Why Sri Lanka needs to play an active role in volunteerism
Garisha Herath
12 දෙසැම්බර් 2019

According to the UN, volunteers are a vital part of our community. They have the capacity to enhance the quality of the work they are involved in and help to uplift our society. “It simply is not possible to attain the SDGs without a wide range of people engaged at all stages, at all levels, at all times. Volunteerism is a powerful means for bringing more people into the fold. “– UN. Volunteers are selfless, caring people who are willing to share their knowledge, skills, talents, experiences, resources as well as sacrifice their time for the betterment of our community. Anyone can be a volunteer in our society, be it a villager, a farmer or even a doctor or a teacher. Volunteering has no boundaries and therefore, everyone can take part in it.

The World Giving Index 2013 has ranked Sri Lanka to be in their top 10 list of countries that participate in volunteering.  Sri Lanka coming ranks second with a 46% of volunteer participation followed by the United States of America, Philippines and Myanmar. There are two types of volunteer organizations in Sri Lanka and about a hundred more small scale ones that are not registered but carried on in their respective communities and through social media. Namely they are formal volunteer groups like the United Nations and Rotaract and the other being informal volunteers which are privately carried out organizations that are not registered and done on a small scale. There are various volunteer groups for both humanitarian work as well as environmental conservation activities.

Why should you volunteer?

Even though you might have not acknowledged it or recognized it yet, you might have been already volunteering at a community event, at school or university or at a charity/donation campaign. Sri Lankans are not new to the concept of volunteering and our ancestors have been volunteering way before volunteerism even became a known concept. From a very small age we are taught the importance of helping each other, sharing, caring and the importance of giving. So, this is not a novelty for most Sri Lankans as they have been doing volunteering from a very small age. Some volunteering activities you might have taken part in your lifetime are organizing and taking part in blood donation campaigns, being a part of your school social service or welfare club, taking time to teach under privileged kids or anyone for free, organizing and taking part in beach clean ups and fostering puppies, helping out an old lady carry her bags, helping out a blind man cross the road, free medical check-ups, organizing vesak ‘dhansal’, spending time at an orphanage, at a senior citizens house or even a shelter for animals. These are only few of the things that I could mention which you might have done for free without expecting anything in return and never even acknowledged the fact it is a voluntary cause because we are still novel to the word “volunteering” but not to the act of volunteering.

Benefits of volunteering;

Benefits of volunteering that are common for all are personality development, character development, exposure to society, new experiences, understanding of different communities and cultures, tolerance when working with groups, leadership skill improvement, skills and personal talent enhancement and growth, unity and team work learning, understanding to respect others and to work in different environments, creates new friendships and relationships, brings joy and happiness, gives satisfaction, helps for physical and emotional growth.

Who can volunteer?

  1. Volunteerism for children

Volunteering from a very small age can help in building important qualities in a child such as sharing, caring, respecting, giving and the value of taking care of each other. This can help mould the child to be a respected and a valued citizen in the future that will take care of the society.

Children are very easy to manipulate and can be easily brainwashed, therefore they are easy targets of wrong and misunderstanding content through media and the environment they grow up in. Volunteering can help them learn valuable lessons that they won’t learn through books which they can develop over time.

  1. Volunteerism for the youth

Youth are a very important part of any society because of the energy they carry as well as the young determination in them and the constant need to validate their actions. They are a group of individuals in our society trying to find their rightful place in this world and free floating from one activity to another in search of who they are and their purpose. Volunteering can help them identify their flaws and in what they excel in and give them an understanding on what type of a person they are, while helping them learn team work skills and other skills that would come useful for their careers. Youth have the energy volunteerism needs and the youth have the want to be a part of something as well. So, this can help them understand who they are while helping out the community creating a win-win situation.

  1. Volunteerism for employees

Working in an office or a job requires a certain set of skills that they don’t teach you in universities or schools. They need to be learned through experiences or through social interactions. Volunteering gives everyone this opportunity. While doing a job you can meet new people, create new connections, reduce social anxiety and be more outgoing, confident in day-to-day activities, learn about new things, gain a lot of experiences, helps reduce work or home stress and gives a balance in life. This overall change in one’s personality can make him or her go into new ventures and get promotions at work place and have a more pleasant life.

  1. Volunteerism for women

Women of any age, race, religion and in any condition have the ability to volunteer. Working women can help share their knowledge with others and help them come to a better level than they were previously and housewives if they have ample time to spend can help volunteer at a local school to teach under-privileged kids and or to share whatever they have to share with unemployed women and youth. Be it knitting, sewing, cooking, teaching, or any skill they have so unemployed women and youth can get a job to live by. Women who adore kids can help foster kids or volunteer in child orphanages and child rehabilitating centers because all kids in them are deprived of a mother’s love and if someone can give them attention and spend some time with them, that itself could make their day.

