Dear Reader!

 

With ageing populations all over Europe, volunteers will be needed in, for instance, schools and health care if we want to maintain welfare standards. It is generally believed that volunteer work makes citizens more active and willing to participate. But there are other kinds of volunteer work, too, the kinds that people engage in because of a passionate interest in something such as culture or sports.

In the Danish municipality of Randers, Director of social and labour market services Knud Aarup has written a book titled “The Voluntary Welfare State”. He thinks that the growing number of people in retirement and early retirement includes many individuals fit enough to act as an extra resource in, for instance, health care, where they could ease the workload of the staff. These volunteers could help the patients to take a walk, visit the library, etc.

This issue’s Faroese article gives an overview of volunteer activities in several Nordic countries. The article describes a volunteer training programme by the Red Cross, where volunteers learn to save lives – among other things.

Iceland’s article, too, focuses on life saving. We are introduced to a rescue brigade consisting of thousands of volunteers of different ages. They are called in when lives are at stake: for instance, when a volcano has erupted or people need to be rescued from an avalanche.

The Estonian article shows that not only pensioners or unemployed people with lots of free time engage in volunteer activities. The article describes how well-known business executives from large multinational companies visit schools to educate teenagers about sex and relationship issues in order to prevent the spread of hiv/aids infections. Hiv/aids is a widespread problem in Estonia.

Volunteer work can also be fuelled by an interest in culture or a desire to preserve cultural heritage. Historical Association Fibula in the Åland Islands teaches Viking history by giving people a chance to try out different activities, organising Viking feasts and practically oriented courses. “All historical research aims to answer the question of where we belong”, says vice president Gunilla Nilsson.

Belonging seems to be an important driving force for the group of young people surveyed by researcher Ove Sernhede, who is interviewed in the Swedish article. These teenagers with immigrant background, who live on housing estates, feel that their reality is not reflected in what is taught at school; instead, they find their own information sources. They spread information within their own group and to others living in the area in the form of hiphop music and lectures. 

The Finnish article describes a volunteer telephone hotline for young people who need someone to talk to. The service is run by Folkhälsan, a non-governmental organisation. Another one of Folkhälsan’s volunteer activities is “big sisters”, i.e. slightly older and wiser volunteers providing support to teenagers. –It’s all about showing goodwill and solidarity in a time when egoism is rife. Helping others benefits me, too, says Linda Båskman, one of the volunteers.

The study presented in Norway’s article has looked into organisations and associations as meeting places where information and knowledge are transmitted among participants and evolves in the process. However, there are still more questions than answers. Hopefully we will get to read more research in this area in future.

To sum up, there are obviously plenty of people in the Nordic Region willing to help others. Often volunteer work can make your life feel more meaningful. Besides, it can actually lead to paid employment. In the Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe authorities, education providers and working life stakeholders are involved in validation, i.e. recognising, documenting and acknowledging people’s experience and competences, irrespective of how they were acquired. Thus it is quite possible for people with experience of volunteer work to have their competences evaluated in relation to formal education.