Volunteers from various local NGOs came together in a conference to encourage and strengthen the interaction between volunteers and society in active citizenship and the creation of improved structures.
Organised by the National Council of Women (NCW) in collaboration with the Domestic Violence Commission, Nature Trust Malta and the National Youth Council, the conference is the EU flagship project for Malta for the European Year of Volunteering aimed at strengthening the Maltese voluntary sector.
Yesterday’s meeting was one of many activities which will be held throughout the year in order to put across a plan of action for the EU and local authorities to engage citizens further in the voluntary sector.
Those present discussed and exchanged their views on their experiences, good practices and how to increase the voluntary sector’s visibility to create an environment conducive to volunteering.
Some of the volunteers present, predominantly women, said it is high time to exactly quantify how much volunteering contributes to the Maltese economy. Others pressed to reduce fragmentation in the sector to give a better service.
Addressing the conference, Education, Employment and Family Minister Dolores Cristina said that she became more aware of society’s hidden problems through volunteering with the NCW when they had started lobbying on awareness about domestic violence.
“It is difficult to quantify volunteering but it is easy to quantify the personal satisfaction gained from it. It is important that from a young age, children are involved in volunteering to nurture generosity and other values. Volunteering brings about a tangible change in people. It should be acknowledged by formal education and therefore the government started recognising young people’s experience in voluntary work on their school leaving certificates,” she said.
On volunteering legislation, she said that after some years on the backburner the law was introduced a few years ago, however, it needs some fine-tuning and the rationale behind it needs to be explained better. The law should not be disturbing but facilitating voluntary work as NGOs become more professional, she added.
The head of the European Commission Representation in Malta, Martin Bugelli, said volunteering is not just a hobby.
“Volunteering reaches out to where the state does not. It is about giving up something for others be it money, time or skills. It is important to rekindle society’s interest in giving and helping others,” he said.
€10 million were forked out by the EU to finance the year dedicated to volunteering. €2 million were used for the preparations while €8 million were spent on organising activities throughout the year.
According to surveys by the National Statistics Office, there are some 30,000 Maltese people carrying out voluntary work for at least 20 hours a week. This does not include others who volunteer informally and less regularly, therefore the actual Maltese people’s involvement is much higher than that.
Voluntary Organisations Council president Robert Farrugia said he feels like one of many volunteers who would like to inspire and encourage others to start volunteering in a myriad of sectors from disability, art, culture, sport or humanitarian work.
“It is clear that the challenges for Maltese NGOs are finances, human resources, renewing themselves with society’s needs and responding with a way forward. Together with new people we can overcome these challenges,” Mr Farrugia said.