Celebrating and Promoting Volunteerism

“There isn’t a culture of volunteerism in Greece.”  This is a comment I have heard many times in casual conversations with fellow Greek Americans and non-Greeks that have spent long periods of time in Greece.  It is a comment I said on a few occasions in the past.  It may have been true at one time, but this is changing.  The number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and youth volunteers has been growing in recent years. (See the “Legal Status of Volunteers in Europe” country report for Greece.) To some extent, programs and funding from the European Union helps facilitate this growth, though it is still the values, energy and dedication of the people that truly makes this possible.  Here’s a recent example, as well as a sign of things to come:

On June 5, over 60 organizations participated in the 9th annual Volunteering Festival in Thiseio in Athens.  The event, under the motto “Honor … By volunteering” included musical and theatrical performances, interactive games, dancing, and a flash mob that was all about hugs.  Organizations presented their work to visitors, informed them of how they can join their efforts and exchanged ideas with other organizations. The day ended with a concert by Magic de Spell.  And maybe there were more hugs. Visit the festival’s site for a list of participating organizations and sponsors, pictures of the event and a video from last year’s festival.

The 9th Annual Volunteering Festival Logo.

The volunteering festival was born in 2001, a year the UN proclaimed as the International Year of Volunteers.  That year, over 30 volunteer organizations came together, under the auspices of the Municipality of Athens, to organize a workshop on volunteering.

The theme of international organizations inspiring local or national action does not stop there.  The European Commission proclaimed 2011 the European Year of Volunteering and allocated 2 million euros for preparations in 2010 and 6 million euros for public awareness activities on in 2011.  In response, the General Secretariat of Youth is establishing a national steering committee to propose and implement an action plan to promote volunteerism. They invited the public to propose activities for 2011 identify best practices already implemented. Stay tuned here for updates.  I am looking forward to seeing what organizations contribute to the plan and how next year’s events turn out, so let’s hope for frequent updates.

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2 Responses to Celebrating and Promoting Volunteerism

  1. Athan Manuel says:

    Interesting article. Here’s hoping volunteerism and a civic society takes hold in Greece. Sounds like our proposed Hellenic American Environmental Society should look into working with these groups.

  2. JoAnn Bouikidis says:

    It’s great to see that volunteerism is catching on in Greece. I know how valuable volunteers are for non-profits, especially newly developing non-profits, like many in Greece are. It’s great to have people willing to donate their time to non-profits when funds are scarce. However, some organizations over-do it with the volunteer work. It’s frustrating for people trying to pursue a career in the non-profit sector, everyone’s always looking for volunteers but unable to hire. It can also have a negative affect on an organization’s work to depend too much on volunteers. You get better quality work out of an employee, someone who is investing more in their work with the organization. Also, employees are better trained and qualified. This is especially important for organizations that work with sensitive issues and high risk populations to keep in mind. As well as donors, many people donate money to organizations that work for a cause they believe in and they do so expecting to see all the money going to benefit the targeted populations. What they don’t think about is the money it takes to keep a non-profit running, and the fact that those people working for non-profits need to make a living as well. But it’s not as appealing to people to hear that part of their donation went to pay an employee’s salary, as it is to hear that it went to feed a hungry child or to give a loan to a family in the developing world or whatever the situation may be. People want to see these great things being done, but they usually fail to consider how the people doing them make a living with everyone demanding free labor from volunteers and interns.

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