For millions of years volunteerism has been a part of our civilization across the world. The well known African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, is a classic example of community volunteering spirit. In recent years, developed countries like Canada promoted a new kind of volunteerism; the “mutual volunteerism”. What makes this Canadian version differ from the traditional volunteerism? This is where old traditions collide with modern traditions. Recently a Sri Lankan Member of Parliament accused Sri Lankans of not doing enough volunteer work. In addition he highlighted the Canadian community as an example of great volunteers. By doing so, the MP mislead the public because there are different forms of volunteer work in the East that often go unnoticed. Despite wrongful view by popular media and government officials on volunteer work across the world, almost every culture promote volunteerism, which often go unnoticed.
Have you ever questioned at what point a task becomes a volunteer work? In Canadian version, a person volunteer to support community projects in return the work done is recognized through volunteer hours. For example, medical students in Canada must complete a certain number of volunteer hours before entering the medical school. Even the allocation of our federal government grants for students and senior citizens are often calculated based on the number of volunteer hours. The Government of Canada promotes volunteer work by providing educational and financial benefits to those who volunteer. While I do not see a problem in encouraging volunteer work through these methods, it will certainly have taken the spotlight away from great individuals in our community. For instance, if you help your family and friends, the Canadian version of volunteer pride will not be applied to you. This is because your hard work is not recognized by the government or NGOs. Even the statistics completely missed contributions by these people.
Another major issue of the Canadian system is when there is no encouragement from the government, people are not willing to help out others. Because the Canadians have no intensive to donate blood and organs. Canada are one of the lowest donor rate per capita in the world. Where is the media voicing their concerns over this issue? The Sri Lankan MP have forgotten the fact that Sri Lanka has the larger blood and organ bank per population. Even though only about 19 million people live there, Sri Lanka probably the world’s largest blood and organ donors. These donors receive no recognition from the government or from NGO hence the donations are completely unselfish.
In contrast, the Asian Buddhist civilizations the entire community step forward by offering material, engineering knowledge and other human recourses to build a Buddhist temple1. The labours and engineers spent almost every day during construction to speed up construction projects. They did not receive any compensations for their work so it was practically volunteerism. There are large number of people in South Asia, who volunteer for similar causes without expecting anything back from the government. Even when the community help raise children in Africa, it is often go unnoticed by the popular media and governments. This is a whole new level where, the positive feeling that a person get when the work done is the only reward for free labor.
Back in Canada, how about helping your neighbour? Whether it is cleaning the house or shovelling snow according to even the Canadian government standards, it is volunteer work. Even though the government does not officially recognize it unless you join a government program that help cleaning the snow for elderly, some organizations have step forward. The Calgary Board of Education partnership with several local school administrators are encouraging their students to volunteer. They want their students to do something in school and outside the school and record the hours spent on a task as volunteer hours. This is a good step forward because under this new program, a student can obtain a letter from anyone which he/she volunteered for hours logged.
Having said that, even this modern day I see a lot of people in my life who theoretically volunteer to promote social development with no official recognition. The parents who spend their time and energy raising children and making sure that the marriage remains intact in difficult times are also contributing to the society. If the very definition of volunteerism is undertaking a service that benefit the community, then proper parenting and not getting a divorce should also fall under volunteerism. This argument can be supported by using the latest research on impact of divorce on children.2 In June-May 2012, several British news papers reported high profile lawyers, judges and doctors voicing their concern over health issues in children of divorced families. The psychological issues arise out of martial failures of parents are now an “epidemic” in the British society. 2 This is why good parenting and good marriages should be consider as volunteerism. In fact in UK, the British divorce experts and religious leader are pushing the government to bring back an old law that gave functioning families with children tax credits. Similar to volunteer hours system in Canada, this is a good encouragement for individuals driven by selfish desires to stay together and raise children. The amount of money the public funded health care service will save by having healthy children itself justify the recognition of positive family values. From my point of view, my parents are volunteers who provide us the psychological, educational and financial support. It is shame that governments like Canada wants people to volunteer in communities and yet do not respect the amount of work go into building a healthy family.
While the key point in this article is to promote recognition of volunteer work at personal level, we still have to admit that fact that it hard for an organization like the governments to keep track on volunteer hours. One of the major downside is that most people would be able to fake the amount of hours that they volunteer. There is no check points to weed out fake volunteer claims. I think this is the main reason why Canada wants you to volunteer at recognized organizations. But then again, this may reduce fraud, depend on what organization and the individuals involved in the community, one can still cheat the system. I know personally that Canadian churches have signed off volunteer letter for students who wants to obtain scholarships even when the student has never have volunteered. It is the popular media and propaganda that promotes this fake sense of community spirit based on number of volunteer hours. The Government of Canada should tone down the claim that Canadians volunteer more than any other group and it is an unique Canadian tradition because it is an insult to the unrecognized volunteers around the world.
With over 50% of Canadian marriages end up in divorce and over thousands of children suffering from psychological trauma caused by their parents separations, I highly disagree with the uninformed Sri Lankan MP who accused South Asians for not doing enough volunteer work. If his perfect Canadian society is actually doing the RIGHT type of volunteer work by keeping their marriages afloat in the shake of children, that itself would be good enough.3 But no, that is not the case and it is an ignorant propaganda populated by media that most people in the world believe that Canadians are more caring than any other nationality. Why? Because Canada has published “log books” of volunteer hours for its citizens. It makes me sad when very few people in media and the public pay attention to the real unselfish volunteers like our parents or next door neighbours. Neither a breastfeeding mother will be logged in to government books as volunteer for her contribution to the development of the child nor the contributions from blood and organs donor will be acknowledged by the media. However, it is our responsibility that we respect these individuals because they are responsible for the foundation of society. Before we judge someone based on their officially recorded volunteer hours, we should always give the benefit of the doubt and respect the right kind of volunteer work.
Since most of the people I know respect Buddhists and/or are Buddhists, I will leave you with this wonderful video:
1. I decided to talk about the Buddhist temple because I am more familiar with it than others. However, I know that this is also true for building Christian churches in Europe, Muslim mosque in Middle East, etc we well.
2. Do a simple search on Google: click here OR Hallelujah! A family court judge has told the truth about the damage divorce wreaks on children: Daily Mail, UK, Monday April 30, 2012. page 14
3. I specifically picked marital failure as the example because I have to pick one out of many other great examples. The reason behind this is the issue of divorce have multiple impact on the Canadian community.