Youth vol­un­teers help others – and them­selves

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Build­ing so­cial co­he­sion and ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship through a cul­ture of youth vol­un­teerism

The Na­tional Youth Devel­op­ment Agency and the gov­ern­ment of the Flem­ish re­gion of Bel­gium hosted the first Youth Vol­un­teer Net­work Con­fer­ence in Pre­to­ria re­cently.

The con­fer­ence theme was “In­creas­ing Youth Vol­un­teer­ing in Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions”. At the event, Deputy Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Buti Manamela spoke of the South African and Flem­ish gov­ern­ments' shared vi­sion of both up­lift­ing youth and help­ing them up­lift their com­mu­ni­ties.

The deputy min­is­ter pointed out that lo­cal NGOs of­fered young peo­ple both help and op­por­tu­ni­ties.The youth, he said, should “con­sider vol­un­teer­ing their time to ac­quire more skills and help re­shape the coun­try”.

Deputy Min­is­ter Manamela high­lighted the im­por­tance of civil so­ci­ety in the devel­op­ment of youth. Vol­un­teer­ing

“Civil so­ci­ety has shaped the con­tent of the co­op­er­a­tion and has of­ten an­chored

col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

was key to build­ing so­cial co­he­sion, and ac­tive cit­i­zens more likely to help make con­crete the vi­sion of a united na­tion.

“Civil so­ci­ety has shaped the con­tent of the co­op­er­a­tion and has of­ten an­chored col­lab­o­ra­tion,” he said. “The co­op­er­a­tion over the last two decades would not have been suc­cess­ful with­out the in­volve­ment of civil so­ci­ety. Their par­tic­i­pa­tion has en­sured that the co­op­er­a­tion is vi­brant and re­mains rel­e­vant to youth devel­op­ment chal­lenges.”

Youth are the build­ing blocks

NYDA Chair­per­son Si­fiso Mtshweni said South African youth should be at the cen­tre of ev­ery­thing that gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety do. He pointed out that al­most two-thirds of South Africans – 66 per cent – were youth. They needed op­por­tu­ni­ties to make them wor­thy in­her­i­tors of the na­tion.

He said gov­ern­ment was aware of the chal­lenges young South Africans faced. For this rea­son, the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan placed them at the cen­tre of devel­op­ment.

“The youth rep­re­sents a pow­er­ful re­source for our coun­try, pro­vided ef­fec­tive youth-fo­cused pro­grammes are im­ple­mented so that the youth can be­come ac­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety,” said Mtshweni.

“In the ab­sence of em­ploy­ment, vol­un­teerism pro­vides a plat­form to ac­cess skills devel­op­ment.”

A his­tory of co­op­er­a­tion

Sven Gatz, the Bel­gian Min­is­ter for Cul­ture, Youth and Me­dia Af­fairs, said he had vol­un­teered from the age of 16 through to his late 20s. “There is an au­to­matic ed­u­ca­tional sur­plus to vol­un­teer­ing, in that vol­un­teers are in­volved in var­i­ous projects and ac­tiv­i­ties in which they have to learn.”

South Africa and the Flem­ish gov­ern­ment have co­op­er­ated on youth pol­icy since 1996. For both gov­ern­ments, en­cour­ag­ing youth to vol­un­teer feeds into sim­i­lar vi­sions on youth devel­op­ment and in­volve­ment in civic so­ci­ety.

“Over the years, we have jointly ex­plored youth re­cre­ation devel­op­ment, lo­cal youth pol­icy, youth and the arts and youth vol­un­teer­ing.”

Mak­ing it sim­pler to gain ex­pe­ri­ence

Co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two gov­ern­ments is based on four pil­lars that, it is hoped, will up­scale and pro­mote youth vol­un­teer­ing. These are ca­pac­ity build­ing, knowl­edge gen­er­a­tion, mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and lob­by­ing and ad­vo­cacy.

Ac­cord­ing to Deputy Min­is­ter Manamela, ca­pac­ity build­ing fo­cuses on strength­en­ing the ca­pac­ity of civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions and vol­un­teers in or­der to in­crease the qual­ity of the youth vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ence and the quan­tity of young vol­un­teers.

“We are con­cerned about the re­source al­lo­ca­tion to civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions for the fund­ing of youth ser­vice pro­grammes.The frame­work recog­nises this im­ped­i­ment. Within the tight fis­cal en­vi­ron­ment that we find our­selves in, we will make a prin­ci­pled, ev­i­dence­based ar­gu­ment for more pub­lic and pri­vate re­sources to sup­port youth ser­vice pro­grammes.”

Re­vised Na­tional Youth Ser­vice

For un­em­ployed youth, the big­gest stum­bling block to find­ing work is gain­ing the skills they need for em­ploy­ment. Gov­ern­ment is re­vis­ing its big­gest youth work pro­gramme to im­prove its ef­fec­tive­ness and reach.

The Na­tional Youth Ser­vice (NYS) draws young peo­ple into pro­grammes that ben­e­fit their own com­mu­ni­ties. At the same time, it im­proves their skills and ed­u­ca­tion. More im­por­tant than the op­por­tu­nity to earn an in­come, the NYS teaches young South Africans the dis­ci­pline to be­gin a task and see it through to the end.

“Vol­un­teer­ing helps youth break the poverty cy­cle by fa­cil­i­tat­ing ac­cess to de­cent work,” Mtshweni said. “Youth who vol­un­teer can de­velop young lead­ers to take re­spon­si­bil­ity, fos­ter so­cial co­he­sion, en­cour­age greater cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion, gen­er­ate re­spect for equal­ity, pro­mote di­ver­sity and de­velop in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive voices.”

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