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Creating a culture of giving

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Hala El-Helou is the Project Manager of the National Volunteer Service Program at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon.

Being a volunteer in Lebanon is not an easy task. People tend to encourage us superficially but they actually do not understand the reason why we would spend our time doing something for free when we can be working on something more profitable - at least to help with our summer expenses or university tuition.

It is also pretty hard to bring in or recruit volunteers! I have heard recruiting for such an effort was much easier in the past when my parents were my age. People had fewer distractions and were more committed to the concept of helping each other.

Nonetheless, there are volunteers in Lebanon - maybe not many - but there are a considerable number of people who are encouraging community service. Unfortunately, for the government, these people are mostly from the civil society and local communities. There is no official umbrella given to the issue of volunteering. There are volunteering activities organized by the Ministry of Social affairs (MOSA) but they are definitely not enough. Before I came to MOSA, I had not heard about this ministry or its line of work. I am certain that many other youth my age, have still not heard about it or of any other volunteering opportunities in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the culture of community service is not a widespread concept and has not been  nurtured in Lebanon.

Thus, there is a need to find a way to help people regain this culture of giving and make community service a part of their everyday life. This is where the idea of the National Volunteer Service Program stemmed from. It started with a simple vision: the need to strengthen national policies on the concept of volunteering.

We really hope this project will set the framework of volunteering in Lebanon and introduce the concept of “national volunteers,” serving their country at a social level. Our aim is also to increase the number of individuals in Lebanon willing to serve in communities outside of their own, working with people they may not know or normally blend with. This is the form of cross-cultural communication that we are looking to establish in a region torn apart by conflicts. Helping active youth to  serve their country, mainly in the social field.

In a country marred by political instability and insecurity we can only wait and hope for the notion of volunteering to climb up the ladder of people’s priorities - for the youth themselves and for our future government.

National Volunteer Service Program (NVSP) is a new program at the Ministry of Social Affairs of Lebanon which aims at increasing youth civic engagement. The Program works on expanding youth volunteerism, particularly in communities outside of the volunteers’ own and improving the employability of youth through skills development.


Submitted by Matteo Morgandi on
Hala, you are right, restoring a culture of unpaid effort is not easy. Volunteering is a difficult word, sounds like a lot of effort, sounds like you really need to 'want it' because otherwise it is not fun. Even if an uphill battle, I think there could be no better time to try reversing the tide than right now. For two main reasons. Youth already are volunteering big time in their own ways. And the labor market has a lot of reasons to want much more of this volunteering to happen. If I look at changes that are taking place right now in the region, much of it comes from a form of volunteering, political activism, that requires investing lots of time and effort to see things transformed. Surely political activism may look more adventurous, radical, than social activism and social service. But in my view all of these forms of civic engagement are connected with each other. Connected by motivation, a mix between altruism and self-protagonism, a certain inpatience at seeing things not moving at the speed we would like. If this is the age of change, then I think it is also the age of volunteering. And what your project is trying to do in Lebanon is to give a bit of a structure to a vision. To change the perception of the game for the aspiring volunteer, so that he can think a bit less often: "Am I a fool in spending so much time doing this?" You mentioned that at your parents' time it was easier to get people to volunteer. Perhaps it is true. My guess is that one of the reasons of it is that seeing the effects of one's actions was also easier, change was easier, so volunteering was more rewarding. If this project manages to create again this space for making things happen, then you are winning your bet. In the regional context, I think there is a second angle that can make this bet so rewarding. In many countries in the MENA region, employers have a hard time trusting formal certifications and diplomas. Education matters, but employers also need staff with skills that are not necessairly learned or signalled with a university diploma. In the most recent World Economic Forum's report on competitiveness in the Arab Countries, it was interesting to read that company executives placed the lack of ethical behaviour in the workforce as the 4th largest constraint to competiveness. Maybe a program like this will be a way to start providing the right signals to employers amids a fog of unclear certifications. I really look forward to know more about it, and I think other countries in the region will look at what you are doing with much interest. Keep us posted! Matteo

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