Volunteering connects people. Implementing something for and with others promotes mutual understanding, compassion and helpfulness. You experience each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you support others and are supported yourself. This cooperation in voluntary work therefore resembles a partnership in many ways. You have to live and care for them so that they don’t separate sooner or later.
Work yes – Life too
In a way, volunteers are clearly colleagues who work together for a project or organisation. But they are also people who support each other, who have an open ear for each other, who often also know each other’s weaknesses and problems beyond their work and are willing to help each other. And it is precisely this personal cooperation that unites and strengthens the community for new upcoming projects and hurdles.
For this reason, care must be taken to ensure that, in addition to all the processing of project assignments, coordination and organisation in associations, bureaucracy, etc., living together is not forgotten. Living together is like the salt in the soup – it is not essential for survival, but it promotes the well-being of everyone immensely.
Living together – how?
Living together means that, besides work and duties, shared enjoyment and leisure activities outside of volunteering and projects must not be left out. So why not organise a collective party when a major project step has been taken? How about a trip of the volunteers together, to simply switch off and “see something different” or also as a teambuilding activity. Hiking days, barbecues, canoeing, climbing park… of the possibilities are numerous. Especially if there are difficulties in the community or the project, which are very stressful for everyone, it is a good time to let work rest for a moment and just go for an ice cream together.
Living together – Volunteering connects. Integration by civic engagement
The following example shows how volunteering can also influence and change the lives of volunteers and everyone else involved in other respects: “Living together – Volunteering connects. Integration by civic engagement” is the name of a funding programme of the Bavarian Ministry of Social Affairs for Family, Labour and Social Affairs (Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Familie, Arbeit und Soziales) in which lagfa Bayern (State Working Group of Volunteer Agencies/ Volunteer Centres/ Coordination Centres Civic Engagement in Bavaria) has been engaged since 2016 to better integrate people with a migration background through voluntary activities for and with others. Volunteer agencies called on people with a migrant background to volunteer for others, which had a great benefit for everyone involved, even beyond the project in each case.
Volunteering is not simply a matter of project and work. In the case of the funding programme, after initial hurdles such as the use of human and monetary resources, the recruitment of volunteers with a migration background, the coping with communication difficulties and the fear of xenophobia, many successes could be measured that reached far beyond voluntary work into the lives of all those affected.
On the one hand, the projects have led to the establishment of new networks and the recruitment of numerous new cooperation partners. Project coordinators received personal training in intercultural interaction and knowledge about the countries of origin. In return, via numerous conversations and cooperation, the migrants learned a lot about German structures and customs, but also about social, cultural, economic and political life. The migrants received a strengthening of their self-esteem through working for and with others and through the acknowledgement of others. It was a very satisfying experience for them to be able to give instead of just receiving support. They also expressed a stronger sense of connection with the administrative district through participation, involvement in mixed groups and recognition. Through the accompanying public relations work, numerous people were reached who had previously had no contact with migrants and numerous associations, schools and citizens opened up to the refugees.
These experiences clearly show that volunteering is much more than just working together on a project. It enriches the life of the volunteer as well as that of those involved. Based on the positive experience, the funding programme is now entering its third funding phase.
For more information, see http://www.lagfa-bayern.de/projekte-der-lagfa/miteinander-leben-ehrenamt-verbindet/.
Literature: Prof. Dr. Martina Wegner: „Miteinander leben – Ehrenamt verbindet“. Abschlussbericht der Evaluation, München August 2017.