Volunteerism: Importance, value, benefits

Volunteerism: Importance, value, benefits

By:Alvaro Casserly

The following is the lightly edited text of an address to the Kiwanis Club of Kingston on Tuesday, March 22, 2016:

The Kiwanis Club of Kingston, the first Kiwanis Club in Jamaica is the leader of Kiwanis in Jamaica. On June 5, 2012, I had the pleasure of attending The Kiwanis Foundation of Jamaica launch of its book, Kiwanis in Jamaica 1964-2009, by Professor Patrick Bryan, of the University of the West Indies. It is an excellent book that I treasure. May I extend warm congratulations on the Kiwanis Club of Kingston’s 52nd anniversary.

In Jamaica, Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions are the premier service clubs, all doing excellent work in communities.

May I call on the Global Standards of United Way Organizations for a concise definition: "Volunteerism is a climate in which people are motivated and encouraged to volunteer — to give freely of their time and talent to a greater cause without expectation of compensation." Also, "Volunteerism is vital to a just society, fostering civic responsibility, participation and interaction. It strengthens communities by increasing their capacity to identify and respond to human needs." It "creates relationships at the institutional and personal level that are a vital part of the fabric of community".

In 2005- 2006, I served on a United Way International Leadership Committee set up to establish Global Standards for United Way Organizations across the world. The Global Standards were prepared and presented at a United Way World Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in May, 2006. The standards were adopted and are being implemented. The 90-odd people who worked on the Leadership Committee and the Tasks Group and Reference Group all gave freely of their time and talent as volunteers.

At this point, may we take a look at the wider world of volunteerism. As a Rotarian, I wish to share with you information on one of the greatest voluntary programmes ever undertaken. In 1979, Rotary Clubs in the Philippines took on a project to buy and deliver vaccines to guard against Polio to more than six million children. In 1985, Rotary International launched a PolioPlus Campaign aimed at ridding the world of Polio.

At that time , there were over 360,000 new cases of Polio each year across the world. In the 30 years since then, the PolioPlus programme has been in operation in more than 120 countries. More than two billion children have been vaccinated. Today, there are less than 7,000 new cases annually, and the programme will continue to eradicate Polio completely. Rotary, governments, international organisations, corporate donors and individuals have provided the funds for the PolioPlus programme. It has so far cost US$12 billion.

In October 1989, as Rotary district governor, I visited Haiti. The Rotary Clubs in Haiti had a Polio vaccination day. On that day, 25,000 volunteers went throughout Haiti administering the Polio vaccine. Today, Haiti is free of Polio. Jamaica has participated, and Jamaica is Polio free.

Jamaica has a well developed and expansive private voluntary sector. It is the most developed system of voluntarism in the Caribbean Basin, in any language: English, Spanish, French, Dutch. A decade or so ago, United Way of Jamaica had a delegation call on the Cuban Ambassador to Jamaica to explore prospects for a United Way in Cuba. We were told there was no place for voluntary organisations in Cuba. Whatever was needed was done by the Government. Recently, a high-level team from United Way Worldwide visited Cuba. The response was the same.

There is much scope for voluntarism in Jamaica, with importance, value and benefits.

At a United Way of Jamaica Nation Builders Award Ceremony in 2007, the guest speaker said there was need for legislation for the charities sector. In 2008, the United Way of Jamaica appointed a Charities Legislation Committee to pursue the matter. Research was done. A "Proposal for a Charities Act" prepared in August 2009 and a "Draft Charities Act" prepared in September 2011 were sent to Government.

Charities became a priority in 2013, and the United Way of Jamaica Draft Charities Act provided the basis for the new Charities Act, 2013, that came into effective on December 24, 2013. Again, this was very valuable work done by the private voluntary sector.

The Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) is one of the oldest umbrella voluntary organisations in Jamaica and the Caribbean. The CVSS has over 100 voluntary organisations as its members. The CVSS has set up at its National Volunteer Centre, at Camp Road in Kingston, a Registry of Volunteers. People interested in offering their services as volunteers may register at the National Volunteer Centre. Also, organisations seeking the services of volunteers may check with the Registry at the Centre.

Jamaica’s interest and involvement in voluntarism has been widely spread. Here is a case worthy of mention. A journalist from
The Gleaner was sent to Montego Bay to interview a young senator from the United States of America. In conversations, the reporter mentioned voluntary works and expressed interest in the USA participating in such works. A favourable response was received. The young senator, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, became president of the United States of America and launched the Peace Corps Program. Jamaica was the seventh country to receive volunteers, beginning in year of Independence of 1962. At the Jamaica Council for the Handicapped, in 1973-76, we had several Peace Corps Volunteers assigned to help in our programmes.

As we reflect on volunteerism; the importance, value, benefits, we have to come to the view that voluntary charitable works are a very important pillar of a just society and must be supported. It is critical that these works go on from generation to generation. This means that in each generation young people, male and female, should maintain an active interest and be willing to take on responsibilities. At the same time, we have to encourage an active culture of voluntarism here in Jamaica. The Charities Act, 2013, and the supporting structures, rules and regulations for the private voluntary sector are secure foundations for the present and the future. The work of the Kiwanis Club of Kingston is a part of that past, present and future.