International Voluntary Service (IVS) promotes understanding among people, knowledge sharing among cultures, engaging globally, international cooperation and peace. Unlike other forms of tourism and travel international volunteers have a unique opportunity to build their skills, attitudes and abilities related to intercultural environment, as they are in direct contact with the local population with whom they explore cultural differences and similarities through their common life and work. These skills, attitudes and abilities are considered increasingly important in today’s globalized society
Although it was previously thought that contact with a new culture was sufficient to upgrade intercultural understanding and ability today’s research show that contact with other cultures can lead to development of intercultural competencies only in the right conditions. The results of contact with other cultures through volunteer work depend on the ability of the organization who provides volunteering opportunity to facilitate the process of learning as well asthe nature of volunteering activity, but also from the volunteer itself and his willingness to change.
Types of international volunteering programs are very different, and activities, goals and organizations are often very different. It is very important to properly organize the volunteering program itself, because otherwise it can be counterproductive and ineffective and lead to the creation of even stronger prejudices, reduced level of tolerance and frequent misunderstanding of cultural patterns.
The movement of international volunteer workcamps is a movement that in its essence carries a reaction to the conflict. Pierre Ceresole, a Swiss pacifist who witnessed the massacre and hatred of the First World War, attended the Fellowship of Reconciliation inauguration in 1919, where the German delegate, Walter Koch, whose brother was killed in Verun, said:
We have been talking for two days now. Is the talk all that we can do?
Seresol and Koch suggested something practical and creative – to work together to rebuild. They found Esne, a ruined French village ready to host a group of international volunteers.
The group consisted of Germans, Britans, Hungarians, Swiss, Austrians, Dutch and French volunteers who worked on the construction of demolished homes. All people of good will were welcome.
After a certain time, individuals among local population said that the presence of foreigners was “an insult to the late Frenchs” and then German and Austrian volunteers were asked to leave the workcamp.
This reaction shook and negated the basic idea of reconciliation and the project was suspended.
Although the first camp did not end successfully, their participants saw the potential they are carrying – working together, shoulder to shoulder, on the task of common interest, living, eating and resting together, people can really understand each other and learn something from it, in a way that no other activity except the international work camp can provide.
Today, after almost a century, the avalanche launched by the first workcamp annually gain over 3 million volunteer working hours and host nearly a million volunteers in all continents. More about the movement read here.
Today, international volunteer exchanges through workcamps is carried out among global and regional networks of volunteering organizations such as:
Other networks of volunteer organizations also deal with international volunteer exchange, as well as lobbying, establishing and maintaining contacts with institutions and agencies, organizing various activities / seminars, conducting research and publications to improve the quality of exchanges. Member organizations are international or national.
(Association of Voluntary Service Organisations (AVSO))
(Action d’Urgence Internationale (AUI))
International Cultural Youth Exchange (ICYE)
(European Federation of Intercultural Learning (EFIL))
Voluntariato Internazionale Donna Educazione Svilluppo (VIDES)
Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
United Nations Volunteers (UNV)
Centre européen du volontariat (CEV)