fellows atlantaIt´s the ripe and the right time in Colombia to foster a culture of service. That is the conclusion I came to after our participation in The 2014 Conference on Volunteering & Service in Atlanta (Check out this Storify of Atlas Corps at #NCVS).

For the past 20 years, volunteering in Colombia has slowly but surely moved away from the colonial charity model practiced as a fast track to heaven to a realization of civil society of their responsibility in shaping the community  they are a part of.

But change has not come easy. In the 1910s, after decades of internal and civil struggle, the first shift in volunteering and service came about in Colombia with worker class associations addressing challenges of their members, mainly land ownership and housing. We had over 4 decades lost to internal conflict and civil wars. In the 1970 came the nonprofits channeling funds from international charities and cooperation agencies again, addressing challenges of conflict (one caveat, and one of the few exceptions to this was the National Red Cross founded in 1922).

Today, with the prospect of negotiated peace, Colombia is at a crossroads and will require stronger civil society involvement, and a strengthened nonprofit sector. That is the change we are seeing and that must be motivated even further.

Both civil society and the government are moving to organize and structure volunteering and service in the country. In 2001 (only 13 years ago) a law was passed defining and recognizing volunteer service. In addition, a national and regional volunteering committees have been formed across the country to create support networks and create training opportunities for affiliated volunteer associations.

But in addition to this and what is most encouraging to me is the very resent (a couple of months) push to promote volunteering among youth audiences. In response to eager millennials, the Colombian government is adopting, and hopefully adapting, National Australian and Canadian volunteer models and also receives support from the UN Volunteers project.

What we are missing now is recognition for volunteer work itself after it is completed.

– MVD

*The flu the author of this blog endured during the conference is the inspiration for this title. 

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