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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Quake/Disaster and Volunteerism

The Quake event has brought out a lot of volunteers, those that are formally organised in various teams or groups, such as the NZ USAR Response Teams attached to Civil Defence, Red Cross, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications, Land Search and Rescue, and many others. These teams/groups are there all the time, with a structure, regular meetings and training, and in many cases qualifications. They have given a lot of time over many years in most cases and while don't seek recognition they do need to be recognised.

As well as these structured volunteer organisations there are also the many volunteers that come forward at the time of greatest need such as the Christchurch Earthquake. They, not unlike the trained volunteers, can get frustrated with the apparent delays or lack of action at times. However in many cases it is not possible to use untrained volunteers in many situations or for many tasks, including operating in dangerous areas such as the CBD. So there is a huge challenge in how to usefully engage these spontaneous volunteers that either don't have the require qualifications and training, or who's qualifications and training cannot be verified at the time for one reason or another.

There are then also the semi-organised volunteers such as the Student Volunteer Army and other organisations that have come together to work in specialist areas such as the development of the Christchurch Recovery Map http://eq.org.nz who has been doing great work as well.

One often wonders is Volunteerism dying, as many traditional service organisations such as Jaycees and Lions are in decline. Even other organisations that should appeal to the young and old alike, such as LandSAR some times struggle to find volunteers for various roles. Similarly organisations like Scouting continue to struggle to find volunteers to act as Leaders, especially young ones, to train our youth in outdoor skills and other qualities to make them better citizens. 

I have some times lamented that this is due to societal change and that young people today do not have the time or inclination to commit to volunteer organisations for long periods of time like people used to. It is currently not uncommon to find people in LandSAR, Lions etc that have been there for 20-40 years, and in some cases even longer. But it is hard to see that trend continuing.

Today's volunteers seem to stay for shorter periods of time, or just for a short event like the Quake.

So do we need to find new ways to engage young volunteers and work with them closer to work out how to keep them active and engaged in our organisations.

The use of Social Media seems to be the key to activating large numbers of young volunteers such as the Student Volunteer Army and others like it.

Certainly at the moment there is a lot of interest in organisations such as Civil Defence and Red Cross etc, and there will be a large surge in volunteers, but will they stay, will they be prepared to make the large commitments of time to initial and ongoing training that is needed to get qualified and to stay current and practiced?

There is a challenge there that we need to look closely at, and in most cases change, our organisations to match the needs of the new volunteer.

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