BELGRADE- Since February 2011 an institution has existed in the Municipality of Zvezdara, in Belgrade – the Volunteer Service of Zvezdara (VSZ), whose principal idea when it was founded was to do something for citizens who approach the municipal authorities with pleas for help in their everyday life because of advanced age or disabilities, or because they live without a family to help them.
Employees in the Municipality of Zvezdara, later also members of the Team for Volunteer Support for the Citizens of Zvezdara, believed that volunteering could do a lot to change a lot of things for the better.
The Volunteer Service, an organizational unit of the Municipality of Zvezdara, has become a place where everyone comes – both those asking for help and those offering help, and the Service is the holder of the title “Champions of Local Development”.
In creating our volunteer service we sought to use all the resources we had at our disposal, while respecting the legal framework prescribed in particular by the Law on Volunteering of the Republic of Serbia, says Radmila Urošević, the Coordinator of the Volunteer Service and Assistant Head of the Department for Social Activities of the Municipality of Zvezdara.
- Our volunteer-based activities have existed for four years now. We are looking to realize a developmental function offered by volunteering and I believe that as the “Zvezdara model of volunteering we have become recognizable, she says.
Socialization and the Struggle against Loneliness
How many volunteers are there, how many users, what sort of services are provided, and for whom?
In June this year we had on our roster 43 volunteers and over 200 beneficiaries, 40 of whom use services in their own homes because they are home-bound and live alone. Volunteer services are provided at home, by telephone, in the premises of the Volunteer Service and other locations in the Municipality, as we are endeavoring to be as mobile and approachable as possible.
Our services can be used by citizens who have regulated permanent or temporary residence in the municipality of Zvezdara, who need assistance in their everyday functioning and who live without family assistance and have no right to permanent gerontological help.
Our users are also single-parent families with children who have intellectual difficulties, corporal disabilities, problems in development and behavioral problems. We regularly organize a series of workshops such as Virtual Travelling, creative artistic and artisanal workshops and a reading workshop, association and parties for the elderly. All have one goal – socialization, developing skills and interests and fighting against loneliness.
Our users are therefore citizens of Zvezdara, while volunteers come from Zvezdara and another eight Belgrade City municipalities. When they approach us with offers to help, future volunteers very often thank us for our existence and our humane activities. Of course, we cannot solve all the problems of the most vulnerable citizens, but we can ease them.
It woulld be good if there were even more of us
How interested are university students to get involved in this type of “professional practical work” and how much can they really help?
I need to stress that we are much more of a volunteer nation than many people think. Our volunteers come from seven municipalities, but a majority of citizens who approach us for help and information about our programmes often thank us for organizing volunteering and comment that it would be nice if there were even more of us.
They are right, and what is of general interest and important for the age in which we live is that we join forces to nourish solidarity and humaneness, to register as many organizers as possible. Volunteering is important because it promotes in a direct and unambiguous manner the real values and affects socialization and humanization of everyday life.
When we speak about students and young people, they are oriented towards volunteering much more than we usually think. Our experiences demolish prejudices that today’s youth is egotistical and has no empathy. Volunteering is valuable for students because it develops personal and life skills and offers experience they usually cannot gain from their studies. This is particularly valuable for students of humanistic sciences, but also all others, because volunteering applies the concept of lifelong learning.
Hence, standard and life philosophy which are unavoidable in any professional career and everyday life.
The volunteer group includes students, pensioners, employed persons and the unemployed. The Municipality recently began continuous cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy of Belgrade University by holding two educations for students of all study groups.
In May we spoke about the subject Volunteer Psycho-social Support in Crisis Situations. The amphitheater was full. In June the subject was Stress and the Burnout Syndrome. We will soon sich an agreement on cooperation between the municipality and the faculty. We are trying to develop the concept of volunteering, to learn from others and to convey our experiences whenever we get a chance.
To have someone to open the door...
Who approaches you for help and what problems do you encounter? Which are the most frequent problems and biggest appeals for help?
Our help at home can be used by elderly persons and those with disabilities who live alone. Besides help in buying food, hygienic products and medicaments, also light household chores; our users say the most important thing is for someone to open their door, because above everything else, they are lonely.
We are also approached by families who need support because they are looking after a family member, they have a child with developmental problems. Volunteer professionals in the Advisory Center for individuals and families provide conversation, advice and support.
Often information about how to realize social rights is needed. Citizens can come to the Advisory Center, but sometimes it is possible to get the information by phone.
Secure a dignified ageing, withoud isolation and self-isolation
Based on experience so far, can you give an assessment of the kind of society we have become in the sense of caring for the elderly, for example? Do we look after them like before, or are they more neglected? Hide widespread is the view that they are good and needed only as long as they can work and provide for others?
You have asked many important and serious questions. We are an ever-ageing society. The social protection system has difficulties in providing for this population. The family suffers a transformation and is passing through a deep crisis, like the entire society. The burden of caring for the elderly must be shared by all of us – the public, private and civil sectors, the family and individuals.
We need additional programs which will be accessible to everyone with the aim of promoting an active, dignified and responsible old age and ageing. Responsible for its own self, family and society. On retiring our pensioners assume passive patterns of behavior and lifestyle, which is wrong and harmful for everyone.
I think that the existing free programs intended for seniors are not utilized enough, the reason being the isolation and self-isolation of the elderly. Whether they have children or not, without the intention of generalizing my response to your question, in their days of retirement the elderly should rely as much as they can on their own capabilities, develop interests and capacities.
Who are most of the people who come to you for help?
The elderly and persons with disabilities.
How has the initiative been accepted?
The volunteer service is a place for everyone, those who want to help and those who need that help. Everyone has accepted us. Our experience is that volunteering as a process, a manner of thinking and a lifestyle leaves positive changes in all participants, users and volunteers.
Do volunteers attend training and testing?
Abiding by the Law on Volunteering, applying the basic principles of volunteering - voluntarism, confidentiality and mutuality, we assess every good intention to volunteer. Volunteers must be adults, after the first conversation we provide basic training for all those who volunteer in the homes of our beneficiaries. When the team decides that an applicant fulfils the basic conditions, the volunteer obtains proof that he or she has no prior convictions and is not subject to criminal proceedings.
A mandatory health certificate on a capacity to volunteer in the homes of users is provided by the Health Center of Zvezdara, which is our partner in volunteering and with whose participation we considerably promote our services. Those who have both a social problem and one in everyday functioning always have multiple health problems. The pharmacy on wheels is one of the services we realize in cooperation with the Health Center.
Ther is no graduate volunteer
Who can be a volunteer?
We are often out in the field, we participate in various outdoor activities – we promote voluntarism and the programs we realize. Voluntarism is also connected with the Employment Fair, inclusive programs, the civil sector as an equal partner, humanitarian actions. After more than three years of work we have become a resource center of ideas, opportunities and even knowledge.
Organizing volunteer activities, especially in the area of looking after the most vulnerable citizens of all generations, demands besides a lot of enthusiasm also professionality and knowledge. It is learnt throughout life because, as I often say in educations I hold for future volunteers and organizers of volunteer activities, there is no graduate volunteer. Volunteering is learnt throughout life and demands constant openness for new ideas, knowledge and experiences.
What are you planning for the future?
Primarily to retain the capacity we have achieved, and then to develop the idea of volunteering in all generations in Zvezdara, but also other municipalities, to learn and to convey our experiences to others.
Source: House of Good News