Making a difference

The presentation of the European Year of Volunteering

“Volunteer! Make a difference!” It is the slogan of the European Year of Volunteering, presented in Brussels on 3 December. On that occasion, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding said: “I want to pay tribute to the millions of Europeans who take the time to make our world a better place”.Solidarity and cohesion. An “official database” of volunteer work in Europe doesn’t exist. However, according to estimates by the EU Commission approximately 100 million Europeans dedicate their time and expertise to help those in need engaging in social services, in the protection of minors, in assistance to the elderly and to migrants, for the promotion of culture, sport or to disseminate national cultural traditions or protect the environment. Volunteering thus needs to be highlighted and promoted. “Deep within all of us lies the ability to step up and care for those in need”, said Commissioner Reding. Volunteering “strengthens our core European values: solidarity and social cohesion”. To highlight volunteers’ work, encourage others to join in and address the challenges they face”, the 2011 European Year of Volunteering has four main objectives: “lowering obstacles to volunteering in the EU”; “empowering volunteer organisations and improve the quality of volunteering”; “rewarding and recognizing volunteering activities”; “raising awareness of the value and importance of volunteering”.Website and calendar. The EU Commission in conjunction with its Member States drew up an extensive agenda – available by logging on www.europa.eu/volunteering – which includes initiatives to raise public-awareness, training volunteers, exchange of good practices. In 2011 the Commission “will encourage new Europe-wide networking initiatives to encourage cross-border exchanges and synergies among volunteer organisations and other sectors, especially with businesses”. Throughout the Year of Volunteering, hundreds of activities and projects will be highlighted and promoted in major cities of EU27; four thematic conferences will highlight key issues related to volunteering. The first appointment is due to take place on January 8 in Budapest (Hungary), on the Recognition of Volunteering; May/June: there will be the celebrating of volunteers and their valuable contribution for Europe; October: Empowering volunteering organizations; December: Closing conference on future challenges. The EU intends to involve citizens that already carry out volunteer work in various fields along with their associations.“Helping those who help”. A document released for the presentation of the Year refers to a phrase by the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations 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”. It is with this spirit – underlined EU Commissioner Viviane Reding joined by Jean-Marc Delizée, Belgium’s federal Secretary of State for Social Affairs, and European Parliament Member Marian Harkin – “that 100 million Europeans dedicate their time and expertise to help those in need and give back to their communities: A retired art teacher gives lectures on European masterpieces to foreign visitors at a museum. A high school student reads to sick children at a hospital. A former national football player coaches at a neighborhood club. There are thousands of ways people make a difference”, goes the Year’s slogan. Touring Europe. Various activities will be promoted in the forthcoming 12 months in the framework of EYV (European Year of Volunteering). EYV2011 Tour: Volunteers will tour EU countries over a one-year period, showcasing their work and engaging with policy makers and the public at each step of the tour. “EYV Relay: 27 “Relay” volunteer reporters will follow the work of 54 volunteering organisations and produce audio, video and written reports to be broadcast by the media. At the end of the year, the combined reports will be compiled to form a broadcast-quality documentary about the European Year and its tour. The Commission already helps youth in volunteer activities. Through the European Voluntary Service “thousands of adolescents and young adults travel outside their home countries to teach, promote cultural awareness and develop important life skills”. In the Verahus residence in Copenhagen, for example, “volunteers assist the disabled guests in their daily lives, organizing with them recreational activities such as painting, music, games and sport, and accompanying them in their field trips”.

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