Volunteering in times of the pandemic
The Corona crisis is currently turning many things in our lives upside down. For example, the work of many associations has changed. Previously well-established forms of social and charitable support are no longer possible. Sport, culture and youth work have either come to a standstill or take place under restricted conditions. Many older volunteers have ended their commitment, not least because they belong to risk groups.
Yet the European idea of volunteering is alive and well! People actively live out their citizenship in voluntary engagement. It is in civil society that democracy comes into being, where personalities develop, and European values such as solidarity and non-discrimination are reflected in concrete terms. Volunteering is indispensable for our European identity.
The Corona measures have caused serious and long-lasting damage in this vital field. Isolation, closures and compartmentalisation have destroyed voluntary structures. Young people, in particular, have suffered from these political decisions. Politics have abandoned volunteering.
At the same time, it is interesting that there has been a shift from organised to individual and informal volunteering during the crisis, especially in neighbourly relationships. This gives me hope because people want to help and stand by each other. They want to contribute to the community, show civil courage and solidarity. "Social distancing" does not mean social alienation, quite the opposite.
Two current examples: On the future of Europe, I organise citizens' conferences where people can contribute their ideas and suggestions; the response was overwhelming. Or: Recently, in my constituency in Bavaria, more than 3,000 people could be vaccinated in a single day, which could not have been done without the help of volunteers.
My special thanks go to all the volunteers in the aid organisations. They have significantly alleviated the suffering in Europe. It is impossible to put a price on how men and women, young and old, have invested thousands of hours in our community, our health and our common good. For this, they deserve respect and esteem from all over Europe. I would also like to thank all the volunteers who have persevered and come up with innovative solutions, e.g. in the digital sphere, who are still there and are now rebuilding and revitalising their structures.
For the future of volunteering, we need ideas and perspectives. Money alone is not enough!
Volunteering needs training and support to recruit or re-activate members; or to deal with the psychological consequences, especially for young people. We need to support people professionally and create concrete incentives: e.g. pension points for voluntary work, more attractive allowances for leadership functions, and funding for European exchanges. We urgently need relief from the excessive bureaucracy if we want to continue to find people for leadership positions in voluntary work in the future!
5 December was International Volunteer Service Day. But every day, the people who volunteer for others on this continent deserve our appreciation. Without these people, politics can do little. Europe without its volunteers - that would not be us!
EDP Executive Vice-president and MEP