Youth volunteers help others – and themselves
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
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.”