During the Points of Light Conference on Volunteer and Services in Atlanta I had one idea revolting and growing in my head: Mexico as many Latin American Countries in the region and many other developing countries, is having a unique momentum to foster a culture of volunteering.
However, you might be asking yourself, who is in charge of fostering this culture of volunteering? Is it the youth, the government, or the civil society that should be in charge of this? And furthermore, what are the factors that enables a country to have an active volunteering population?
According to my knowledge, people volunteer on 1) an ongoing basis, 2) sporadically, or 3) in the face of a disaster within a formal structure or in an “unorganized way”. Even though if it is true that governments should provide a legal framework to foster a culture of volunteerism, all sectors of society are equally responsible of creating and nurturing a volunteer culture.
In the face of disaster solidarity actions and volunteers responses are spontaneous human reactions that occur and get generalized. Such is the case of the Tsunami in Asia or a Hurricane in New Orleans.
In the case of Mexico, the earthquake that stroked Mexico City in 1985 was a breakpoint in civic volunteer and participation where volunteer organizations started to be created and our country opened its doors for international volunteers. But beyond disaster and emergency situations we should ask ourselves what triggers volunteer? What leads people to act in solidarity?
In a country where people are very solidary and generous, the volunteer culture still needs to take a big leap towards better development. Mexico still lacks a volunteer culture in comparison to many other countries such as United States, Germany or Spain where they foster volunteering through public policy and government support.
In general, people in Mexico have the misconception that those doing volunteering are nuns or retired woman. One of the reasons for this is that there are many people in Mexico that volunteer but they don’t recognize themselves as volunteers. As a result, knowledge about volunteer and solidarity action is very scarce and has been barely studied.
(As we know there is formal, and informal volunteering, wherein the first one people work under a registered group such as an NGO, and in the second one people would volunteer spontaneously, sporadically in a community base or under a non-legally registered structure. To set tome examples this means, helping a neighbor, collaborating with their local church, participate in school activities or aiding the sick. This is the case of Mexico, where the informal volunteering surpasses those who give their time under legal formal volunteering. However, this is starting to change and people are entering more into organized forms of volunteering.)
Despite these gloomy numbers, youth volunteering in Mexico is erupting as a response of the discontent with local and national governments and as a response against corruption. The youth are taking action towards our countries problems and asking our government for accountability which is leading info new forms of volunteering.Furthermore, students in Mexico are legally required to complete 480 hours of voluntary service inside of an organization in order to have right to get their professional degrees. In my opinion, as I worked with 30+ volunteers that had to get their letters of accomplishment, imposed volunteering doesn’t always leads into a nice experience for the host organization and the volunteers but is a way to start.
On another hand, the increasing trend of Corporate Social Responsibility is pushing programs inside of business to channel their human work force towards volunteer work.
But there is a flaw in the plan. Training is needed on both sides. From the organizations and volunteers need to be trained since many organizations don’t know what to do once the volunteer arrives. Luckily some volunteering initiatives like AMEVOL, Hacesfalta.org and Vimex have been made.
What I want people to hold form all this chatter is to see natural disasters, political unrests, inequality and instability in their countries as conditions that should empower their civil society and their youth to take participatory actions through volunteering to shift paradigms. This is the case of Mexico, and as I heard in the Points of Light Conference is also the case for many developing countries.