International Volunteer Day

Article excerpt

EACH year since it was established on the initiative of the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV) in 1985, International Volunteer Day has been celebrated in at least ninety countries to honour the millions of volunteers all over the world who give their time to help their fellow human beings.

At a point when the trend in many countries is to cut back on social services they once provided, international, national and local volunteer organizations in both the North and the South are playing a vital role.

In one developed country--Australia--the New South Wales Volunteer Centre describes volunteers as "the people who deliver meals, serve at school canteens, raise funds to buy community equipment, run clubs, watch neighbourhoods, fight bush fires, operate drop-in centres and carry out a host of other services which the community demands but could often not afford without the free help they provide."

In developing countries it is sometimes asked whether there is any real need for international volunteers and whether volunteering may not be an outdated import from colonial times. Sadly, one has only to witness the degree of need and suffering in countries such as Angola, Somalia and Bosnia to realize how much there is for such volunteers to do.

Some 120 countries on the long haul to development are happy to welcome specialists from the UN Volunteers Programme and other international bodies that work side by side with local organizations. "It is a matter of pride," said the governor of the Punjab (Pakistan) on International Volunteer Day 1992, "that nearly 3,500 voluntary social welfare agencies, comprising hundreds of thousands of dedicated and selfless workers all over the Punjab, are engaged in voluntary social service and as such supplementing government's efforts in every conceivable field."

The past two years have brought major changes for international organizations that, like UNV, send volunteers all over the world. …