Worldwide solidarity on International Volunteer Day
03 December 2004

Geneva: Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world are attracting more volunteers by offering them more interesting and rewarding activities, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In 2001, decreed by the United Nations as the International Year of Volunteers, the International Federation had observed a significant and worldwide decrease in the number of volunteers joining its ranks. In a changing world, it became apparent that a review of volunteer action was necessary.

Since then, the enormous, global effort to implement a five-year policy on volunteering is beginning to bring results. “Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in our organization have been able to reverse that trend,” explains Federation President Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, “by promoting activities based on tolerance, respect, equality of opportunity and promotion and defence of people's rights and dignity.”

Examples of successful implementation of innovative action include the Togolese Red Cross, which, working in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Health, has introduced a decentralized volunteer management system to recruit, train, supervise, and motivate volunteers.

These community volunteers systematically visit households to register newborn babies and pregnant women, for vaccination referrals. In parallel, they conduct HIV/AIDS, malaria and diarrhoea prevention programmes.

The Bangladesh Red Crescent has recently recruited, organized and trained 6,000 volunteers to respond to disasters and to bring primary health care to remote flood-affected communities. The Norwegian Red Cross recently set up social assistance programmes for migrants – the programmes are so popular with the Norwegian public that the Red Cross has a waiting list of volunteers. The Argentine Red Cross has a very successful volunteer management programme which allows it to respond more quickly and effectively to disasters, by employing people whose competencies match needs.

To promote better, more sustainable and effective volunteerism on a global level, the International Federation has been working closely with partners such as the United Nations volunteers (UNV) and the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU). One concrete result is the joint preparation of Volunteerism and Legislation: A Guidance Note, launched in October 2004 at the IPU session in Geneva. Its purpose is to help parliamentarians around the world identify and adopt policies to encourage volunteerism and establish a legislative framework supportive of voluntary action.

As Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro underlines, community-based volunteers play an essential role in effectively implementing assistance programmes, especially in countries where care services are scarce and administrative infrastructure inadequate. As a consequence, governments around the world are recognizing that the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, among them the eradication of poverty and the reduction of infant mortality, cannot be realistically achieved without “the mobilization and broad commitment of volunteers.”

“It is fair to say today that volunteering is a means of social participation and will play a crucial role in our future. Today volunteer action is already a key element in the building of civil society and relations within the international community,” concludes the Federation president.

From: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

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