Free exchangeNational Steering Committee for Volunteerism Nepal should play an active role in making volunteering more professional
B.k Shrestha & Umesh Raj Regmi
Nepal has a long history on volunteerism. Historical evidence shows that Nepali people have always been voluntarily involved in various social activities,
and it was largely motivated by religion. In the past, volunteering activities were unorganised and were done in an individual basis. Organised volunteering seems to have only started after 1926. Even during the 1934 earthquake, Nepal government mobilised thousands of local volunteers to the affected areas. But the countrywide mobilisation of the volunteers was initiated after the establishment of Nepal Red Cross Society in 1963.
Volunteering in Nepal
In the present context, many national and international volunteers are serving in Nepal, either due to the motive of selfless service or career enhancement. The participation of youths in volunteering is also increasing in different sectors, and their efforts have been significant. For example, the community schools, where the youths were teaching voluntarily, produced better results in the School Leaving Certificate examination this year. Similarly, international volunteers have helped to build schools, health posts, toilets and manage drinking water in many rural areas of the country. Some of the organisations are doing their best to get such changes through volunteering and establish volunteering as an organised, virtuous and growing service in Nepal. Some of the major volunteering organisations that are in the frontline mobilising volunteers in education (teaching and training), disaster management, advocacy, primary health and awareness are: United Nations Volunteer Nepal, Global Action Nepal, Teach for Nepal, INFO-Nepal, Voluntary Service Overseas Nepal, and Volunteer Youth Nepal, among others.
Youth initiation for the common good is fuelling volunteerism in Nepal. The participation and spontaneous volunteering of the youths in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake exemplifies their role. Voluntary services enhance the social and professional life skills of the youths who are the pillar of development. Nepal also has an opportunity in creating an ethical market for tourists who wish to volunteer. However, on the other hand, the government needs to discourage unprofessional, profit-oriented organisations that mobilise
volunteers. To quote the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.” But there are some necessary attributes which a good volunteer should posses. Volunteerism does not necessitate any formal qualifications, except in some specified areas like teaching, training and interventional health services. A positive and flexible attitude is mandatory before entering into volunteering services where as enthusiasm to learn new cultures and open-mindedness are the other major qualities a volunteer should possess. Likewise, a good volunteer has to be culture sensitive, versatile and have problem-solving skills. Willingness to share and a sense of humour will really help a volunteer from becoming familiar with other colleagues. As volunteerism is universal, a dedicated volunteer should have compassion towards the recipients of voluntary services.
Need for caution
To make the field of volunteerism more ethical and professional, the National Steering Committee for Volunteerism Nepal should play a more active in the country. As it is under the National Planning Commission, the primary job of the committee is to manage the volunteering services in Nepal, with timely monitoring and evaluation. Therefore, the National Volunteer Services Policy 2011 has to be strictly followed. In addition, to avoid volunteer’s placement fees from going to the pockets of third-party agencies, it is important to research on the hundreds of organisations that now offer volunteer work.
On part of the concerned agencies mobilising volunteers, although volunteers are willing to work for free, they should be provided with food and lodging expenses. Likewise, while looking for a volunteer placement, the candidates on their part should investigate what the organisation does and, more importantly, how do they go about it. Interested candidates should be wary of volunteering organisations are not concerned about your skills and how they can be applied to help the people in need. Furthermore, if organisations working on child protection do not conduct background checks on volunteers, the concerned agencies must look into them. Nonetheless, the concerned agencies should also be alert to the standard of volunteering services and the type of volunteerism being provided.
Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation and Shrestha is the director of Global Action Nepal