Pictured: The Civic Service Volunteers with some of the Comhlámh and La Guild Staff in Paris.
Perspectives from the newest member of Comhlámh team- Áine Lynch, on being a former EU AID volunteer to now working directly with the EU Aid Volunteer (EUAV) Initiative on supporting standards in volunteering in Humanitarian Action
My first insight into the world of humanitarian work came directly after my MSc in Humanitarian Action in University College Dublin (UCD). Not long after submitting my thesis, I found myself in a field in Pensarn, North Wales, responding to a fictitious disaster which was part of a training simulation within the 2011-2012 cohort of European Volunteer Humanitarian Aid Corp (EVHAC), now known as the EU Aid Volunteers (EUAV) initiative.
There were 30 of us preparing to set off for a year to volunteer in countries and contexts very far from Ireland, dealing with disaster risk reduction, resilience or rehabilitation programmes. My country, my home for the next 10 months would be Tajikistan, neatly tucked between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Afghanistan. I haven’t looked back since. Five years on, I am now working directly with the initiative again, which aims to send 4,000 EU Volunteers into humanitarian contexts and disaster settings.
It has been one month since I joined the Comhlámh team as the Project Officer working on an EC funded programme for Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid, and only two months since I returned from beautiful Laos in Southeast Asia where I had worked initially as a UNV sent by Irish Aid. I stayed in Laos for the best part of three years.
My initial apprehensions of returning back to Ireland in December centred on reverse culture shock, and even environmental factors such as the weather! I was genuinely worried that I might not be able to adjust to the cold, wet, cloudy climate and worried I would end up yearning for my lovely bicycle that I used to pedal parallel to the mighty Mekong River on my way to work every morning.
In reality though, I have to say all these fears melted away when I took my first few steps through the doors at 12 Parliament Street in Dublin. They say Ireland is the land of a 1,000 welcomes and I think the Comhlámh staff are a perfect embodiment of this saying. The immediate warmth and openness which I was greeted with left a lot of my fears at the door. I am genuinely taken aback by the hospitality of this incredibly dynamic, energetic team. An association that fosters sharing – from collaborative ideas in team meetings to the inaugural slice of cake on Fridays. The proof is in the pie so to speak!
Overview of EUAV Initiative and Comhlámhs outlook on solidarity
The EU Aid Volunteering Initiative aims to provide opportunities for experienced volunteers and humanitarian experts to engage in humanitarian assistance overseas. The initiative not only aims to send up to 4,000 volunteers from the EU to disaster affected regions but also provide 4,400 people from non-EU, disaster affected countries with capacity building opportunities.
Part of the initiative is to show solidarity between European volunteers and local volunteers working in disaster affected communities which are aligned to Comhlámh’s commitment to global development and solidarity.
Comhlámhs current work in the initiative is in partnership with two international consortia, led by La Guild and France Volontaires which aim to support both sending and hosting organisations to get certification in accordance with EU standards for volunteering in humanitarian aid. Essentially this means that organisations who are set up to send volunteers to the global south if certified can now send skilled volunteers to more humanitarian contexts and assist people that work that have been affected by crises both man made or natural disaster settings.
The sending organisations from nine countries across Europe, including Ireland, the UK, Hungary, Greece, France, Cyprus, Latvia, Slovenia and Italy are working on certification and sharing practices. While Comhlámh host organisations partners from Action Aid Bangladesh and Philippines Red Cross will also work on certification toward strengthening local volunteers and EUAV management procedures.
This sense of partnership was made more real when I got the opportunity to meet not only our partners from La Guid and France Volontaires recently in Paris but also the eight Civic Service Volunteers (CSV), (the 9th CSV mentioned above Comhlámhs very own Kate O’ Donnell) that are working with their respective sending organisations in Europe. Comhlámh will get the opportunity to host three of these CSV’s in the coming months and drawing from the experience from the Code of Good Practice (COGP) support their organisations in raising standards in volunteer management.
Bangladesh and Beyond
An upcoming trip to Action Aid Bangladesh will see the meeting of hosting organisations to learn about the volunteer structures on the ground and get a greater sense of how international EUAID volunteers will be integrated into the system and work alongside local efforts already underway in volunteer management.
It is clear to see there is immense enthusiasm from all the partners in the consortia, and I’m very much looking forward to engaging further on this initiative as it is rolled out over the coming months and years! More updates to come…watch this space!!