Maude Froberg, in Seoul, photo: Alison Freebairn
Today, much attention is put on paid work. However, voluntary service remains an essential part of civil society, not at least in the Republic of Korea, where, every year, more than 70,000 volunteers of the Korea National Red Cross Society contribute substantially to the betterment of their communities.
If their work, which amounts to an impressive 5,454,972 hours a year, were translated into monetary terms, it would represent 37 million US$.
Yet money alone cannot be used to assess the value of their activities, whether it is to assist disaster victims and people who have left North Korea, or to help the disabled and the vulnerable elderly.
“Theirs is a true contribution,” said Ilhon Kwak, Chairman of the National Council of Volunteers of the Republic of Korea National Red Cross, at an international meeting on volunteers and youth held in Seoul, on 10 November.
“Still, we are always facing the question of how to motivate the volunteers. We have those who have been working at the Red Cross more than 40,000 hours in their lifetime. Naturally, they have to be recognized. One way is to give compensation for hourly awards and, additionally, recommend them for governmental medals and awards.”
Reviewing voluntary service is an ongoing project within the International Federation. Various projects on how to provide volunteers with more information and to increase their knowledge, commitment and involvement are taking place.
“The world is changing, the times are changing and so are the needs. In the past, volunteers simply gave relief in times of disasters, and, of course, they still do. But today the community is expecting a lot more of us. HIV/AIDS is a good example of an issue which demands a lot more from us, not only in education and training of trainers, but also as regards updated knowledge,” says Gwendolyn Nisbett, president of the St. Kitts and Nevis Red Cross Society and member of the ad-hoc Working group on volunteering.
At the Seoul meeting, the Federation also presented its “Volunteers and Youth” award to Mariska Steenbergen, of the Netherlands Red Cross for the most innovative volunteer programme. The project is called “M-teams”, and it consists of teams of youth volunteers who teach elderly people how to use their mobile phones.
“The award is a real acknowledgement for my work as a volunteer”, says Mariska Steenbergen, a Red Cross volunteer for 20 years and a teacher in retail management.
“I think the project won because it includes two generations and a common communication tool of today that can be used to help people: the mobile phone.”
Another knowledge-sharing tool that has grown out of changing needs is “The Reference Centre on Volunteering”. It was established jointly in 2004 by the British and the Spanish Red Cross Societies, with support from other European Red Cross Societies. The Centre’s Web site offers information on policies, procedures, strategies in management models, recruitment campaigns, handbooks and much more to allow those engaged in volunteering and volunteer management to share experiences and knowledge.
Contributors offer their knowledge base to the web management team who load it onto the ‘web site” and add a synopsis to each document in Spanish, French and English. Members can then access the documents from their own desktop computer. It’s a great way of sharing learning and good practices.
There’s even a newsletter to keep everyone informed and engaged.
The next step which is planned to scale up efforts is the Volunteer Global Programme 2006-09. It will provide effective and quality support to National Societies to improve their own volunteers’ management capacity and therefore contribute to strengthening the Federation as the world’s largest volunteer organisation.