'Virtual neighbours' reach out to real villages across the globe
20 June 2005
by Roberto Spiezio

Filipino youth from Amlan. (Source: Nabuur.com)Filipino youth from Amlan. (Source: Nabuur.com)
Usually, people who want to volunteer their time to help people have to necessarily pass through the charities in order to give the local communities the help they need. But Nabuur.com is one of the most original and innovative services, proposing a new way of online volunteering. The Web site is run by a Dutch non-profit foundation, Stichting Nabuur, started in October 2001.

The ground idea of Nabuur.org is giving local communities (they call them villages) access to the resources they need to solve their problems through direct contact with people (so-called "virtual neighbours") living all over the world. This way would-be volunteers can share their cultural and professional background to help others by simply using a computer and an Internet access point.

Once registered, a volunteer can choose from among the communities the organization hosts, which are spread across every continent. Take a look at Nabuur's Web page and get an idea of what the local problems and help requests are.

After posting a brief self-introduction in the discussion area, volunteers can contribute in several ways; for example, by searching for information on the Internet, establishing a contact with organizations and people, or offering their knowledge and skills to the community.

The volunteers are not left alone in their support activities, since every village has two reference figures -- the local representative and the facilitator.

The facilitator has a very important task, since she or he is the link between the virtual neighbours and the village, moderating and stimulating online discussions on community problems.

The local representative is usually a member of the local community and speaks on its behalf, reports back to the village regularly and decides on solutions and related questions.

I have had the chance of meeting one of Nabuur's local representatives, Joann P. Binondo, 28, and we talked about her experience as a volunteer and more.

Please briefly introduce yourself to OhmyNews International readers.

Hello, my name is Joann P. Binondo. I live in Tandayag, Amlan, Philippines. I have a degree in political science from Silliman University. I have been into community organizing of the Coastal Resource Management Project from 1999 to 2004. Recently, I've been working as a research assistant of the Cetacean Research and Conservation Project of WWF-Philippines.

Let's speak about your experience as a volunteer. In which organizations have you been involved?

Since my teen years, I have been involved in various youth and civic organizations in my community as an active youth leader. When I was 15 years old, I was elected as an SK councilor (SK stands forsangguniang kabataan, or "youth council") and I ran a youth organization named SURIANS.

I was also appointed as the Parish Youth Coordinator and later became a member of the Commission on Youth Volunteering in our diocese. Three years later, I was elected as an SK chairman and I initiated the Budyas Festival, a cultural revival of our typical traditions in fishing.

I volunteer as a media reporter in one of the local radio stations in Dumaguete City, DYWC Bandilyo Night Patrol. I also voluntarily organized a non-governmental organization called BIZIBIZ Org. Inc. and I've been volunteering as a local representative of Amlan, Philippines, for Nabuur since November 2004.

Once you said that "there is nothing stronger than a volunteer's heart." What does being an international volunteer mean for you?

As for me, I've always advocated the spirit of volunteerism because I believe there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer. It is really a noble cause and it is a priceless effort. You work not because you get paid, but you work hard because you love what you are doing. Even if you do some sacrifices you will feel happy if your aspirations in your volunteer work can be fulfilled.

What are the qualities that a good volunteer should have?

As a volunteer, you need to be generous of your time, skills and knowledge to others. You should also be confident of expressing your views and recommendations but be as friendly as possible in giving comments or remarks.

You don't need to be a superperson, just be yourself, know your limits so that you can move forward to further develop your knowledge and skills.

I'd have never been what I am today if I had not gone through many volunteering experiences and connections. I'm also very willing to share what I have learned and encourage others to volunteer and see by themselves how fulfilling and enriching all this can be.

Would you say that volunteerism is a mission?

Yes. It is really a mission and not a career because you are not making a living out of it, but you make it a life. I consider my volunteer work as an "apostolate." I take it as a moral obligation towards the other people and also a means to fulfill my central need -- the need to be needed. I just want to be significant for others.

You come from a small village in the Philippines -- Amlan, of about 1,000 people. What are your tasks there? What are the major issues in your community?

In my community, I am the local representative for Nabuur. One of the major issues here is the livelihood of the unemployed women of Amlan coastal community.

Do you think that the role of volunteerism -- online and offline -- is important for Amlan?

Online volunteerism is very important in promoting our place in the world. Amlan is just a small village and it needs more promotion and more connections. We need help from external sources and so online volunteerism is really a great help for us to be heard and known to many people out there our immediate issues and urgent concerns.

We also want to showcase the tourist spots of our place and tell the rest of the world how wonderful it is to take a visit to our dreamland.

In particular, it is really a great honour for me to belong to Nabuur, a new volunteering mechanism on the Internet, because I was given the opportunity to share my opinion, my ideas and my aspirations with other people from different parts of the world.

I got to know more friends through my virtual neighbours and I also get help from them for my community in Amlan.

Volunteering online is a relatively new phenomenon, while UN Volunteers has been there since the 1970s. Do you think that the NGOs and the international volunteer organizations have been receiving adequate support from national and international political institutions?

I hope so.

Do you think there is something more that needs to be done?

Yes, There is something more that could be done. We have to promote online volunteerism. We need more people to volunteer so that we can build a better world. We need to get in touch with more people from around the world, and encourage them to volunteer for a noble cause, so that they would make sense in their existence of this world. We need more people to take part in shaping a brighter future.

What are your future projects?

Our local NGO has come up with a project proposal for coastal resource management. The project is called ACCESS (Amlan Coastal Conservation and Education for Socio-economic Sustainability). We still need a funding donor for this project.

At present, I am now working on an activity for Environment Month in June. We planned to initiate on June 29 a river parade highlighting the conservation initiatives for the marine environment.

We also need financial resources to make the event more meaningful and colorful so that we can draw more tourists and public in general. This is also a sort of an environmental campaign. We hope that we can actualize the event if we can get the necessary money to finance all the expenses.

What is the future of online volunteerism, in your opinion?

I hope and pray it will prosper. Given the information technology that we have nowadays, more and more people connect to the Internet every day, so there is always a possibility that they can visit our community's Website and be interested in volunteerism as I am.

Do you have any concluding comments about your experience?

Volunteer work is a very enriching experience. The more you give your quality time, knowledge and skills, the more you develop your potential and personality.

From: OhmyNews International
© OhmyNews International

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