International Volunteer Day, observed on December 5th each year, is a global celebration that provides an opportunity for governments, NGOs, community groups, and various organisations relying on volunteers to recognise and commemorate the invaluable contributions made by volunteers worldwide.
Many countries and organisations globally rely on volunteers to bolster their workforce, and many could not exist without the service and support of these dedicated people.
Some of these include:
- Citizens Advice
- Police and armed services
- Hospitals and healthcare
- The legal system
- Theatres and entertainment venues
- Sporting events
- Youth groups such as guides/scouts/rainbows
- Mental health groups
- Social care
- Animals and wildlife
The list of places to volunteer is almost endless, and when you add in international organisations, there is something for everyone and international volunteer day is the perfect day to start.
History of International Volunteer Day
The International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 17 December 1985. It is designed to help raise awareness of volunteer service so more people from all walks of life offer their services as volunteers, in their own countries and abroad. There have been many campaigns over the years and these have successfully helped the UN support countries through the challenges of natural disasters, economic stresses, and political shocks, utilising the volunteer workforce. Most recently, the COVID pandemic highlighted the need for such international strategies as thousands of people helped their countries by volunteering from all walks of life. From researching and distributing vaccines to helping vulnerable people with food deliveries, there is no doubt that their efforts mattered.
Benefits of volunteering
According to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, there are many benefits to being a volunteer get for giving up their time and energy to help other people. They suggest volunteers can:
- Make a positive difference to people’s lives
- Improve their self-esteem, confidence and wellbeing
- Gain invaluable work experience
- Receive high-quality training and develop new skills
- Use existing skills and knowledge to benefit the local community
- Meet new people from a range of backgrounds
- Feel valued and part of a team
- Change the way things work for the better
Many people have used volunteering to help them gain the skills and experience needed for a new job or change of direction. It can give retired people a new purpose and of course, there are boundless benefits to the people who are being helped.
According to Government statistics, participation in formal volunteering has been falling in the UK since 2013 where 45% of people said they participated in some kind of formal volunteering at least once over the year. By 2022, the figure was only 27% so more is needed to promote the benefits of volunteering across the board.
How to become a volunteer
Since many organisations accept volunteers, it should not be too difficult to find something that suits everyone. The first thing to do is to decide what kind of volunteering you want to do and then enquire about opportunities in your local area. The Government publishes information on volunteering at: https://www.gov.uk/volunteering and there is a comprehensive guide to becoming a volunteer on the Prospects.ac.uk website.
Volunteering comes in all shapes and sizes, tailored to our unique lives. Some have the luxury of dedicating years to a cause, while others contribute what they can spare, even if it’s just a few hours a month. And here’s the thing: volunteering doesn’t always require formal arrangements. It’s woven into the fabric of our communities. Think about those moments when you’ve rallied to collect groceries for a vulnerable neighbour or given a friend a ride to a crucial medical appointment.
What you can do in your setting to encourage volunteering
Volunteers can be ‘worth their weight in gold’ to organisations, especially if settings are struggling with recruiting enough qualified staff.
Childcare and early years settings can help support volunteering in several ways. They can:
- Offer volunteer opportunities in the setting such as helping with reading/literacy/art/maths etc., and/or other topics where volunteers may have a speciality they can contribute
- Expand the Board of Governors or Trustees who are normally volunteers
- Encourage parents/carers and extended family to help on trips out – make sure that they are trained in safeguarding and have all the relevant safeguarding checks which apply to volunteers as well
- Allow staff time off to volunteer on projects – for example, a setting could allow staff a half day/day each month for volunteering
- Encourage staff and parents to volunteer in a PTA or similar “Friends of …” association to help the setting and children directly
- Organise a setting-led volunteering event such as collecting food parcels or clothes for refuges or war-torn/disaster regions, or checking on vulnerable neighbours over the festive season
- Ensure you have a robust policy which outlines what your setting will do to encourage volunteering, and how it will support volunteers with induction and training sessions
How to support the children to volunteer
A volunteer in formal volunteering roles tend to be over 18 and therefore adults. However, it’s never too early to encourage children to help in their own way, be that an early years setting or a primary school. Here are some ideas on how to do this:
- Ask children to volunteer to help give out books, and tidy up to encourage them to take some responsibility
- Ask for people to help with break time activities such as helping with a sports activity or a craft or cooking club
- Set up a buddy system to help children help others within the setting
- Encourage intergenerational days where the children can help in a home for the elderly which has been shown to have benefits for both groups
There are hundreds of ways to encourage volunteering for your staff, parents/carers and children, and the benefits to all are immeasurable. So, this year, let’s see if we can encourage the spirit of being a Good Samaritan in our own circle of influence, and watch it spread to make the whole world a better place for everyone.