Reviving national enthusiasm in volunteering
Throughout our lives, at one time or another, we have been directly or indirectly involved in volunteering. We grew up in a community where children would join as altar boys in the village parish, attend a girl guide group, or play football at the local nursery. You will find adults of all ages offering their time in the village feast, a band club or any other branch within the locality. From an early age, without realizing it, we have been protagonists in volunteer groups and have been surrounded by people who volunteered their time.
You may find someone who can contribute to a voluntary activity or initiative or you may find others who benefit from volunteer work. It has happened that, over time, the individuals who gave their time for volunteering and who subsequently shaped the social formulation of the local villages and of our country, began, unfortunately and nevertheless, to be considered as amateurs. This could be due to the fact that the appreciation and valorisation towards one of the main pillars of the Maltese society had started to decrease.
The last 2 years, during which we have all lived together and felt the abnormal times of the Covid-19 pandemic, have made us realise that volunteering on a national and international scale is still alive and needed. At national level, we have experienced a number of voluntary organisations offering tens of thousands of cooked meals a day. We have seen several other voluntary acts by private companies where they have assisted and supported the Maltese and foreign employees. I cannot fail to mention the
financial injection given by the Government with the aim of the voluntary organisations intensifying their work to help those who have suffered and are still suffering from social and economic consequences. This holistic commitment has shown how volunteering, activism and altruism are embedded in the genetics of the Maltese and Gozitan people.
Ever since I was humbly and unanimously entrusted with the post of Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations, I have understood that the challenges are great, but I have always believed that collectively we have been able to rekindle our enthusiasm for volunteering and its people. The starting point was to restructure the Office of the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations (OCVO) from a cosmetic point of view as well as by making the administrative changes that put voluntary organisations and volunteers at the center of our work.
The first decision we made was to give a new brand to this office as well as to launch the renewed purpose of this office.
Recognising the importance of voluntary organisations as a main pillar within society and the economy, the ultimate mission of the Commissioner’s office is to enable this socio-economic pillar of our country so they can deliver the social, civil, and community benefits.
As the main regulatory body of the sector, the Commissioner’s office encourages and enforces the governance of the voluntary organisations and their activities to strengthen and protect the function of voluntarism directed towards the achievement of the ultimate greater and common good.
Apart from changes in the number of processes carried out by this office under the specific Directorates, a crucial decision was the establishment of the Programmes and Policy Implementation Unit. The purpose of this Unit is in fact to assist the Commissioner in the successful happening and implementation of a number of policy reforms that have at heart both the sector as well as society.
I have always believed that volunteering is a vocation that bestows you with any satisfaction imaginable. That’s why we wanted to change the narrative from one that describes volunteers as amateurs to one that recognises them as people with a passion.
2021 closed with a 1713 enrolled voluntary organisations. 1713 voluntary organisations offering high level services such as those provided by the private sector. A number involving tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries. All this fills us with courage to be the shield and guide for the voluntary sector, so that it is prepared to take the leap forward. The road to taking the next leap together and preparing the sector for today’s and tomorrow’s socio-economic needs began on 4th December 2021. On the eve of International Volunteer Day, we launched the VO Plus National Convention, under the auspices of the President of Malta His Excellency, Dr. George Vella.
The VO Plus Convention is a national effort that goes beyond mere changes in legislation. This national
effort is bringing and will continue to bring not only the entire voluntary sector together, but other sectors that can contribute to the strengthening of voluntarism. We want this to happen because we believe that no voluntary organisation, sector or stakeholder is an island and there are great advantages if different sectors recognise the differences between them, respect them, and build on one another.
Through the VO Plus Convention and the inclusive work of all sectors we will start research that will help us to be pro-active in anticipating the socio-economic needs of the country and those that are served by civil society. The research projects, which will be carried out by the Faculty of Social Wellbeing and which will analyse the voluntary sector, will give us a clear direction on how we can better serve, value and strengthen the voluntary sector.
From an early age, I had the privilege of being involved and savouring the beauty of volunteering. Over the years I have come to understand the importance of the role that voluntarism plays in the formulation of an individual. Today, in my role as Commissioner, I am in a position to give back to the voluntary sector a little of the many it has given me, throughout my lifetime. I humbly hope that my vision and that of the OCVO, which we have for the sector, will lead us to ensure this is respected in the formulation of what is Malta of today and tomorrow. I am convinced that all together, collectively, we can sow the seeds of enthusiasm in the voluntary sector, because our country deserves a strong voluntary sector.
Mr. Jesmond Saliba