September 27, 2015 | Sunday

Are Volunteers Just Plain Fools? – by Stefan Veljković

The first thing that comes to one’s mind when somebody mentions “volunteering” in the North is “not getting paid.” You may provide them with any amount of information on the topic, but they are quite persistent in protecting their afore created misconceptions.

Now, the most part of the NGO sector in the North deserves, by all means, the label of “money predators,” however it would be unfair and false to suggest that all NGOs in the North are in the same basket. I can vouch for that.

I’ve been a youth worker for the past 5 and a half years, I worked with hundreds of young people, dozens of parents, teachers, but not so many activists. Why not?! – you may well ask. For one simple reason: there aren’t many! Future activists, volunteers, enthusiasts – call them what you want – are being suppressed by their respective communities by the hundreds; they are made to think that volunteering is something that not very bright people believe and engage in.

This harmful delusion needs to change. Immediately.

Synergy, the North Mitrovica based youth organization I work in, organized or participated in numerous actions and activities all striving to create a better city and a better society that young people wouldn’t want to move out of. It might be striking for the reader to know that more than 600 NGOs “exist” in the North. Nevertheless, Synergy is currently the only NGO in the North to gather a large number of young activists (more than 150 active members aged 12 to 20). The potential of such a group is enormous. But how do we motivate our members to enroll in volunteering? For starters: we tell them that their opinions and attitudes matter to us, because they truly do! We include their suggestions, their opinions in our work. Not such a huge revelation, right? What we do is tell them that they’re the ones to change their community for the better! What we never do is tell them that they should give everything up and just behave and act as the rest of their peers and friends, which is what most of the community teaches them. We repeatedly speak to them about being different! Indifference is precisely what led us into the apathy most people are now in.

The National Strategy for Youth and Administrative Instruction for Volunteers of Kosovo are both written in a terrible mixture of Serbian, Albanian and English vocabularies and syntaxes, and are quite unclear even to somebody who specializes in linguistics, such as myself. Both documents should be at least made readable and understandable to those who wish to get informed on the topic. In order for these documents to become relevant, they must be re-translated, so that they may be criticized and revised. However, they haven’t so far had any relevance in the North whatsoever, and it seems that they will continue to have zero influence. On the other hand, the Government of Serbia also created a National Strategy for Youth and a Law on Volunteering, but neither of the two is being implemented in the North, due to ongoing socio-political issues. Basically, we have no law or legislation to support young people to volunteer or become active members of their respective communities.

Inspiring young people to become volunteers, to participate in socially responsible work might be just the hardest thing for youth workers in modern society. Most of the youth are distracted by so many unimportant issues, irrelevant topics, everyday matters that don’t deserve their attention at all. That’s why it is up to us, youth workers, to entertain the thought of attracting young people to participate, to be provocative in our appearances, to try and inspire young people with thought-provoking messages.

Time is of the essence. Youth workers have got to start acting right now, they need to be less stricken by apathy and more interested in how to get the youth to become volunteers and active members of their society. Now, nobody said it was going to be an easy job, and we – the young people – cannot afford to gamble our youth only for fun, we need to utilize it in order to live in a better and more prosperous community. The thing is – I don’t think we have a choice; we have to decide whether we want to be observers of changes, or the actors making the changes actually happen, and what better way is there than through volunteering and youth work!

Author is Program Director and Youth Worker of YEC Synergy