Volunteering in Catalonia
Social volunteering began to be developed and known in Catalonia at the end of the 19th century. However, it was not until the 20th century that the people undertaking such social action were called "volunteers".
The question that always comes to our minds is: why were the organisations created and run by volunteers born? The answer is quite simple: it was done in order to try to bring welfare and solutions to specific needs and matters that society of that time was facing.
It is not until democracy is restored at the end of the 1970s that there is an important increase in the number of organisations that are in principle run only by volunteers. With their action, voluntary work from that time and the organisations – most of them in their early stages – managed to make the public powers and the entire society open their eyes, become aware, and raise sensitivity towards a reality that was unknown or people chose not to see.
The Catalan Federation of Social Volunteering (Federació Catalana de Voluntariat Social, FCVS) was born on the 18 of November 1989 in Barcelona. It was founded by 48 entities with very clear objectives, which after 25 years are still a priority for the FCVS. We are talking about promoting social voluntary work among the Catalan population, helping entities to incorporate and manage voluntary work within their own organisations and watch over the training of volunteers.
Currently, the FCVS groups together some 280 social organisations based in Barcelona, which promote voluntary work in different areas such as addiction; cooperation; physical, psychical and sensorial disabilities; women issues; human rights; children and teenagers; old people; immigrants; people whom have had their freedom taken away; poverty; and health.
During the years of economic crisis, we have noticed that the number of voluntary people has increased, with a particular increase among the male population – a phenomenon that we celebrate.
According to figures from the annual report on Catalonia's social third sector ('Anuari del Tercer Sector Social de Catalunya'), in 2013, it was estimated that some 300,000 people were undertaking voluntary work. We believe that currently these figures are even higher.
One of the basic characteristics of voluntary work is its commitment to people. Voluntary work means presence and human contact. The volunteer is someone who dedicates a share of his or her time (not of his or her free time) to a single goal: helping those who need it.
In the current context, what has to be the action of voluntary work? As a start, it is to run away from a passive attitude. And it goes without saying, to continue believing in values such as solidarity and justice, and make those values push us to fight in order to live accordingly. What is being advocated for has to be practiced. Only in this way will we manage to transform our society. And we will only be able to do so if we do it altogether.
I want to end this text with a sentence from Nelson Mandela that we were reminded of during the 2nd European Conference on Volunteering, which took place in Barcelona in 2011: "as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same".
by Francina Alsina