Rome (Italy). On 5 December 2023, International Volunteer Day is celebrated. It was established by the United Nations Assembly in 1985, to recognize and promote the work of volunteers around the world who individually or through communities, organizations, associations are engaged in addressing urgent challenges for the development of peoples and for the common good.
‘The power of collective action: if everyone did’ is the theme chosen by the UN for 2023, to emphasize that if everyone volunteered, the world would be a better place. The motivation states, “Imagine more than eight billion people volunteering. Endless possibilities for sustainable development: food and education for all, clean environment and good health, inclusive and peaceful societies, and more. Volunteering is a huge renewable resource for solving social, economic and environmental problems around the world. When the world faces growing challenges, volunteers are often the first to help. Volunteers are at the forefront of crises and emergencies, often in very difficult situations”.
in the footsteps of VIDES International, the Day takes on an important significance. In fact, both believe deeply in the value of volunteering in the Salesian style to educate young people to act as responsible and participatory citizens for the construction of a society at the service of the dignity of every person.
As Pope Francis writes in his book, ‘I will take care of you,’ “Volunteering is the effort to go out to help others. There is no desk volunteer and there is no television volunteer. Volunteering is always going out, heart open, hand outstretched, legs ready to go. Going out to meet and going out to give.”
Thus, VIDES International and FVGS promote youth volunteering in the world, in the awareness of the fundamental role that the volunteer can play within a society increasingly fragile and full of individualism, with the aim of building a fairer and more inclusive future for all.
Urged by the teachings of Don Bosco, they never ceased to believe and trust young people, who always know how to find new ways to give answers of solidarity and bring fraternity in the peripheries. Since its inception in 1987, hundreds of volunteers have worked through the leadership of VIDES International, bringing their love and enthusiasm to the FMA Missions present in the world.
At the same time, FVGS through the projects of the Universal Civil Service, sends young volunteers abroad, currently 19: four in Costa Rica, four in the Dominican Republic, two in Ecuador, three in Brazil, and six in Madagascar.
Through volunteer experiences, young people learn to look at the world with different eyes, to understand complex realities, and to understand concretely the meaning of the word solidarity.
As Lorenzo (a volunteer in Madagascar) says, “The human depth that you encounter is unsettling; you have never seen it before. Sometimes you feel part of an extremely complex gear, but very often you don’t. With time you realize that your presence is not necessary, the gear would work even without you. The self-centered thought of being indispensable ceases to exist and you realize that the goal is not actually to change people’s lives or even to think that your presence can improve them.
Roles are reversed. They don’t need your life model, but you are the one who learns something from them. The goal is to be there; the goal is to start with your deep motivation that has taken you far away from home. The goals are to weave relationships with children, with adults, with people. Offering your time is perhaps one of the greatest goals of this experience”.
At the same time, young people have the ability to decipher the complexity of a volunteer experience, as witnessed by Elena (a volunteer in the Dominican Republic): “There is an intrinsic beauty in all this and it is made of resilience, faith, and hope. Every day we get up and thank God for one more day of life and we entrust ourselves to Him. And I realize that it is precisely this absurd encounter of the crude with love that triggers a spell that I hope will change me forever. I take off every superstructure, every fake layer. The heart is more exposed. I feel the emotions more alive. I feel more easily myself. I treat things for what they are, and people as well”.
Volunteers thus become seeds of hope for a different future, in which everyone can commit to building a more equal society, in which everyone sees their rights recognized.
The wish for all young people on this day is therefore to become “surfers of love”– as Pope Francis defined the volunteers on World Youth Day – and to “ride the waves of charity!”