  1. Volunteerism for unemployed citizens

In Sri Lanka there’s an average of 7.76% of unemployment rate which is 420,231 unemployed persons by 2019. This affects the growth of our economy very negatively and causes high tax rates and high compensations to take care of the unemployed. The government and the necessary officials can take part in making sure the unemployed people of our country can contribute to the country’s economy by engaging them in volunteering activities. This can reduce the crime rate in Sri Lanka, increase literacy levels and bring a massive awareness to volunteerism. Giving them opportunities to engage in these will make them feel involved in the country’s development as well as having volunteer awards even on a local level can make them feel motivated and recognized.

  1. Volunteerism for the elderly

The elderly or the senior citizens in Sri Lanka are from the age of 60+ and it is the general retiring age for most people from their jobs. After retiring most people tend to get depressed and lonely due to the lack of activities and the lack of human interactions and it could be a painful transition for them to settle down to be home all day and to do nothing. These people have the most amounts of experience considering their age and years of work. They have plenty to share with the rest of the world but they are hardly given a chance to engage in community work and volunteering activities due to their age or their inability to work as fast as the youth can. But they might be the ones with the most amount of knowledge to share. Engaging them in volunteer work can make them feel appreciated, valued and recognized rather than being ignored. This could help uplift our society as well as give the elderly a chance to feel content with their life after retiring.

  1. Volunteerism for the disabled

The disabled are of two types. Mentally disabled and the physically disabled. Disabled people only feel disabled when they and we both keep on stressing on the fact that they are different from us. They too need to feel normal and not constantly looked down for being different.

There are people who are born with physical or mental deformities. Then there are the one’s who became disabled due to the war like disabled soldiers or the ones who have got into accidents. All these people want to be included in the society and to feel that they are needed and appreciated for their work. Disabled soldiers have many talents that can be shared with the youth and everyone around them. They only need a chance at it to come out of their shell and to start their lives over. Volunteerism can help them make an identity for themselves other than the label our society gives them for being disabled.

Mentally disabled people too can take part in volunteering and learn new skills or showcase their talents and get more exposure to the society which will help their minds immensely.

  1. Volunteerism for sexual minorities

Though this is a controversial topic, it is understandably clear that they are in fact a marginalized group in Sri Lanka and since there is such a group present, they too should participate in volunteering. They can volunteer to help uplift our community by engaging in activities that they are passionate about. They can even volunteer to help out other marginalized groups since they can understand each other’s situation a bit more than the others and be empathetic to marginalized groups like themselves. This can help them make new friends, create new relationships and make a good impression on others, while giving them a chance to learn to be more confident, outgoing and to not backdown and hide their talents because of criticism.

  1. Volunteerism for under-privileged kids

Majority of the time kids in the western province or kids who get to go to schools that are considered to be well off get the chance to volunteer in most of the volunteering activities. Which leaves kids who go to schools in the other parts of Sri Lanka at a disadvantage. The main reason being, almost all volunteering organizations are located around Colombo or in the western province. The lack of information about volunteering organizations and the lack of island wide presence can lead to a lack of participation in voluntary activities. So, giving the under privileged kids in other parts of Sri Lanka a chance to volunteer somewhere out of their hometowns not only will make them learn new skills and knowledge but also get a good exposure to different societies and give them hopes of a better future through better education.

How can we increase the involvement of volunteers in Sri Lanka?

  1. Making volunteerism a compulsory activity in school and creating a point system that will add up to give good university entrance marks.
  2. Creating more awareness on volunteerism not just in the western province but all around the island.
  3. Organizing volunteer award ceremonies on a larger scale that will recognize talent and dedication from all around the island.
  4. Making annual statistics and data of volunteering activities around your town and the country available for referencing.
  5. Making volunteering a more of a fun filled activity rather than a dutiful task.
  6. Being warm and welcoming to anyone who is volunteering making them feel at ease.
  7. Letting the volunteers know and feel that they are volunteering at their leisure but not a way of exploiting labor.
  8. Providing the volunteers with security on all volunteering activities they participate in and providing insurance for those who volunteer on risky jobs and tasks.
  9. Offering a variety of opportunities for volunteers to choose from.
  10. Offering all volunteers, a chance on creating new experiences, connections and exposure to different societies.
  11. Listening to the volunteers and paying attention to what they have to offer and using it in a productive way.
  12. Creating awareness of all volunteering organizations through online and on an offline mode so everyone is aware of those organizations giving volunteers a chance to choose from.
  13. Offering online volunteering methods that doesn’t require traveling for long distant settlers or for those who prefer working at home.

Recognizing the efforts put on by the volunteers and appreciating them

Garisha Herath
12 දෙසැම්බර් 2019
Garisha Herath is a passionate activist striving to see positive change in Sri Lanka.  She pursued her Primary and Secondary Education at Musaeus College. She is currently following the Integrated Designing Degree at the University of Moratuwa.

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