Volunteering: are you part of the hype?

Published 30 November 2012  |  
I attended an event two weeks ago where a young fit 27 year old man had a heart attack. Given he was such a young active person his medical emergency unintentionally created quite a shocking and upsetting site for passers by. Thanks to the quick thinking of some event volunteers the man received almost immediate medical attention. Despite the very serious nature of his condition that meant he had to be revived at the event in front of participants, he has already started his recovery under keen medical watch.

The man, his partner and family know just how lucky he was. They understand that if it weren't for the quick actions of some volunteers in attendance, the outcome for their partner/brother/son/friend is likely to have not been a good one.

As I reflected on this medical event more than a week later, I started to more closely consider the critical role that volunteers play in our community. For this man, his life was literally dependent upon volunteers. For a community whose lives are at times literally in the hands of volunteers, do we give sufficient recognition to them for the role they play? I would suggest not.

Next week, on 5th December, is International Volunteer Day. This is a day initiated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 as an initiative to acknowledge and celebrate volunteering. I am aware of this day because I work in a not-for-profit organisation that is reliant on volunteers however I doubt that the broader community is fully informed about the day.

In the latest Census it is reported that 6.4million, or 36% of Australia's adult population, volunteered in some capacity in 2010. The Australian volunteer workforce is estimated to provide 713 million volunteer hours valued at approximately $14.6 billion in unpaid labour (ABS Satellite Accounts). This is a staggering amount that would very clearly break our economy if it had to be paid for!
Volunteering roles in Australia are many and varied. The most popular roles are:
Fundraising 48%
Preparing and serving food 31%
Teaching/providing information 28%
Administration 26% (www.volunteeringaustralia.org)

In a recent 2011 survey by Volunteering Australia the two most frequently quoted reasons why people said they volunteered were:

1. because of the difference they can make to their community,
2. 2. and the sense of purpose it gives them (Volunteering Australia, 2011, p9).

Volunteering is clearly a big part of Australian culture. Along with millions of others I can proudly call myself a volunteer. I learnt about being a volunteer by watching my parents when I was young, as they volunteered in different roles at my church, school and other extracurricular activities. I hope that my children learn from me, in the same way I learnt from my parents, the value of giving back to the community in this way.

So next Wednesday on International Volunteer Day, if you have time throughout your day, spare a moment to consider how you have benefited from volunteers or from volunteering. And if you don't currently volunteer, why not take the chance to consider starting? Visit www.volunteeringaustralia.org to find out about opportunities in your area.

Merewyn Foran is married and a marketing director of a not for profit homelessness agency in Melbourne.

Merewyn Foran's archive of previous articles can be found at www.pressserviceinternational.org/merewyn-foran.html

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