Considering National Volunteer Weeks is April 7 to 13, it’s important to recognize how necessary and important volunteerism is in society. Every aspect of society relies on volunteerism to some degree to survive. Frankly, the world would be chaos without dedicated volunteers. What would happen if volunteers simply disappeared? Seniors would be without meals, mothers wouldn’t have baby supplies, garbage would pile up, parks would close, the natural world would suffer; people around the world would be greeted with locked doors and dark building when looking for services they desperately need, and that is just scratching the surface.
Often, the benefits we receive from others go unnoticed or unappreciated. People would go hungry, ill, and even die. For example, house fires would become severely catastrophic. Industry standard for firefighter response time is 6.4 minutes. According to a 2010 study by the National Fire Protection Association, 71% of all fire departments in the U.S. are staffed by volunteers. The response to calls and emergencies would be devastatingly slow. In 2010, these volunteers responded to over a million fires, which is more than one every 24 seconds. If two thirds of the department was nonexistent, the death toll of 3,100 would gravely increase.
According to the American Red Cross, volunteers account for more than 97% of their workforce. In 2010, they helped 4.4 million people though disaster preparedness and relief. They protected 63 million people against measles, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. Over 4 240 families were reconnected after separation due to international war and disaster. International relief is fundamentally reliant on the efforts of volunteers, and organizations like the American Red Cross would have almost no impact if they were reduced to 3% of their workforce.
Military forces are also reliant on volunteers. Regardless of individual views on the military, the volunteerism that sustains them is impressive. The Corporation for National and Community Service reported that in the U.S. last year, 62.8 million adults volunteered 8.1 billion hours of service. According to the Independent Sector, this translates to $173 billion in economic value, which is more than the GDP of Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Iraq combined.
A world without volunteers would be a world without 140 million people, an economy without 400 billion dollars, a GDP that’s 3 to 7% lower, and a world where millions of third sector employees would lose their jobs. Other than the quantitative value, it would likely be a world where local communities fall apart, everyone only works for money, and people smile less. Despite being a huge social, economic, and humanitarian sector, volunteers are often overlooked, especially by decision-makers. A Eurobarometer survey from 2006 revealed that three out of ten Europeans claim to be active volunteers. The John Hopkins University echoed that sentiment with research conducted in 37 countries, which revealed that there are 140 million full-time volunteers. If volunteers all lived in their own country, they would be the ninth most populous country in the world.
Although the world’s exact number of volunteers is unknown, and there is insufficient knowledge regarding their contribution to society, economies, and human development. The reach of volunteers is vast and can be seen every day by everyone to some capacity.
Ordinary, common people, who, out of personal and voluntary commitment, not being paid and driven by financial gain, do something for the benefit of other individuals and the society as a whole. They usually volunteer through and within NGOs, associations, clubs, youth organizations, and so on. Volunteering very often happens also informally and spontaneously – when you help your neighbours or in the case of ecological disaster. –Kamila Czerwinska, the author of ‘International Volunteer Day: Imagine a world without volunteers’ for CafeBabel
The work of volunteers is irreplaceable, from parents helping in schools, supporters in hospitals, people active in sports and fan clubs, campaigners for political parties and human rights endeavours, volunteer lawyers, assistants to refugees, ecological activists, and others who are engaged in every crevice and corner of the world. Volunteering is a beautiful creation of human nature; people with a capacity to change and influence lives without the need to be acknowledged. At the same time, they are able to develop the existence of organization, leadership, and particularly, empathy in society.
Across the world, volunteers are different, and they can provide insight from many aspects of society. In countries like Poland, Croatia, or other post-communist countries, more young people volunteer. In Italy and Spain, volunteers are usually retired or over sixty years old. In western Europe, an average volunteer is middle-aged. As a society, we must recognize the important demographic of avid volunteers and call on governments and local authorities to support them. This allows volunteers to expand their reach, be more active, and it protects them from abuse and misconceptions. Further support from governments and society would celebrate volunteerism’s achievements and necessity, encouraging more people to actively engage in society. As sang by John Lennon,
You may say that I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will live as one.
Volunteering can have many mental and physical health benefits to the volunteer alone, not to mention volunteerism’s importance to societal health. A world without volunteers would truly be chaotic and disastrous. There would be more division, less problems being solved, and no one speaking up for issues that they find important. As national volunteer week approaches, we must keep in mind why it is so important to volunteer. It isn’t about the value brought to society, but more importantly, volunteering is about personal satisfaction and shaping the world around us for the better. Jessie Strauss was retired when she stumbled upon a Habitat for Humanity project, and she’s traveled to 38 trips since first helping in 1997. Strauss explains that the human connection is the most joyous part of working abroad as a volunteer.
For Lynann Bradbury, a volunteer in Seattle, volunteering overseas doesn’t work for her. Battles with cancer completely changed her life, but ultimately, boosted charity work as a priority. Treatment she received in 2003 was so radioactive that attendants could barely enter her room.
I was burning from the inside out, she recalls.
I was a contaminant to society. If that scenario doesn’t change you, I don’t know what would. I kind of went into bargaining mode: Get me through this, and I will be a better person. I’ll do whatever I can to help other people. I made a commitment, to God, the universe, myself, that I would spend some time every year, somewhere in the world.
After she healed, she set a goal that a month per year she would volunteer, eventually gaining strength to volunteer around the world. When she is at home, she volunteers at charitable holiday parties, works with the Special Olympics, and with the American Cancer Society, providing insight, guidance, and enhancing projects with leadership. Most of all, Bradbury emphasizes that,
The point of this? Anyone can do it.
Youth Volunteer Corps