Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Culture of volunteerism comes to Botswana

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and to impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” Woodrow Wilson, former President of the United States of America.

Through volunteering one’s skills and ideas, they can concurrently improve the lives of others while they also enjoy the self gratification aspect of watching one’s efforts make a difference on the lives of others.

Earlier this week, the United Nations celebrated the International Day for Volunteers and the tenth anniversary for the day, since its proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution (52/17 of 1997) in 2001.

The day was created to enhance the recognition, facilitation, networking and promotion of volunteer service.

The State of the World Volunteerism Report released on this day reflects that the sheer size of the worldwide contributions of volunteerism calls for some measure of its magnitude. The report says that interest in understanding the scale of volunteerism has grown in recent years, as evidenced by various studies at national, regional and global level.

The report says that if national governments are to take volunteering into account in national policy, they have to be convinced of its value, including its economic value.

“Too often, governments are not aware of the extent of volunteering, the different segments of society that it includes, and the value it creates. Once they are convinced of the benefit of factoring volunteerism into decision-making, governments need reliable data to develop appropriate strategies; this ensures that this resource is properly nurtured and harnessed for the overall well-being of the country,” the report says.

The report also says that volunteerism still flies largely under the radar of policymakers concerned with peace and development, despite a decade’s worth of intergovernmental legislation adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

“Yet volunteer engagement is so important that many societies would be hard pressed to function without it,” it states.

It further states that the proper understanding of volunteering is clouded by several misconceptions, including the misconception that volunteering occurs only through legally recognised, formal and structured NGO’s, usually in developed countries, with some type of agreement between the volunteer and the organisation while in reality, much of the volunteerism takes place through small groups, clubs and associations, which are the bedrock of a civil society in industrialised and developing countries.

In Botswana, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) could be the key to helping Batswana to help themselves through the promotion of self reliance and the overall spirit of volunteerism.

Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1971 at the request of the United Nations member countries, the UNV is administered and represented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

In the State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, it’s reflected that Botswana has confronted the challenges of large-scale volunteerism research at the national level.

The United Nations Volunteers Program Officer in Botswana, Ms. Myoung Jin Lee, said that the report captures the value of volunteerism on a global scale and also the value of solidarity, commitment and respect. She added that the report also deepens the understanding of the impact that volunteers can have on the lives of many.

“A study in the SADC region was conducted and it was deduced that low income people tend to be more active in their community work, indicating that volunteerism is not limited to those who can provide financial assistance,” said Lee.

The economic status of a person is not a determinant of whether or not a person can become a volunteer.

She, however, said that volunteerism’s contributions and potential as a development asset have been rarely recognized and harnessed in Botswana due to lack of mechanisms to enlist those who wish to volunteer in any capacity, low response to coordination efforts and absence of national policies.
The mission statement for the UNV programme is: “Volunteering brings benefits to both society at large and the individual volunteer. It makes important contributions economically as well as socially. It contributes to a more cohesive society by building trust and recipocracy among citizens.”

Despite these good intentions, it is indicated in the report that in Botswana there has been a decline in the spirit of volunteerism.

Lee further stated that UNV Botswana has only 6 volunteers of which only one is a local.
Volunteering can consist of many different forms, thus requiring each volunteer to have a certain level of education and specific area of speciality.

UNV deals more with skill-based volunteerism, for one to be a part of the UNV they have to have a university degree and have several years of relevant working experience. However, despite these requirements, Lee explained that, “For local volunteers, they assess whether an applicant has strong capabilities to perform the required duties and they can be taken into consideration.”

The only National United Nations Volunteer, Ms Angela Mdlalani, is a specialist volunteer working as a Communications and Multimedia Officer for the Poverty and Environment Initiative Botswana, a joint programme of the United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Environment Programme that works with the government of Botswana towards the integration of pro-poor environmental considerations into national and district planning processes.

Although there has been a rich diversity of terms and phrases to denote volunteering, civil service and mutual self-help in Botswana as embedded in Botswana’s Vision 2016, Lee noted that a general decline in the practice of these in the country.

She said that volunteerism’s contributions and potential as a development asset have been rarely recognized and harnessed in Botswana due to no mechanism to enlist those who wish to volunteer in any capacity, low response to coordination efforts and absence of national policies.

“I have been receiving a great number of inquiries about volunteer opportunities. People are looking for ways to be more connected with their communities, and unfortunately they do not know where to go to get such information,” she added.

The theme for this year’s International Day for Volunteers is: “Volunteering Matters, Help light up the world now.”


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