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May 23, 2024

National volunteer week shines light on people shortage

This week is National Volunteer Week and with more people turning to support services, volunteers are needed more than ever. But is it fair to ask people to prioritise unpaid work in a cost-of-living crisis?

  • Words: Jade Woollacott
  • Pictures: supplied

With the theme ‘something for everyone’, this year’s National Volunteer Week is all about helping wherever you can – and organisations are desperate.

The number of people who volunteer has been on a steady decline for quite some time and never really recovered after Covid.

Volunteering SA & NT CEO Hamilton Calder says while formal volunteering through organisations has been declining, informal volunteering — irregular, one-time volunteering, perhaps in a group — has increased and organisations need to adapt.

“[We’re trying] to make sure that organisations that rely on volunteers think flexibly and differently perhaps, than they had before around providing these volunteers opportunities,” he says.

“I think people are just volunteering differently.”

The steady decrease in people volunteering doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon, especially with cost-of-living pressures pushing people to prioritise paid work.

Organisations — particularly non-for-profits — rely on volunteers and Calder says pressures like the increased cost of living have caused more people to turn to support services.

“That’s why we need to work closely with these organisations to help them make it easier to engage volunteers,” he says.

“We’re working closely to ensure that organisations who rely on volunteers make it as inclusive and as flexible as possible and also don’t put too much burden on volunteers.”

Naqibullah supports newly arrived migrants to begin volunteering.

Naqibullah Hakim started volunteering at a settlement organisation six months after he migrated to Australia. Last year he was named as a finalist for the Governor’s Multicultural Awards for his work promoting multicultural volunteering.

But Naqibullah says cost-of-living pressures have caused him to pull back on the amount of time he dedicates to unpaid work, where he has often found himself spending money out of his own pocket.

“We can’t serve the community if we are in need of service,” he says.

“Charity starts from home, you have to… do everything we need at home then do for the community.”

Shikofa Anguri started volunteering at the Australian Migrant and Resource Centre shortly after moving to Australia six years ago and says there are a lot of benefits of volunteering, especially for migrants.

Shikofa moved to Australia from Afghanistan, she says volunteering helped her discover different Adelaide cultures and communities.

She says volunteering not only gives migrants the chance to improve English skills and to connect with different communities, but it also familiarises them with Australia’s employment system.

“I built my confidence by being connected with different communities,” she says.

“[Migrants are] not familiar with the employment system in Australia or education system so for them it’s good that they can start by doing a volunteering role.

“I know that most people from my community — they’re looking [for] jobs but they don’t know where to start.”

Naqibullah says volunteering is a way to gain work experience and improve skills.

“For migrants, they don’t have work experience and that’s what they need [to volunteer]” he says.

Naqibullah thinks there should be an incentive from the government to encourage people to get back to volunteering, and says that, in such financially hard times, instead of looking at it as free labour perhaps we need to start thinking of what we can gain from volunteering.

“If you say, ‘come learn things’ it’s the best way to encourage the community to come to work instead of saying volunteering,” he says.

Shikofa has recently started working for Volunteering SA & NT and says that there is a cultural barrier that prevents migrants from volunteering. She was at a TAFE expo a few months ago and found that a lot of migrants didn’t know what volunteering was, but after speaking with her they wanted to get involved.

She says she was able to break the language barrier, which she believes discourages many migrants from seeking volunteer or other roles.

“There are many students from different communities and because they can’t understand English that’s why they’re not interested in being a volunteer,” she says.

“But if there is someone who could speak in their language and explain the roles or the benefits of volunteering to them, I think it’s more likely that we will be able to get more volunteers from different communities.”

The National Strategy for Volunteering released last year highlighted emergency management, 24-hour helplines and food security programs as heavily dependent on volunteers.

Calder says it’s hard to pinpoint the sectors that need help the most, but Volunteering SA & NT is working closely with sporting organisations, aged care and palliative care, who have all struggled to regain volunteers post-COVID.

“We offer opportunities and try and find roles for volunteers across so many different sectors and if sectors are singing out then we will try to work really hard with them,” he says.

“What we do know, across all of the sectors, is that volunteers really want to know that they make a difference, and they also want to know that the time that they’re volunteering is actually going directly to help.”

Calder says if people are looking for volunteer roles Volunteering SA & NT have over 400 roles currently listed on their website, or visit other search engines like Seek Volunteer.

You can also head to your local community of whatever organisation you’re interested in volunteering for — they need all the help they can get.

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