On the 11th of June, more than 30 national and international volunteers arrived from different parts of the province of Battambang to attend the pilot of the Volunteerism Caravan – organized while UNV was holding its annual retreat in that province.
Inspired by a similar activity organized in Tunisia as part of the Arab Youth Volunteering for a Better Future project, the Volunteerism Caravan was launched by VolCam to broaden the scope of the Recognize me! Campaign, with theobjective of continuing to support the recognition of volunteers’ achievements in Cambodia, to disseminate information about volunteer opportunities not only in Cambodia, but also internationally, and to build a support network of volunteers deployed in the country.
The initiative will take place over several months and intends to create a space for discussion between the volunteers and local communities and to inspire young women and men to participate in the progress of their country, enhancing their crucial roles in response to local needs.
Isabelle Devylder, UNV Programme Officer , opened up the discussion by welcoming the volunteers and updating them on the status of Volunteerism in Cambodia. She introduced the participants to VolCam, the network of international and local Volunteer service agencies and volunteer involving organizations in Cambodia, of which the participants’ organizations are members of. Isabelle explained the importance of the National Committee for the promotion of Volunteerism a forum for discussion among all involved parties working in the Volunteerism sector, by which volunteer organizations can have direct contact with government officials from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. The Committee aims at supporting the recognition of the value of volunteerism and its contribution to development of Cambodia.
Discussions were facilitated by UN Volunteers and the volunteers were invited to reflect on the following issues:
- What does Volunteerism mean to you?
- Are there misperceptions about Volunteerism?
- How can those be changed?
- What kind of mechanisms do the community/host organizations or individuals need to do to support volunteers?
- How does Volunteering change you personally and professionally?
A noticeable theme that emerged amongst the participants was that Volunteerism was not only an enriching experience but a mutually beneficial one for both the volunteers and the community in which they work. It is an opportunity for the volunteer to increase their skills set while contributing as a global citizen. However, it was revealed that the volunteers felt that there were many misperceptions linked to volunteerism. They felt that at times volunteers were seen as skill-less, who did not necessarily care about their job as it was not for profit. The perception of volunteers was interchangeable depending on the age of the volunteer, their class background and their culture. To some, volunteerism were seen as something that only the privileged did to find themselves, or the term was synonymous with a holiday. The volunteers felt that in order to change these misperceptions, the government, organizations and schools need to educate people on the benefits of volunteerism and remove the stigma associated with it. They felt that organizations should be more accountable for their volunteers in terms of recruitment and their progress.
‘Being a volunteer working is different, you are now part of a community, and that makes all the difference’
The volunteers also discussed the kinds of mechanisms the communities or host organizations need to do to support volunteers. Many of the volunteers felt that recognition of the good work that is being done should be made public; a good model of volunteering would lead to more effective volunteering. The participants finished the session by describing how volunteerism has changed their lives both professionally and personally. The overwhelming majority spoke of how they see and do things differently, how they have learnt from another culture and recognized that there are many ways to do the same task. The volunteers spoke of their new skills set that will help them in their future career but also developing a new passion and dedication to help those in need. Through volunteering, they have built relationships that are not based on money; they have pushed their boundaries and found a respect for a culture that wasn’t theirs.
The Volunteerism Caravan was designed not only to share information about the current status of volunteerism in Cambodia, regionally and globally but it was also a way for volunteers based in Battambang to meet each other, discuss the challenges and benefits of volunteering in Cambodia and exchange their stories. Similar events will be held in different provinces between September and November and results will be presented during IVD Celebrations in Phnom Penh.