Voluntary sector in Jamaica

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Other speakers included representatives of CUSO International, which had previously partnered with the Council of Voluntary Social Services to do a mini-research on the “Contributions of CVSS Member Agencies to National Development” and the University of the West Indies.

An additional feature of the Research Day was an exhibition in which twelve agencies: Office of the Children’s Advocate, Ministry of Labour and Social Security (PATH), Jamaica 4-H Clubs, Jamaica Agricultural Society, Rise Life Management Services, Abilities Foundation, Child Development Agency, Uniform Groups, Unite for Change the Planning Institute of Jamaica, YMCA and National Parenting Commission, showcased their goods and services in keeping with the thematic areas for the Research Day: Youth Volunteerism/Leadership, Youth in Agriculture.

The major findings of the research

In response to the question ‘Can agriculture and volunteering become more attractive to youth and the general public?’ numerous responses were provided, and they were very positive. They recommended that agri-centres be established in inner cities and town, and that there be more exposure to best practices and information sharing, emphasizing how volunteerism can enhance job-search prospects and recognition for youth volunteers.

These responses were illuminating, especially when compared with the responses from those who were in the volunteer group. They were asked “What can young people do to get more persons to volunteer?" The responses included the use of social media, more public fora and consultations, engaging powerful persons, and planning special events to build awareness. The medium of music and sports were also powerful tools for volunteer engagement.

According to the full report, it is clear that, although young people feel that others will volunteer, if there were more formal methods of persuasion being used whether by agencies, organizations or government, more persons would become involved in agriculture if they were able to see how it would build their personal capacities/skills/strengths. Important here is the need for public spaces, events, exhibitions and forums, both nationally and at the community level, which shared experiences in agriculture.

The last point made by the agriculture group about “The feeling you get from volunteering, a sense of fulfilment getting recognition for the work done” echoes the sentiment of the volunteer group, when they emphasized that feeling as a benefit they have experienced from being volunteers. Challenges facing both groups include lack of resources. For the agricultural group, that would include (mainly) the unavailability of land, lack of any financing, praedial larceny and drought. The ongoing climate change has resulted in more severe droughts and natural disasters. The provisions for irrigation have been inadequate or non-existent in most farming areas.

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For the volunteerism group, the following elements have all contributed to the negative approach to volunteerism: persons who have had a negative experience may share that with newcomers and dissuade them; new volunteers are being brought up to believe that compensation should be provided for work done; the general acceptance of the feeling that ‘slavery is done’; new volunteers do realize that volunteerism is giving.

In reality, volunteers often have to use their own money to buy the material they need. For them, the benefits from being a volunteer were personal and societal. In terms of the latter, the act of helping others in need was the foremost benefit. In addition, there were unexpected spin-offs that accrue as well as the exposure that they now had working in new environments with new experiences.

Participants called for a systematic programme by the government and other agencies such as CVSS to engage in the promotion and recognition of volunteers. They believe that much can be done through the social media. Further, they recommended that the CVSS develop a training manual with guidelines for volunteer engagement for both volunteers and agencies.

A way forward

The events of the day were rewarding, with many issues relating to the way forward for voluntary organizations and youth involvement made clearer. The consciousness of the Council to recognize the weakness in research relating to the contribution of youth through change and development and the need to not only identify these weaknesses but to make a difference.

It is clear that the need exists for awareness to be created about the activities of voluntary organizations and for youths to see the ‘blessing’ in volunteering. It was noted that many were not volunteers, because they did not know what to do and where to go; for some, it was simply a lack of understanding of the concepts and benefits.

A number of participants expressed the strong desire to volunteer but were constrained because they are unable to afford transportation and the related cost of going out every day to volunteer.

For those who would be interested in farming, the physical resources problems (land, things to grow, lack of finances etc.) posed fundamental challenges, especially for those in urban areas.

In a nutshell, it is obvious, that youth can be an important contributor and a positive force for development when provided with knowledge and opportunities. Bringing young people onboard in the quest for more effective development efforts is part of the solution to both economic and social problems that Jamaica is facing.