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Impressions of the Second European Volunteer Congress

This week we are immersed in the Second European Volunteer Congress and it is a good occasion to share impressions and as the Director, Violant Cervera said, “This Congress has to be different and serve a purpose.”

It has, in fact, been different and useful. Mission completed.

Ramon Bartomeus explicant el voluntariat virtual.If we look at the first Congress in 1998 or at many of the Congresses and conferences in this sector, we can see some important differences, especially in the inversion achieved in time and financing. The preparation time was short, as well as the Congress itself, and even though we don't have the actual figures, it is evident that it was an austere Congress in comparison to the time they normally run.

I would also like to point out two brief interventions-both worth the effort invested in them.

On one hand, Enric Canet, from Casal dels Infants (Accio Social als Barris), will explain to us, in three minutes using a serious exercise on perspective, the panorama that we will most likely confront within the next five years.

On the other hand, in the international context, Susana Szabo's presentation for France Benevolat, is very deserving of a place in the session and will be shared on in the round table, “Our volunteer models”. Susana will explain, in detail, how rich and distinct the universe of volunteering really is and how it is being managed in different regions within Europe.

Apart from these messages, the Congress is going to be packed with good interventions and will focus on the conclusions that we will make in the post-Congress discussion, even though a large part of the assistants and participants in the post-Congress were distilling my concerns for defending and defining a certain model of volunteering based on experience in the sector or were giving the sensation that they don't want to confront the difficulties and opportunities that our socio-economic context proposes.

I leave you with three minutes from Enric Canet:

“Volunteer work, in Catalunya, has been crucial in many diverse social crises throughout history. Woven within the fabric of association, it has been implicated in the improvement of the attainment of social cohesion of marginalized groups. Now we are beginning to experience difficult times again and it is worthwhile to analyze some of the current trends that will certainly define the next few years and we should confront this situation and take action: society will continue to be dominated by fear: crisis, job and housing insecurity, market law that will provoke a greater desire for secure borders and an increase in the rejection of anything that would result in a more comfortable lifestyle. It will be a society that, more and more, will be defined by abstinence, by flat screens at the virtual level that will be our source of meeting other people and forming virtual relationships,
while direct human relationships will be reduced to something ephemeral. The major world powers will apply the social, economic, and political Clash Doctrine ,which in
turn, will generate more inequalities as well as new exclusions that will top those that already exist, especially for those who we consider “different” and define as “the other” or “weird”. Only charitable and palliative assistance will be promoted to close the economic cycle and will appear to be closing the gap, but they will only serve to keep marginalized groups in their place in the “margin” and pose new challenges to accessing the welfare state. Confidence will be lost in all types of institutions, with new flexible vertebrae, immediate and ephemeral,with new social movements of protest that will generate closer relationships and rebellion to take on the protest for those who don't have a voice.
Considering this perspective, what should be proposed for the role of Social Volunteering?

The wager is in our hands because the act of volunteering proposes to society what it already is: a chance for confidence in one and another, from the stable human networks that flow from the fabric of association and fear resistance to relationships. We can't allow ourselves a volunteer network formed from a lack of trust in people and the associative fabric. It is up to us to create a volunteer network that aims to lower the level of abstention and that moves in the direction of bringing closeness and helps us enter into humanity, head to head, one with another with the promise to live according to the social values that we propose. Neutral volunteers should not exist. Every and all voluntary activities should aim to provide assistance and we have in our hands the possibility to transform society and fight against those structures that generate marginalization, exclusion and destruction of ecosystems through our projects for a new social structure. Focusing on temporary solutions will put a hold on the process of change. It is up to us to create projects based on relationships of equality between volunteers and people in situations of inequality, utilizing their strengths and energies to push them to grow in their autonomy and capacity to transform the environment. The infantile paternal option. We must learn to collaborate with each other in the new forms of volunteer networks that focus on social change: the indignation movement and other social change groups that occupy public space that protest in less structured ways. We have in our hands the possibility of strengthening our organizations and movements together. We shouldn't distrust other social improvement initiatives just because they aren't our own. Within the complexity of our future world, will the Social Volunteering network be a guarantee or an obstacle for transformation. What option will we chose?”

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