“The European Union is bucking the trend and organising a €147million volunteering in humanitarian aid initiative which has the lofty target of deploying 4000 ‘EU Aid Volunteers’ (EUAVI) between 2015 and 2020. ” writes Kate O Donnell
This form of volunteering goes against the grain, in which volunteers are normally sent to areas of the world which are perceived to be less intense and where people are not in immediate need of support.
I would understand your scepticism about such a scheme which aims to unite European citizens in solidarity with people experiencing crisis as a result of human or naturally made disasters. Meanwhile, we as a continent cannot muster up a united response to the multifaceted economic crisis that hit Europe in 2008, or perhaps even more alarmingly, as we are failing catastrophically to respond to one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of the last decade right here on our doorstep: the thousands of refugees who are fleeing poverty, conflict and fear and who are seeking support and humanity in Europe.
So why then, in this context, is the European Union spending time, energy and money on a volunteering project? Is it simply a publicity stunt to improve the flailing image of the European Union? Or is it a way of showing recognition that volunteering and all it encompasses is a powerful tool to empower people to create real change? I don’t have the definitive answer to this.
But it is what we as ‘european citizens’ make of this opportunity that will determine whether it can achieve tangible changes and inspire a new generation of activists, humanitarian workers and global citizens who recognise the need for global solidarity.
Comhlámh are involved in two consortia within this project. Both focus on improving the capacity of both sending and hosting organisations and, consequently, we are experiencing the internal workings of this macro European project. We have found it be a very open and honest effort to improve practices and standards across our network of sending and hosting agencies.
The EUAVI project aims to deploy volunteers in areas to improve disaster preparedness and post-disaster rebuilding. Therefore, no volunteers will be sent to areas that are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Another important aspect of this initiative is the financial commitment put forward by the European Union. This enables people to volunteer without the need to personally pay and therefore makes it more egalitarian and accessible than most volunteer programmes.
The world is currently awash with humanitarian crises. Climate change is a growing challenge for all communities. In many societies inequality is growing, alongside the escalating power of corporations. Consequently, we need to take action, whether that be through local activism, volunteering or political movements. Perhaps EUAVI could be an opportunity to empower people to act against injustice and suffering; but, as with all things, if we the citizens, the sending and hosting agencies and the volunteers do not take ownership of how it is organised and rolled out it could be a bureaucratic PR initiative run by Brussels.
So far, I have been inspired by the two consortia we are involved in because it is a real act of solidarity in its truest sense; these are open fora to exchange ideas, practices, shortcomings and frustrations. This can allow participating organisations to improve and, most importantly, enhance the outcomes of their projects in contributing to reducing inequality and creating real partnerships across communities and countries.
Kate is working in Comhlámh as a civic service volunteer and she is sharing ideas, challenges and good practice across the network of organisations involved in the Volunteering in Humanitarian Aid consortium. This is part of the European Union Aid Volunteers Initiative capacity building programme.