Volunteers’ Voices 2/2013: global responsibility

Editorial: Will volunteering save the globe?

Voluntary work is traditionally seen as benevolent charity; helping without expecting anything in return. Bizarrely enough the assumption seems to be that the aid is always directed from the rich north to the poor south. Hence many are surprised to hear that every year young adults from for example Uganda and India arrive to Finland to volunteer. The term ‘work’ often misguides perceptions. Concrete labour and its fruits are just a tiny part of the picture. The larger gains stem from the cultural encounters that promote understanding in both the worker and the employer.

The impacts of volunteering can be far reaching but embarking on your journey thinking you might just save the world will easily leave you disappointed. This is exactly what I faced as I in 1999 packed my bag and travelled to Nepal. The six months I volunteered at an organization fostering environmental awareness failed to bring me any closer to saving even half the earth. Without a clearly defined role I never quite found my purpose and often felt I was more of a drag than an asset for the project. Nevertheless the experience as a whole turned out to be life changing in many regards. I found solace in the daily life of my local host family who also brought me closer to understanding the culture and the language. Never will I forget celebrating the Buddhist or Hindu holidays with them or simply the warm welcomes I received in each new household.

For half a year I lived at the foot of the stunning Himalayas but also in one of the world’s poorest states. This helped me to look beyond the western image of unequal world and understand the extent of global disparities a little better. After seeing children paid an outrageously small wage weave oriental carpets to be sold at posh western markets I could not help but reflect on my own position in the scale. How can such an obscene system be maintained? After returning to Finland my university studies took a turn towards development initiatives with a focus on the prevailing refugee and immigrant situation.

The direct effect of my work in Nepal was inevitably left rather minute but the impacts to my personal choices in life still dominate strongly. Whilst studying, I regularly volunteered for the Fair Trade International in Finland and constantly aspired to reduce my personal consumer’s footprint by preferring second-hand products or goods with a Fair Trade label. Eventually my personal experiences as a volunteer guided me to make a career choice. As the Program Coordinator at Maailmanvaihto I am striving to keep volunteering opportunities for foreign youth in Finland rich and diverse. In a way I am still pacing that very road I began in Nepal.

The theme of this issue is global responsibility. In Maailmanvaihto we strongly believe that international volunteering is important in raising consciousness and fostering active engagement in issues related to development, equality and environment. Seeing with your own eyes how inequities take form tends to lower your barrier to act upon. Still, anyone can promote a simple ideology of tolerance by reacting to racism on the street. Just understand that the road to rescuing our globe is long involving many small steps that we all take in our daily encounters and basic every day choices.

Mari Takalo
Program Coordinator

In the issue

2 Pääkirjoitus: Pelastuuko maailma vapaaehtoistyöllä?
5 Column: Positive Changes
6 Ajankohtaista Maailmanvaihdossa
Teema: Globaalivastuu / Global Responsibility
– 8 Pidä huolta
– 10 Mitä siitä kertoisin, kysyjille vastaisin?
– 12 Varmaa kehitystä
– 14 Thoughts on Responsibility
– 16 Kulttuuridialogia taiteen keinoin
– 18 Volunteering and Global Responsibility: Experiences from the Caucasus Region
21 Alueryhmissä pidetään hauskaa ja autetaan
25 Tule mukaan toimintaan
26 ICYE Around the World: Workplace in a Magic Metropolis
28 Volunteers’ Voices on Environment
30 Lehden toimituskunta
31 Tapahtumakalenteri