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Volunteering is key to changing the environment and personal development

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2011 was declared the European Year of Volunteering to focus public attention on the enormous importance of the work of volunteer organizations. In Bulgaria, since 2006, there has been a series of attempts to regulate volunteer work legally in order to recognize its importance and to lay the foundations for a strategic thinking about how society and the state perceive this type of activity.

The past 2014 was a grave year in view of the many disasters that hit our country but it also showed how good people live in Bulgaria and how we can unite helping compatriots in trouble. Even the 2014 European Parliament Prize went to the young volunteers from Varna!

However, considering the theme of volunteering and attempts to pass a law, it is clear that opportunities for doing good are still being dealt with in very narrow terminology frameworks, and the mass perception of volunteering is primarily for physical work related to helping people in distress and in natural disasters.

MOVE.BG committed to the issue of volunteering at the end of last year

In the context of the currently drafted draft law and to gather different ideas, opinions and recommendations what it should contain. The issue is extremely important to us because what we do with you is to gather people on a voluntary basis in our shared aspirations to think, develop and propose solutions and visions for Bulgaria’s development through a comprehensive process of incorporating very many active citizens and experts.

We give people the opportunity to volunteer in their free time. But not with shovel and boots. And with knowledge, expertise and experience. And not that one is more important than the other, but this broader understanding of the term volunteering shows us how colorful the palette of opportunities for doing good deeds is. On cases for which you do not want retaliation. You get it from the gratitude of the people and from enriching yourself in a new environment. Whether you cleaned up a flooded house or participated in developing a strategy for the modernization of education you gave yourself. You have changed your environment.

Volunteering is a two-way process

In Bulgaria, people are increasingly looking for forms of free gathering that enable everyone to contribute to changing the environment. Volunteering is a two-way process where you not only change the environment and help it improve, but you also change yourself – developing skills, gaining different experiences and qualities and enriching your knowledge by meeting many different people from different spheres of life.

Therefore, when we talk about a law on volunteering, we must take into account all dimensions and aspects of volunteering. From our discussions and meetings with organizations with extensive experience in the field of volunteerism, it became clear that we can not write a law without thinking about its long-term effects and what we want it to achieve. Do we just want to regulate relationships between volunteers and organizations or do we want to create and develop a culture of volunteering in our society? We just want to create another administrative obstacle to a noble activity or do we want to encourage as many people as possible to volunteer?

To put into a legal framework something that is presumably regulated – the goodwill of the people.

Another thing around which organizations representing positions on the draft law are united is that its framework should provide the most comprehensive definitions of volunteers and volunteering in order not to limit but rather to provide incentives for inclusion.

The problem with regulating volunteering is that you are trying to put into a legal framework something that is presumably regulated – the good will of the people. Most of our volunteers often do not understand why a law is needed, provided that doing them good is a vocation that everyone follows without regulations. But, as Maria Petkova, director of the Tulip Foundation, says, “the purpose of a law on volunteering is to regulate the relationships between volunteers, organizations and countries in need of their work, defining their rights, responsibilities and security. It is also important for professional and social skills developed by volunteers to be shown to potential employers to support employment, especially for young people.”

Another argument for the need for a law is expressed by Lyuben Panov, Program Director of the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law: “The Labor Code explicitly says that every labor is paid. Consequently, voluntary work under Bulgarian law must be paid. Otherwise, some illegal activity is being done. “

The aim is to change the environment and the quality of civil society

As a civic platform whose long-term goal is to change the environment and the quality of civil society, for us the understanding of the importance of volunteering in an overall concept and state strategy for its development and stimulation is the most important foundation on which such a law. This is an excellent opportunity for Bulgarian lawmakers to influence the environment in the long run. And especially with the thought of young people. Not because they are the largest volunteer group in Bulgaria (according to the NARD data and a 2013 study), but because volunteer work raises values, respect and empathy. Qualities that young Bulgarians must possess today.

The message that we would also send to the legislators is:

When we think of a law, let us consider the environment and its long-term effects on it. Volunteers are people with good hearts. Do we want more people to be like this? Let’s think about the incentives (a volunteer book, for example). Do we want more young people to turn to goodwill? Let’s think about strategies, improving the image and integrating national and municipal programs.

And more specifically:

  1. A law on volunteering has a serious impact assessment. Take into account the views of all stakeholders – state institutions, non-governmental organizations, business representatives, etc.
  2. Define the different types of volunteering in order to publicly recognize its diversity and to place intellectual volunteering on one level with other forms. (The National Youth Forum is distinguished by good proposals here).
  3. Integrating mechanisms for the recognition and validation of volunteer work.
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