Volunteering in Russia - different from Western Europe
Western European countries have a tradition of volunteering and peace movements that go back to the 19th century and the reconstruction work after the 1st and 2nd World Wars. They have often been evolving in democratic countries, enjoying the freedom of speech and assembly. Thus, a diversity of civil society organizations has developed as a “third sector” besides the state and the market (but often supported by the state), working for e.g. social work with youth, elderly and handicapped; human rights; environmental issues; international solidarity; ethnic tolerance; peace etc. etc. This means that the idea of volunteering is well-known among Western Europeans today.
It’s a different thing in Russia. During Communism, civil society practically didn’t exist independently of the Communist Party. Youth volunteering only took place in the framework of the Party’s huge youth department, Komsomol. All young Russians would automatically become “Pioneers” at the age of 9. And volunteering was not always as voluntary as it sounded. Teams of so-called “volunteers” would work as lumberjacks in Siberia or construct highways to increase their status within the party. As for the idea of workcamps, it could very well be confused with the Gulags, a series of prison labour camps for dissidents and other “enemies of the State”… In sake of fairness it has to be mentioned that Russians have a strong tendency 9and a historical tradition) to get completely mobilized by critical situation and make heroic feats, that saved the life of the country many times during the toughest times of history, and therefore many major constructions and renovation after the wars were made with pure unforced enthusiasm of the locals.
But anyway - with the fall of Communism in the beginning of the 1990’s, volunteering had to be re-invented in Russia. Obviously there was a huge need for functioning a civil society, since many needs were in no way cared for by neither state nor market. Komsomol was gone. Instead came a diversity of NGO’s of which World4U is just a tiny one.
World4U today has no contact with the Russian state apparatus and doesn’t really want any. Many Russians think the state is corrupt, criminal or just dangerous; in any case not a reliable protector of citizens’ rights as in many Western European countries. On the other hand, the state doesn’t care much about the civil society. Volunteering doesn’t exist as a legal concept and is not supported – but is tolerated.
The big Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg have a good amount of tourists and exchange with the rest of the world. But in many regions of Russia, the arrival of foreign volunteers is a somewhat sensational event. Even more sensational is the fact that these volunteers actually want to do something for the local community. Therefore, volunteers are usually warmly welcomed.
On the other hand, not all local workcamp hosts have a crystal clear idea of what a workcamp or a group of international volunteers is, however well World4U tries to explain it. So be prepared for cultural shocks and be flexible.
What is World4U?
Today, World4U is a young and growing non-profit-making volunteer NGO.
World4U began to exist in 1997-1998, when the Moscow-based student and work and travel company Inter-R (www.interair.ru) in close friendship with the Voluntary Service of the Urals (VSU) started arranging summer workcamps and sending volunteers abroad. Many enthusiastic youth and students were joined together around Inter-R, all with a clear vision that international communication among young people has a tremendous potential in raising intercultural understanding, tolerance and creative peaceful life in the world-wide community. With time it became obvious that this team needed to form a new youth organization in order to put all its plans and ideas into life. Then in the summer of 2000, the new Youth and Student Voluntary Association World4U started to exist.
Now (in 2003), about 200 creative and bright individuals are united by the idea of volunteering within World4U.
The members of World4U consider our organization to be a young people’s union in the form of a creative laboratory/center of initiatives, with the tasks of:
- Collecting, processing and spreading information on youth social and political activity on the national and international levels with educational and awareness-raising purposes among young Russians as private individuals and also among public institutions in Russian Federation dealing with political and social issues.
- Initiating, organizing and running national/international events (e.g. short, mid- and long-term voluntary projects and actions; seminars; conferences; info-meetings) aimed to:
- promote social and political awareness, particularly among young people,
- to reveal cultural values of the community and social integration between people of various life paths and also between various struts of the society,
- to reveal and eventually to eliminate all sorts of social injustice, exclusion and intolerance through non-violent creative communication of people (incl. those from different cultural, religious, social, national backgrounds),
- to give young people an experience of multicultural community
- Creating, inspiring and supporting an especial spirit while uniting our efforts during any type of interpersonal communication within the organization, which gives an opportunity for creative self-realization in a respectful, loving and caring atmosphere of an energetic, mature and sensitive community.
As the main action to achieve our objectives, World4U runs about 20-25 international workcamps in Russia during the summer.
Thanks to our local members, we are able to host several medium-term volunteers a year in different regions of Western part of the country.
Since 2002, we have been able to receive and host EVS volunteers.
Besides international activities, World4U arranges actions and events on the national and regional level - such as:
- educational seminars and conferences on volunteering as a new life vision and an alternative approach to work and creativity;
- on the legal status of volunteers;
- World4U weekend workcamps;
- camp facilitators’ trainings
All of this serves our main objective – to raise public awareness about volunteering and its unique role for modern society.
World4U and Youth Action for Peace
In autumn of 2000 World4U joined Youth Action for Peace international movement as an associated group. We share the ideals and objectives of Youth Action for Peace and aim all our activities towards developing better world – more open, more fair, more balanced society of creative individuals, perceiving themselves as living single whole. World4U volunteers are very active in international events run by YAP, and through their participation all the organization gets a chance of better understanding and realization of YAP general guidelines and policies.
For more info about YAP, see www.yap.org.
World4U and other volunteering networks
World4U is cooperating with: