The UN General Assembly’s has identified volunteering as, ‘an important component of any strategy aimed at, inter alia, such areas as povertyreduction, sustainable development, health, youth empowerment, climate change, disaster prevention and management, social integration,humanitarian action, peace building and, in particular, overcoming social exclusion and discrimination’ is noteworthy. Governments in theAfrican region are also increasingly recognising youth volunteering as a development asset. In the last two years, both the African Union andthe Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) launched regional youth volunteer corps to contribute to peace and developmenton the continent and a conference was held to consider the establishment of an East African Peace Corps. In the last six years, six new nationalyouth service programmes have been established in Africa which mainly target unemployed youth. It can thus be argued that youthvolunteering is widely and increasingly considered to involve two primary development objectives: 1) personal development that contributesto a young person’s ability to participate in society as adults; and 2) the development of communities and society at large (United NationsVolunteers 2006: 6).
Volunteering, especially in the form of youth service, is also often cited as one of the range of solutions to foster, enable and cherish the talents,strengths and possibilities and contribute to the challenge of youth unemployment and skills development in South Africa. In South Africa,however, there has been no proper studies that have been done to establish the relationship between volunteering and the employability of
the young people. What research has been able to establish, however, is in line with the findings of UNV, namely that volunteering has a positive impact for both the volunteers and communities. There is evidence of the role of volunteerism for individual development. The benefits to the individual include: improved self-esteem; increased independence and trust; engaging in closer relationships; greater sense of purpose; greater self-confidence; increased optimism; increased participation; improved leadership skills; and improved sense of responsibility (e.g. healthy sexual behaviors, getting tested for HIV, negotiating prevention). Volunteerism plays a major role in the context of school-to-work transition. There is also enough evidence to show the value of volunteerism in child-to-adulthood transition, especially in the context of marginalization, challenging socio economic context and work readiness upon Matric completion. Volunteerism also has positive social impacts. These include the development of leadership skills, an increased sense of community, citizenship and service,improved participation in social development and influencing policy, contribution to social development and a positive perceptions of young people and their role in society.
The incidence of youth volunteering in South Africa is captured in the first Volunteer Activities Survey (VAS) conducted by Statistics SouthAfrica in 2010. The survey was a household-based survey that collected data on the volunteer activities of South African individuals aged 15 years and older. The survey found that 1.2 million people aged 15 years and older participated in volunteer activities. The volunteer rate was higher among women than men, and the majority of individuals surveyed volunteered directly as opposed to offering their services through organizations. The survey also found that the volunteer rate amongst 15 -24 year old youth was 1.2 percent compared with 3.2 percent amongst youth aged between 25 and 34.
This shows that, across South Africa, every day, youth volunteers are hard at work, helping with home-based care, taking care of homeless and destitute children, providing mental and physical therapy for those living with disabilities, counselling survivors of rape and domestic violence, preparing nutritious meals for the elderly and children, helping in animal shelters, organising leisure time activities for children in out of school activities as sports and arts, reading to blind people, mentoring and coaching learners who are struggling to cope – in all kinds of ways, volunteers are saving the country money and lives.
Young people are important role-players in the process of building and sustaining a vibrant caring nation. Their creativity, dynamism and motivation inspire them to be part of the transformational process. Involving young people can therefore be hugely beneficial for any organisation.
According to Volunteer and Service Enquiry Southern Africa (VOSESA), the full potential of volunteering as a tool for development and as a catalyst for social cohesion and nation-building in South Africa, particularly among youth, has not yet been achieved. There are various reasons for this. Too often, young people do not have access to quality opportunities for volunteering in the area where they live. While there is a
great need for volunteers among CSO`s, these organisations often do not have the capacity and experience to successfully recruit and engage volunteers. Even though there is a tradition of volunteering in South Africa, there are many misperceptions and negative stereotypes around volunteering, and many young people perceive volunteering as an unattractive activity of little or no value (Capacity Building Toolkit on Volunteer Management, 2013)