN-according-gripping-new-book-police-covered-up.html

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgrave_Hospital_for_Children

[10] https://www.variety.org.uk/

[11] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02354199#page-1

[12] http://www.philosophypages.com/ph/kant.htm

[13] http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_82455.html

[14] http://peoplesvoiceschallenge.org/

[15] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm

[16] http://www.ivr.org.uk/ivr-volunteering-stats/176-how-many-people-regularly-volunteer-in-the-uk and https://www.ncvo.org.uk/about-us/our-vision-mission-values

[17]http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/ShowCharity/RegisterOfCharities/SectorData/Top10Charities.aspx

[18]De economische vrijwilliger – E. de Vries MA (2008)

[19]http://www.handsonnetwork.org/tools/volunteercalculator

[20]http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8235376&fileId=S0144686X10001224

[21] http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/bedrijven/publicaties/artikelen/archief/2013/2013-03-11-m07.htm and http://www.cbs.nl/nl-NL/menu/themas/gezondheid-welzijn/cijfers/incidenteel/maatwerk/2010-suicide-nl-nhn-9808-mw.htm

Central Bureau for Statistics in the Netherlands

[22] https://www.sks-yks.web.com

[23]General Hospital in the capital of Lombok, NTB Indonesia (Ed.)

[24] http://sks-yks.webs.com/aboutus.htm

[25] https://www.youtube.com/user/HUMANthemovie2015 and https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153251545240983&set=vb.107925785982&type=2&theater

[26]https://nl.linkedin.com/in/amdraijerdejong

http://www.socialpsychology.org/member/draijer-de-jong

This article was published on 5th December 2015, for the International VolunteerDay at Global Education Magazine.

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