Voluntarism as a social norm

12 Jul 2018

BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW

 

Over the past 14 years, voluntary activities to improve social welfare have been carried out by Addis Ababa Youth Association at city level. Recognizing the significance and positive outcomes of such voluntary actions, the initiative has also been adopted at federal level since 2014.
By now, it is possible to measure the impact of voluntarism both in kind and cash. For example, 50 billion birr worth voluntary activities have been carried out over the past five years at national level, so said Matias Aseffa, Youth Inclusion, Mobilization and Participation Director at the Ministry of Youth and Sport.
So far, as posterity, youths of Ethiopia have been participating in building democratic system, and ensuring good governance, among others. And this creates for them opportunities to strengthen their involvement in the country’s overall development endeavors and discuss the way forward and the challenges ahead. They also discharge national responsibility through engaging in voluntary activities, according to Matius.
Recalling that the number of youth volunteers did not exceed three million by the year 2010, he said that the number has now reached 12 million following the various mobilization activities carried out at national level. In general, since 2010, some 42 million youths have taken part in voluntary activities. The figure depicts that, the concept of voluntarism has been developing among the youth from time to time, Matius told The Ethiopian Herald.
As to him, over the past six years, the youth has been participating both in summer and winter season voluntary activities. The service provided in health, education, natural resource protection, poverty reduction, food security, urban and rural development, good governance and others are worth 50 billion birr and have brought about significant benefits to the society.
This year, such voluntary activities have also shown significant improvement. This summer, the number of youths willing to engage in voluntary humanitarian activities has climbed to 12.5 million.
So far, the incumbent has given special attention for the benefit and participation of the youth through devising Youth Policy and Ethiopian Youth Development Package. The policy clearly states that the government should facilitate conditions to enable the youth partake in volunteerism, which is a viable means to reduce poverty. The package also requires the youth to discharge their social responsibilities through volunteerism. Yet, there has not been a well organized voluntarism policy in the country.
Volunteerism has now been developing as a social norm among the youth. Besides helping others by providing social services to their respective community, volunteerism for the youth is a means of acquiring life skill training from the community. Donating blood, helping the destitute and tutoring students, participating in prevention of communicable diseases, protecting natural resource, among others, are the major areas of focus for volunteers, which also help them acquire life skills.
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Ethiopia Country Director, Rahel Gebremariam said that voluntarism is a system where people provide social services by their own motivation and without any obligation for the benefit of the society.
Since its inception in 2006, VSO Ethiopia has been providing various services especially in education sector via participating local and international volunteers drawn from various countries.
Inclusive education for-instance is a method that has been widely applied in developing countries. Ethiopia is also a country that accepted this same policy, though some limitations have been observed in terms of applicability and producing skilled professionals who can provide educational assistance for persons with disability.
As to her, VSO volunteers have been contributing their share in filling manpower gaps. Besides the education sector, VSO Ethiopia has also been engaged in others sectors. It also supports the efforts of transferring knowledge and skill to various segment of the society.
Despite absence of well organized voluntarism policy in the country, the ministry, voluntary organizations such as VSO and the youth have been striving to improve voluntary action in the country.
“We do not have a policy and guiding principle on how to deploy, recruit and manage volunteers. We have done something good to come up with a national policy that addresses the problem. Thus, the draft policy document has prepared and various segments of the society have been deliberating on it,” she said.
These-days, many university students could not find a job right after graduation. In addition, even if they have the desire to serve their country voluntarily, the possible options are not clearly specified to contribute their share.
“In summer, we try to support the effort of the government. But it should not be a onetime agenda. It should be a social norm. We have to open the door for the youth and other segment of the society to highly engage in it,” Rahel added.
Besides the youth, it is also imperative to involve pensioners in voluntary activities as they have rich experience that can be shared with the upcoming generation through volun- tarism.
Still, the policy and system issues has to receive due attention. If someone has an interest to engage in voluntarism there is no clear cut guideline for where to go and take part in such activities. “We are working to make such a guideline available. In addition, devising a policy by itself is not enough. The most important thing is impleme- ntation,” she emphasized.
As the youth constitutes majority of the Ethiopian population, involving them in various voluntary activities is decisive to ensure sustainable development. True, if it is managed properly, besides contributing its share for the ongoing development, voluntarism distances the youth from any uncouth behavior. That is why, Premier Minister Abiy Ahmed called on the youth to utilize their knowledge, labor and skill to provide unreserved service to the community and discharge social responsibility through volunteerism.
Volunteerism is a process that requires willingness, passion and free labor and time of citizens. Thus, the effort has to be applied identifying core development agendas of the government. Further, voluntarism should not be a onetime agenda; rather, it has to be a social norm that is practiced year after year with greater commitment.

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