Cooperation through Volunteering ...not just a political statement...

22 August 2004
Fifty volunteer reporters and interpreters from ICVolunteers helped in the background of the 18th World Volunteer Conference to make the Conference go smoothly. Promoted by IAVE (International Association for Volunteer Effort) and on this occasion organized by FCVS, (Federació Catalana de Voluntariat Social), the event was held in Barcelona (Spain), within the FORUM de la Culturas from 17 to 21 August 2004. We interviewed a few of our conference volunteers to capture some of their impression of the experience: "You get back way more than any paycheck could give you."

Erzsebet Magyarosi

from Hungary admitted that her perspective on volunteerism had changed quite a bit through this volunteer experience: "I have volunteered in holiday camps before, but my way of measuring their success was through whether they had been a moment to party and have fun. Here, I actually felt different about volunteering: we did get a lot of work done and worked quite hard to get there."

Erzsebet also expressed her feeling about volunteering being a way to compensate for some of the injustice that is happening in the world: "In the world we live in today, I feel that volunteering might be some kind of a way to compensate for the aggressiveness around us." She also pointed out that her participation in the volunteer program of the 18th World Volunteer Conference had opened her mind on different views of society: "while I do still not quite understand the Western view of 'communities', I have learned more about them. It's very different from what I have known from back home in Budapest, where I live."

For Maritza Cardenas Ortiz, from Colombia, the experience really started before coming to Spain. This has been her first trip to Europe. It was hard to obtain the visa necessary to travel to Spain, which only was granted after a series of invitation letters and questioning about her motivations to travel abroad. Maritza confessed that her view of volunteering had changed as well: "Before coming to this conference, I had a different view of volunteering. In Colombia, many times the volunteer movement is not very much taken seriously." She continued by saying that it had been very nice to see that there was much being done in this field. As a personal experience, Maritza explained, "I never had been together with so many people from different places."

Deline Van de Boom, herself the Director of the Cape Town Volunteer Center, the official representative of ICVolunteers in Cape Town (South Africa), compared her experience at the previous World Volunteer Conference with the most recent one: "When I went to the previous conference, held in Seoul in 2002, I lived in a local host family. I therefore got to know some of the local traditions, ways of thinking, culture and food." She explained that she had been very touched by the clothing collection campaign started by her Seoul hosts: "They collected clothing for me to bring to poor neighborhoods in Africa."

"Even two years later, I find from time to time boxes of clothing in front of my doorstep. This is in fact an example of the types of roots and personal relationships you develop when working with locals." She continued by underlining that it was impossible for her to summarize the richness of experiences she had had in Barcelona: "My understanding of the USA seen through the eyes of an expatriate, Jim, who lives in Switzerland, for example, illustrate the extent to which I have been able to learn from others. While the books and documentation I am taking back from the conference are interesting, they are in no way comparable to the experience I had on a personal and human basis. I know that I will never forget and always benefit from the practical spin-offs of being part of the ICV team."

Deline further described the friendships that had been built through working together as a team: "When I had to say good bye to Ann, a fellow-volunteer, she said to me 'you now have a friend in Spain', and I said to her 'you have now a friend in South Africa'... we both had tears in our eyes... if this can be at all any explanation of the emotion and personal friendships that are being built through volunteering, it would be a good one," she added. "This goes through efficiency, meeting deadlines, working hard together on the same team. In my view, there is a very special place for ICVolunteers, not just for young volunteers, but also the older ones. It is very much the cross-generational approach I appreciated in this."

Sandra Krahenmann, from Switzerland, a student of political sciences and one of the two coordinators of the volunteer reporters team agreed with Deline that volunteering actually does bring people together:
"In my university classes, I learned about cooperation, etc. But ICV and the volunteering experience told me that it is more than just a political statement... it is actually possible." She shared some thought about her experience from the conference: "As a coordinator of volunteer reporters, I thought, what did I do today? I did not plan anything. I did not write anything. I talked a lot to make sure that things would go smoothly. My role made me realize that talking can actually be a lot of work!"

Sandra further pointed out that she had noticed no intergenerational gap within the team, yet it had been composed of people from all walks of life: students, professionals and retirees. While technology might have been picked up fastest by the younger volunteers, the older ones were able to bring their life experience which was just as useful. Sandra stressed that "when you say that people get together through volunteering, it is actually true. The older volunteers relate well and are complementary to the younger ones. That was very nice."

Sandra confessed that she had at first been a bit afraid that people would not show up or do their work in a committed way: "I was somewhat disillusioned about free things, about people to come to have fun only rather than to work hard. This is not what I saw at all... people were committed. They came to attend an 8:30 AM meeting and everyone was on time, committed and motivated." She admitted that "this was really a counter example of what some of my friends where telling me about human beings no longer being altruistic." She pointed out that "as a volunteer you do things for other people, rather than for money, but you get so much back for it: the experience, the exchange, way more than any paycheck could give you."

Sandra also mentioned the importance of recognition and praised Kathy Monnier for her leadership within the volunteer group. She gave the sad example of the moment when a volunteer interpreter was called because her mother had passed away. She needed to get to Greece immediately. Kathy was there to offer support and so was Eulalia from the IAVE Conference Secretariat. Sandra continued by saying that "as one of the younger volunteers, it is so nice to see older volunteers who are just as idealistic.

It is very much contrary to what some of my friends were telling me: 'you are young and idealistic... just wait until you get into a cushy job at Credit Suisse and you will no longer have those unrealistic views.' Looking at some of the older fellow volunteers, it is nice to see that it is actually possible to live in a more idealistic way."

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