Volunteers from the Norwegian Red Cross have been helping authorities with search and rescue operations on the island of Utøya.
By Giovanni Zambello
Last weekend, 200 representatives from 65 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, civil society organizations, academia, governments and the private sector came together in Budapest, Hungry, for the Global Volunteers Conference. In addition to discussions about the concept of paying some volunteers for their service, the conference also heard compelling stories from volunteers involved in the Red Cross response to the tragedy that occured on 22 July in Norway.
Anne Meklenborg was one of those who helped support people affected by the twin attacks this summer. “As the events of 22 July unfolded in Oslo and at Utøya, I soon recognised the criteria for selection of volunteers who would be needed for this particular job,” she said. “They had to be calm of personality, be able to listen, and to cope with extreme pressure. They should represent all age groups, as we knew there were many young evacuees, but also next-of-kin in of all ages. But personal characteristics were the most important, membership of the Red Cross less so. Their main role was to be a fellow human being for individuals in deep crisis.”
With the ongoing European Year of Volunteering and the 10th anniversary of 2001 Year of Volunteering drawing to a close, the Global Volunteer Conference brought together over 200 participants to adopt a Declaration aimed at valuing, recognizing and encouraging the contribution of volunteerism to the well-being of people, their communities and our planet.
Anne notes how positively the work done by volunteers from inside and outside the Red Cross following the tragedy of 22 July was valued by all of Norway and the world.
“More and more people now come to the Norwegian Red Cross asking to become volunteers. They feel they can make a difference in their communities – it doesn’t matter how small – but in order for them to retain their motivation, we need to make sure that they see that difference, and that they have a chance to learn something from their contribution,” Anne said. “Only by meeting these conditions will be able to create a welcoming environment where volunteers and volunteering can grow and make development in society real.”
For a more personal insight into the experience of the Global Volunteers Conference, please see Elke Matthaei’s recent blog posts on www.ourworld-yourmove.org