Today is International Volunteer Day, where we celebrate and mark the amazing work that volunteers – both within and beyond the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement – do to improve the lives of their local and not so local communities.
But for many, such as those dealing with the aftermath of Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent providing first aid and other support in Aleppo, or men and women working on long-term projects in a thousand different places, it is a day of action. A day of putting aside their own comforts and, in some cases safety, to help others regardless of race, religion, politics, gender or sexual orientation. A day for saving lives and changing minds.
In fact for many volunteers, today is a normal working day.
On International Volunteer Day, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling on governments to make volunteering safer and easier, particularly during disasters and emergencies.
Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of the IFRC, said Movement volunteers, with their close connections to communities, were often best-placed to react. “Whenever a disaster strikes, whenever there is a crisis, Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers are amongst the first to respond,” he said. “Before international assistance arrives, they are often the ones providing front line help, often in incredibly dangerous environments.”
The IFRC is asking governments to work with the Red Cross Red Crescent and other partners to ensure that all volunteers involved in emergency response work are covered by insurance, a process that the IFRC and many National Societies have already begun.
The IFRC also claims governments can help make volunteering easier, for example, by revising tax codes to ensure that volunteers can have expenses reimbursed without incurring tax penalties, or to make sure that people do not lose benefits such as unemployment payments or pensions because they chose to volunteer.
Together with 164 governments at its International Conference in 2011, the Movement resolved to make volunteering safer and easier, but, Mr Geleta said, this was only a first step.
“Now our focus is on working with governments to make sure that this pledge means something for the millions of people who volunteer their time and effort and who deserve much more.”
A 2011 study by the IFRC highlighted the incredible impact of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers, estimating that in 2009 alone, 13.1 million volunteers contributed 6 billion US dollars worth of services worldwide.