“Only if a favorable environment is created where volunteering can be practiced, we could say that over time the culture of volunteering will be developed and nurtured.” Therefore, volunteering should be properly promoted and supported by the organisers of the volunteer work, and they should have developed programs and policies for volunteers,” stated Dragana Mitrović at the debate Culture of volunteering – reality or challenge. The debate was organised on 5th December – the World Volunteer Day, in the premises of the Resource Centre in Shtip. At the event, more than 80 representatives of civil society organisations and young people had the opportunity to debate about the situation, but also how to improve the culture of volunteering in the country.
In her presentation, Dragana Mitrović from the Resource Centre in Shtip emphasized that although small and local organizations often work without financial means and resources and based on the volunteer work of a few dedicated volunteers, this should not be an excuse for why little is invested in developing organisational policies and procedures for volunteers. She suggested organisations to turn to human capital, that is, volunteers, so that they can help achieve positive changes in society.
Snezhana Simonovska from the National Agency for European Educational Programs and Mobility (National Agency) presented the volunteering opportunities that are open through the European Solidarity Corps program funded by the EU, and shared details about the validation of skills and knowledge acquired during volunteering through the so-called Youthpass Certificate. At the same time, she emphasized that according to the statistical data of the National Agency, these opportunities for volunteer projects are very little used by youth organisations and young people from the eastern region of the country, unlike other regions in the country where volunteer projects are continuously implemented.
The event also emphasized the correct understanding of the term “volunteering”, which represents voluntary, free action that is of wider public interest. Consequently, helping out at home and with the extended family should not be considered volunteering. Likewise, internships, as well as student internships, are not volunteering, even though they are unpaid. The goals of those activities are aimed at gaining practical experience and skills, that is, preparing the person for work.
At the event, Dragan Markovski from the Peace Corps shared details of how US citizens volunteer in other countries. Peace Corps volunteers work with communities on priority local projects in the areas of education and economic development. During their stay they also learn the local languages. A Peace Corps volunteer from America also gave a short presentation in Macedonian, who shared her personal positive experiences from her volunteering in Macedonia.
“The existing legislation, which needs to be amended to take into account the law implementation and the strategic documents on volunteering, contains the prerequisites for further building the culture of volunteering in the country. The strategic priorities defined in the Strategy for the Promotion and Development of Volunteering (2021-2025), the encouragement of the culture of volunteering within the educational system is also foreseen,” said Mirjanka Aleksevska. She added that an important prerequisite for building the culture of volunteering is the constant presentation and promotion of good practices of groups or individuals in the general public at the national and local level.
In the discussion, it was established that the legal framework for volunteering in the country has the basic prerequisites for smooth volunteering of all interested individuals and the entities that have an interest in involving volunteers, but to strengthen the culture of volunteering, the local CSOs, the institutions, economic entities and the schools should play more proactive role and there should be more adequate motivation of all persons to have an interest in volunteering in their community.
The event was organised within the project “EU support of the Civil Society Resource Centre – Phase 2”, financed by the European Union, and implemented by the National Civil Society Development Foundation – Civic Resource Centre, the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation, Media Plus, Shtip and Association for Democratic Initiatives – ADI, Gostivar.