The volunteer sector has seen steady growth since 1990 and accounted for an estimated 1.67 million arrivals in 2010. Roughly 60% of volunteer travel participants come from the US, with Latin America, Africa and Asia as the major destination regions for international volunteers.
However, much like the international education market, which is shifting East, the volunteer sector also appears to be growing in strength in Asia Pacific. ICEF Monitor reports on this trend below, with a snapshot of developments – such as university credits and increased funding - in several key countries throughout the region.
More students in Asia receiving course credits for volunteer work
Students in some Asian countries – such as Japan, Indonesia and South Korea – now earn credit hours for voluntary work, an incentive that builds volunteering into the university assessment system and promotes community work as an integral part of higher education.
Much of this work goes largely unrecognised, partly because voluntary organisations have few direct links with universities – although informal connections run deep.
But University World News has reported that this could be changing as universities and non-governmental organisations, some for student volunteering, collaborate in the AsiaEngage umbrella network of regional bodies that promote social and community engagement by Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) universities.
Japan joins forces with Hong Kong and Indonesia
The Japan-based Network for Voluntary Development in Asia, or NVDA, is a networking NGO promoting international voluntary service in the Asia and Pacific regions.
NVDA President Dr Kaizawa Shinichiro, who teaches at Kokushikan University in Tokyo, described how student voluntary work is progressing under a specially created course subject called ‘international volunteering.’
Shinichiro has organised special projects for Japanese students in 100 countries, mostly during university breaks.
“After students have completed their volunteering stint, they submit a report to me,” he said. “Input from the host country is important too.” Participating students gain credits based on their reports and host nation feedback, noted Shinichiro.
NVDA also works with the Hong Kong Institute of Education to place its student volunteers in several Asian countries including Mongolia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Japan and Nepal.
Indonesian students volunteer nationally. “They are not only rewarded with credits [from their own universities] but sometimes their voluntary work is also financed by NVDA’s Indonesian team,” Shinichiro said.
Indeed, 85% of students from Japan volunteering for 3,000 projects in 100 countries, and 70% of students from other countries, have so far volunteered for NVDA community projects.
South Korea reaching out
Some Asian universities have set up three-way partnerships with both NGOs and industry.
Francesco Volpini, director of the Paris-based Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service, or CCIVS, which runs an international volunteer programme, told how South Korean engineering giant Hyundai Corporation supports voluntary work by thousands of university students in countries such as India, China and Brazil, where the company manufactures.
South Korean medical students, for example, went to Chennai in India to run health checks on villagers and teach local people how to do this for themselves.
While some South Korean universities give credits for voluntary service, there is no comprehensive system for reporting what is learned, Volpini noted.
He felt that recognition of learning through community service could be achieved by integrating such activities into the curriculum, although this would not necessarily reflect the entire learning experience.
“We would like to see the education value recognised, not just as part of their study programme, [but also] including soft skills that they acquire and that are not taught in the university environment,” he urged.
These softer skills include communication, intercultural learning, self-confidence, initiative, leadership and teamwork.
CCIVS, which operates under the aegis of UNESCO and is the first NGO member of AsiaEngage, wants to work closely with universities in Asia to bring this about.
Increased funding for New Zealand volunteers
The New Zealand Government has announced it is pouring more money into the Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) programme.
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully announced a three-year support package of NZ$24 million to help place skilled New Zealand volunteers in developing countries.
“The Government wants more New Zealanders to be involved in the delivery of our aid programme. VSA now has a strong focus on supporting economic development and is delivering more opportunities for volunteers in the Pacific,” said McCully.
VSA is New Zealand’s largest and most experienced overseas volunteer-sending agency. The organisation has around 70 volunteers in the field in 13 countries at any one time.
In the last year alone, VSA volunteers have helped provide drinking water and sanitation facilities for more than 3000 people as well as treating more than 200 patients.
“VSA is also offering more short-term assignments and partnering with other New Zealand organisations such as Downer NZ, Tuia International, World Vision and Rotary NZ to access more New Zealanders with specific expertise,” McCully says.
More than 3500 skilled New Zealanders have worked on volunteer assignments overseas since 1962.
Volunteering spreads throughout Vietnam and Laos
The ‘2012 Summer Volunteer Youth Campaign’ has kicked off in Vietnam, according to the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union Central Committee and Talk Vietnam. The event themed ‘Youth Join Hands to Build New Rural Areas’ focusses on the most impoverished and remote areas of the country.
Accordingly, young people in every province will help build roads and cultural houses; assist around 500,000 students sitting for university and college entrance exams; offer gifts to 10,000 families of invalid soldiers and martyrs; as well as keep martyrs’ cemeteries clean and green.
This year has also been dubbed the Vietnam-Laos Friendship Year. The 2012 campaign has set out to have the young people in each province or city build at least 10 rural cultural houses; each district will build at least 1km of rural roads and every village will keep their roads clean.
Youth will also take part in activities to ensure traffic safety, promote environmental protection, prevent natural disasters and epidemics, and support communal health care and blood donation campaigns, along with other international volunteer activities.