“There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” These words, spoken by American Lt Col James Doolittle in April 1942, in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, are as true today as they were 70 years ago.

Whatever the circumstances, volunteerism has always demanded self-sacrifice above any consideration of material or financial gain. It teaches the volunteer patience, teamwork, how to deal with adversity, how to live in conditions of hardship, and, perhaps most importantly, volunteers gain a new worldview, respect for, and understanding of other cultures. In the country where they work, volunteers not only teach locals useful skills and provide humanitarian aid, but they often bring with them different mentalities, values and perspectives that help to destroy the boundaries, stereotypes and ignorance that exist between cultures. Additionally, international volunteerism, although comprising primarily apolitical programs, is an important instrument in spreading peaceful diplomacy between nations, and in ensuring the future success of global governance.

International Voluntareeism

On 19 September, the European Commission (EC) announced plans to create a new humanitarian volunteer program – EU Aid Volunteers – aiming to establish 10,000 positions worldwide from 2014-2020, with a budget of €239.1 million. According to Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, “EU Aid Volunteers will demonstrate our European solidarity by helping those most in need.” Volunteers will be sent to provide rapid humanitarian relief and aid in disaster areas. The EC proposal states that there is “significant potential for further developing solidarity among Union citizens with people in third [world] countries who are victims of man-made crises or natural disasters.” The EU notes correctly the power of volunteerism to serve as a bridge between cultures. Additionally, the creation of the program enjoys widespread popular backing, with 88 percent of EU citizens supporting the measure in a recent poll. Although a momentous step in the right direction, however, the program is limited to providing humanitarian aid and does not go far enough.

Text and Photography by Charles G. Spencer

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