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Opinion: Ireland has a long tradition of volunteering, we should continue to build on it

Solidarity with our fellow global citizens is critical to embracing the global development challenges of the 21st century.

Seán Sherlock

VOLUNTEERING OVERSEAS IS a time-honoured tradition in Ireland that has left a rich legacy both here and throughout the developing world, particularly in Africa.

It is one of which we can be rightly proud. Over the years, many thousands of Irish volunteers, including representatives of missionary congregations, charities and non-governmental organisations, have used their skills in the service of others.

Volunteers from Ireland are working in 47 countries, including Irish Aid partner countries. These countries include Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Vietnam.

I believe that everyone in our society should have an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of development issues and to understand the role that they can play in combating global poverty and hunger. International volunteering is one such way that people can make a difference.

Each year, Irish Aid holds a Volunteering Fair to showcase the diversity and availability of volunteering placements overseas. It is also an opportunity to discuss the importance of responsible volunteering, which is underpinned by principles such as partnership, skill-sharing and mutual learning.

The theme for this year’s Irish Aid Volunteering Fair is ‘Volunteering, a Proud Irish Tradition’.

The Government’s new policy for international development One World, One Future, includes a new volunteering initiative. This is designed to strengthen support for volunteering at each stage of the process – from the moment a prospective volunteer first seeks information, through to his or her return from a placement.

We are also working to modernise support for volunteering, encourage innovation and increase interest in overseas volunteering.

As part of the volunteering initiative, I will launch an online resource for those seeking information on volunteering at this year’s fair. Called #VolOps, it is designed to raise awareness of volunteering opportunities through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I would also urge those who are interested in making a contribution – but are unable to take up more traditional placements – to explore possibilities in online volunteering and corporate volunteering.

I am also encouraging new communities in Ireland with skills and experience which are in demand in their country of origin to consider opportunities to volunteer there. Diaspora volunteers possess an in-depth knowledge of the local environment, languages, institutions and constraints, and are well placed to assist local communities to find solutions to development challenges.

There are volunteering placements to suit all age groups and workers in many different sectors, including medicine and healthcare, education or teacher training, governance, construction, children and youth development, and community development. In these and other sectors, volunteer-sending agencies can provide both short- and long-term placements.

I hope that as a result of the information, advice and presentations at the Irish Aid Volunteering Fair, many more volunteers will decide to contribute to Ireland’s rich legacy of overseas volunteering.

In this way, we can continue to build on our strong sense of solidarity with our fellow global citizens, building on a spirit of mutual trust, empowerment and unity that is so critical to embracing the global development challenges of the 21st century.

Seán Sherlock is Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion and North-South Co-operation.  The Irish Aid Volunteering Fair takes place on Saturday, 11 October in The Printworks, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2 from 11am to 4pm.

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About the author:

Seán Sherlock

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