Volunteering for better communities

Caritas Germany's volunteer programme Credit: Albert Josef Schmidt

Caritas Internationalis Delegate Joseph Cornelius Donnelly reports from Bonn.

More people everywhere are falling further into poverty and many into extreme poverty. Social situations where we live demand we respond as individuals with clear role to build up communities. People are needed more than only dollars and sense. Civil society organising is natural product of humanity. Dedication builds public confidence. Mobilises possibilities into concrete actions.

Caritas Germany and its partners from the International Association for Voluntary Effort (IAVE) hosted a workshop on volunteering this week in Bonn at the UN’s annual NGO conference. The conference’s theme of sustainable societies and responsive citizens looks towards next June’s RIO+20 global summit.

The Caritas-IAVE workshop focused on volunteering worldwide, the ‘International Year of Volunteers+1’0, church and civil society and how Caritas and parishes support active citizenship, for example through the project ‘Building Platforms for Citizens’.

Caritas Internationalis moderated a dynamic discussion with a packed house over 90 minutes.

The crisis of the state-based social welfare system has strengthened the search for new forms of solidarity. The newly formed ‘civil society’ understands itself as an engaging social state. It needs to work to mobilize social responsibility for the weakest members of the society.

Social policy builds on the charity potential of the churches. A research project called “Diakonia in the Living Space of Human Beings” gives strategic and practical details about possibilities and limits of engagement, with analysis of local projects and effects on communities for improved quality of life.

The Caritas partner at the University of Munster, Franciscan scholar, Fr. Udo Friedrich Schmatzle, demonstrated how it is in citizens’ own interests to improve their community. This happens best via community organising. Involvement effects change far better than pointing fingers or relying on burdened city councils. This model repeats itself beyond Germany. It generates solidarity, linked to the common good, multiplying motivation for change. [Read Fr. Udo Friedrich Schmatzle’s Church and civil society]

Both Head of the Volunteer Sector for Caritas Germany, Dr. Eugen Baldas and his Korean colleague, Dr. Kang-Hyun Lee, President of IAVE, highlighted examples of civic engagement and voluntary action for achieving sustainability across the world. The workshop itself was a room full of volunteers from Pakistan to Nigeria, New York City to Bonn, Milwaukee to Manila, Italy to Ireland.

Presenters challenged: “Get in there. See what you can see. Listen closely to people not just assessing needs.” Do what you can from the ground up.  Recognise costs, human and fiscal, visible and invisible.

“I will do it” transforms community into “We will do it” so that the common good grows change. Be simple, direct, have vision, grow communal vitality. Empower people. “We must go into the little places and meet the people.” As ever – never doubt what a difference each person can make.


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