Learning from our European colleagues

Siobhan Johnston, Volunteering Development Officer with Kerry Volunteer Centre recently attended the ‘Equal Volunteering Opportunities for All’ Erasmus + seminar in Villanova, Barcelona. Here she tells Volunteer Ireland about her experience and what she learned.

I was delighted to be invited by Volunteer Ireland to attend this seminar.  I represented Kerry Volunteer Centre amongst 16 other organisations including 15 nationalities. I gained new knowledge relating to intercultural exchange, policy and advocacy development and many insightful approaches to inclusive volunteering were explored. It was interesting to hear about the different volunteer movements, strategies and policies across Europe and to learn why these variances exist. For example, countries civil society, political history, volunteer and economic situations affect how volunteering is viewed from public perspectives and how supported they are within their governmental frameworks.

Conversely, it was surprising to discover Volunteer Management and Youth work are not recognised professions in some European Countries. However, the collective passion for Volunteering in each European society was evident. By learning and sharing with my volunteer contemporaries I realised that we all had one thing in common; our wish to make volunteering accessible for all and our belief in the intrinsic benefits of volunteering for communities, the individual and humanity at large. Volunteering being the pulse of democracy and the foundation which promotes neighbourliness within society.

The seminar mainly focussed on volunteer best practices for engagement with people that may be ignored in society including migrants, refugees and members of a cultural minority. Such individuals face the risk of social exclusion due to poverty, discrimination and the notion that increasing numbers of people are viewed as ‘newcomers’, ‘foreigners’, ‘different’ and ‘the other’, even if born in Europe.

Insightful approaches to inclusive volunteering were discussed. Key points were:

  • The power of civic engagement and that volunteering should be a democratic right as it enhances social mobility and active citizenship
  • Learning new ways on how to diversify, increase and improve the support given to young people who are asylum seekers and refugees to become leaders of new projects and activities
  • Developing relevant Volunteer Management competencies to become leaders of social integration
  • Exploring what adjustments are needed to include such individuals in organisations/community groups

A collective opinion shared throughout the seminar was that volunteering can act as a tool for social cohesion. By bringing people together from different backgrounds and cultures it highlights that perhaps the ‘other’ is not to be feared or misunderstood. Volunteering plays a huge role in facilitating the reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees into local communities and prevents xenophobic attitudes forming. Charities and volunteers help support this integration by providing language learning opportunities (Failte Isteach), ‘Information Givers’ help refugees navigate healthcare services, appointing ‘Diversity Officers’ in local sports clubs, coaching such individuals on their pathway to employment and by providing the opportunity to have direct contact with citizens (befrienders) and thereby better understand the local culture. Volunteering is also a reciprocal arrangement and people that support refugees gain exposure to new traditions and customs.

I love what I do as a profession but through this seminar, I now see the bigger picture. Our role as Volunteer Officers/Managers should never be understated. By encouraging the engagement of the most vulnerable within our society, we can help to challenge stereotypes and encourage inclusiveness, where people of all walks of life are treated with utmost respect and dignity. We can be leaders in our community by promoting diverse/integrative programmes that both supports and welcomes asylum seekers and refugees. Whereby, volunteering activities provide a platform of discovery, a sense of value and purpose and a feeling of positive contribution within their new homes.

Charity Trustee Week: What it’s like to be a trustee

Lawrence Carvalho is Director with An Oige – Irish Youth Hostel Association. He is also a voluntary trustee of the board of the An Oige- Irish Youth Hostel Association Dublin. He tells us what being part of a charity board is like.

Just over two years ago I formally joined the Board of the An Oige.

My background was in Information Technology began in mid 1990’s. I moved into various ICT projects in Banking, Hospitality and Government websites in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. I finally settled in finance as Data Analyst with Insurance and Hedge Fund industry.

I did feel the need to give back to society which I had done in my youth In Kuwait 1980’s & Mumbai (early 1990’s) prior to going to college in Ireland.

I volunteered with Morning Star Hostel June 2009 to December 2010 as Volunteer Kitchen porter, with Arc Cancer support for 5 runs in Phoenix Park May 2010, with Darkness to Light 2010 Pieta House, with the 16.6 miles St. Patrick’s Day Aware Howth Harbour to Dun Laoghaire Harbour 2010 and the Concern Laughter Lounge Fund raiser tickets and bucket collection outside Phibsborough Shopping Centre in October 2009.

I found the buzz of volunteering electrifying and exhilarating in the aforementioned worthy causes within Ireland.  I saw an advertisement in Volunteer Ireland for volunteers with An Oige which I had used in my youth on a hitch hiking trip with school buddy and my younger brother from Cork to Galway.

I got involved with the booking engine system in 2015 after meeting the Board An Oige Volunteers and head office staff in October 2015 where I found that there was need to help the organization.

Personally, I found it challenging which meant I had to take off my Technical hat and put on an approach from an internal user within An Oige.  It was rewarding and challenging as public speaking is something I still find challenging to this moment in time but I am hoping to get some tips from Anseo Comedy Club on Wednesday 6th November 2019 with Aidan Killian.

I also found Volunteer Trustee role to be a progressively engaging learning curve through bridging departmental coalitions within the An Oige Stakeholders.

I was privileged with lending a small hand in the An Oige Merit Awards in July 24th 2018 within An Oige Volunteer Coordinators Group and An Oige Staff.

I do also manage the An Oige Volunteer Database.

An Oige – Irish Youth Hostel is lively youthful energetic board which helps all youth enjoy Irish countryside through Hikes, Photography, Volunteer Wardens, Cycling all of which is quite active since 1931. Diversity and balanced gender mix on the An Oige board and sub committees has given a richer perceptive on points of view from global mix of fellow youth who love the Ireland’s rich outdoor adventure within 32 county heritage.

I hope to try my hand Volunteer hostel warden or give the lads in Glenmalure Hostel in Wicklow or Ben Lettery Hostel or Errigal Hostel in Donegal a hand in managing one weekend in Spring 2020. An Oige reservations team is great for groups over 10 in Galway (Sleep Zone) or Cork.

If you’re a charity trustee or are interested in becoming one, check out the great events on offer this Charity Trustees’ Week: https://www.volunteer.ie//2019/11/charity-trustee-week-what-its-like-to-be-a-trustee/