The Scope and Benefits of Youth Volunteering

Linked with our presentations of Anica Mikus Kos – Slovenia, and of The Medical Network for Social Reconstruction in the Former Yugoslavia.

by Anica Mikuš Kos, on active citizenship through youth volunteering: the Slovene Experience

Slovenia has developed various models of including youth in organised pro-social activities. The role of young volunteers in the improvement of the quality of life of persons with special needs and of the community as a whole is well-recognised in Slovenia.

Volunteers are active in various non-governmental organisations. They work in institutions and services such as schools, kindergartens, homes for the elderly, and social welfare centres. They act as a complementary resource of help and support to individuals, families, services, and institutions. Young Slovene volunteers have been involved in programs to help refugees, which has a positive influence on the public attitude toward refugees in Slovenia.

Slovenia has integrated youth volunteering in its school system (secondary and primary schools). The Slovene model of volunteering is an outstanding example of cooperation between the state education system and civil society.

Large numbers of Slovene students are involved in continuous community based pro-social activities. Besides improving the quality of life in their community, they are spreading the idea of mutual support among different groups and are learning social activism through practical action in their community.

We are aware that volunteering represents a tremendous social learning experience enhancing the pro-social development of youth. Through volunteering, young people enter into various social environments, approach people living in different social circumstances, belonging to different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. An important element of social learning is contact with institutions. Volunteers can learn the dynamics, rules, and strategies of institutional functioning and become better prepared for work in the future. Recognising the needs of the communities and especially the needs of deprived and marginal groups paves the way for pro-social behaviour in adulthood. Encountering diverse situations, families, and individuals develops tolerance and respect for differences.

Youth volunteering is an agent of socialisation for solidarity and responsible citizenship. It also has the function of promotion and protection of youth mental health. It raises self-esteem, develops social links, and offers the sense of belonging to a pro-social group. Volunteering motivates young people

to get involved in community-oriented volunteer activities when they become adults. The combination of action and reflection in youth volunteer programs increases the socialising impact of voluntary work.

Developing Youth Volunteering in Southeast Europe: A Contribution to the Stability Pact

We believe that the concepts and practices of the Slovene model could be interesting and relevant for other post-socialist countries. We have a similar historical, social, and economic background and our present socio-economic situation has much in common with countries of the Stability Pact.

The majority of post-socialist countries suffer a huge lack of human resources to deal with the needs of the many persons living in poverty or affected by war. This is especially relevant for countries like Kosovo and Bosnia-Hercegovina. In those countries models of organised voluntary work have not yet developed, at least not to a substantial extent. The transition from socialism to a free market economy is certainly a good time for introducing the social movement of volunteering and its values of solidarity.

Stability in Southeast Europe depends mainly on the attitudes and behaviour of its people. Mutual ethnic, cultural, and religious tolerance, and respect of human rights, coexistence, and solidarity are values and behaviour patterns that could be enhanced through education of young people. Developing voluntary work of youth with the aim of contributing to the well-being of their communities is recognised as a powerful means of socialisation for solidarity behaviour and participatory citizenship.

Besides contributing to the satisfaction of certain social needs, voluntary work is a cohesive activity bringing together members of different ethnic groups. Close encounters and common activities reduce or eliminate prejudices and hostile attitudes among youth and foster reconciliation and coexistence.

Slovenia could contribute to the development of stability in Southeast Europe by organising various programs to educate young people for social voluntary work, solidarity, respect of human rights and democracy, as well as other activities to promote and develop volunteering.

In partnership with local NGOs the Slovene Philanthropy has organised training courses, study visits to Slovenia, youth camps for mentors, organisers of voluntary work, and young volunteers from Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo. In cooperation with the Bosnian NGO Osmijeh, we are running a program called “Psychosocial Assistance for Traumatised Children through Youth Volunteer Work; under this program, present and future mentors of young volunteers from Bosnia and Kosovo have visited Slovenia and become acquainted with various psychosocial activities for children involving volunteers.

Dr. Anica Mikuš Kos is President of Slovene Philanthropy – Association for Promotion of Voluntary Work in Ljubljana.

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