Novi Sad Voluntary Service, launched as a joint project of the two European capitals – the capitals of culture and youth, participated in 145 different activities for the first two years of its existence and played an important role in offering support to our fellow citizens in order to prevent spreading of the COVID-19, thus accomplishing almost 4000 voluntary hours.
Effort and work were crowned by the October Award, and this year, the European dimension was acquired since the NVS joined a non-formal network launched by the coordinators from 18 cities – European Capitals of Culture, within which the two presentations, ‘Share Your Story’ and ‘Discover My City,’ have already been held.
Leading up to the International Volunteer Day, Vojislav Prkosovački talked about the above-mentioned success, challenges and work of the NVS.
Novi Sad Voluntary Service played an important role in offering support to our fellow citizens in the fight against the pandemic. How many actions were taken and how many volunteers participated in these actions?
Two days after declaring a state of emergency, Novi Sad Voluntary Service became part of the wider initiative of the organisations in Novi Sad which work with volunteers. The initiative was introduced by the European Youth Capital Novi Sad – OPENS and gathered the City Administration for Sports and Youth of the City of Novi Sad, Novi Sad Youth Forum, Red Cross in Novi Sad, Students’ Parliament of the University in Novi Sad, and youth organisations – ‘Youth Fest’ association of citizens, Youth Policy Institute, Čepom do Osmeha, European Youth Centre of Vojvodina, Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre and Kolping Serbia.
Organisations offered their resources in order to overcome challenges posed by the pandemic with the idea to ensure a safe environment for volunteering activities, synchronised and in coordination with the City emergency services. Novi Sad Voluntary Service has undertaken the volunteer coordination, including communication with the City emergencies, calls and registration of new volunteers, as well as work with them in situ.
It is interesting that we had a great number of newly registered volunteers in a short time period and that we increased the base for almost 400 new volunteers who are ready to give support in activities during the state of emergency. Volunteers were engaged in procurement of food, medicines and groceries for fellow citizens older than 65 years, in direct cooperation with the Red Cross. They participated in setting up a temporary COVID hospital at Novi Sad Fair, in direct cooperation with the Serbian Armed Forces, as well as offering the support for the poor and preparing more than 20,000 packages for pensioners in Novi Sad. During their work on several activities, 3820 voluntary hours were accomplished and 667 volunteers were engaged. Numbers and presentation of work that has been done are important for such retrospectives, but the quality of work that has been accomplished with the volunteers is far more important.
Having in mind that the volunteers were engaged in different activities, this was a challenge, since we had to follow the certain rules in order to protect ourselves. How did volunteers adapt and to which extent was it demanding for them?
Since its establishment in September 2017, Novi Sad Voluntary Service has been based on the methodology of establishing local voluntary services that can offer support for all who would like to introduce certain changes and involve citizens in them. In less than two years, we supported 145 different activities within the two European capitals, as well as in the field of sport, health, social and environmental protection, by constantly applying and improving elements of voluntary management.
Firmly set rules of the voluntary management, which include good education about volunteering, place in which volunteering is being implemented, users and organisers, good training and a room for all additional questions, respect for others’ time and security measures, apply to all sectors of volunteering. Volunteering can be successful only if we prepare well, gather all information and respect elements we have agreed on.
All volunteers of the NVS go through the necessary connecting steps, notice on membership, participation in the preparatory meeting, implementation, evaluation and act of gratitude, and encouragement to volunteers to participate in new voluntary adventures. In addition to preparation, volunteers get the short ‘Reminder About Safe Volunteering’. This methodology applies to all sectors of volunteering we have supported so far.
The state of emergency made us pay special attention to safety and security, implementation of additional preventative measures and information about measures we should follow in order to avoid unfavourable circumstances. Our goal is to carry out long-term, sustainable work, with clearly shared responsibilities while enjoying the accomplished tasks. Volunteers have shown they are responsible, motivated and ready to offer support, humanity and solidarity, which further evoked the feeling that good people do exist.
The work was crowned by the October Award. How much is it important to you as the coordinator of the NVS?
The October Award for all volunteers in Novi Sad is an important confirmation of their contribution and energy devoted to the local community. The award represents the fostering values such as solidarity, humanity, peace advocacy, advocacy for peace, tolerance, combating prejudices and stereotypes, equality and democracy, which volunteers have and unselfishly share. In my opinion, the award is the symbol which indicates that the City sees and understands the importance of volunteers. Furthermore, it is the encouragement to volunteers to participate in new activities, endeavours, improve the quality of their work and set new standards with volunteers. We are facing the period when all organisers of voluntary activities should justify the award with further support, quality work and more visible support for the local community.
Let’s take a look at the work done by the NVS. How much do the volunteers themselves contribute to the events they were engaged in, from the beginning of the NVS, and what experiences do they gain?
Volunteering is a two-way process, both sides win with the engagement of volunteers. It is important to both give and receive voluntary support. Volunteers gain different skills and knowledge, make new contacts, explore new spaces they haven’t visited yet, learn about themselves However, the most important is the experience they cannot gain at some other places and by learning some other methods.
On the other hand, organisations, institutions, different formal and non-formal groups have the possibility to present their activities to a new population, new audience. By involving volunteers, they make the implementation of work more fun, create a new emotion to remember, give new insights into activities, adopt suggestions and guidelines in order to improve some things, which all leads to improving the quality of work, sense of belonging, respect and growth.
By connecting volunteers with organisers of voluntary activities, the city gets a different form and develops a much wider scope. It is a special feeling when you walk through the labyrinths of the Serbian National Theatre, sit in the stateroom of the Gallery of Matica Srpska one day, and then the next day, attend the Mountain Boarding World Championship or the benefit concert in your neighbourhood the next. Volunteering brings out the best in us and encourages us to share it.
How many volunteers are there in the NVS at the moment?
There are 1657 registered volunteers in the Novi Sad Voluntary Service at the moment. The oldest volunteer is 83 years old, and the youngest is almost 11. Most of them are young people aged 19 to 27, i.e. the young population that still goes to schools, explores and participates in the life of a community, city and thus the whole society, through volunteering. I am especially proud of the senior group of volunteers which brings further dignity and values in the activities we organise and support. Working with this group brings us special joy, since we discuss the topics of intergenerational cooperation, which adds the volunteering impetus to further work and improvement.
The beauty lies in the fact that there is no clear rule on who will choose to volunteer. Motivations are different and there are no age, gender, social or any other boundaries. Someone becomes active because of the possibility to find out more about the city, someone wants to make friends, and a great number of volunteers like the feeling of being useful, while others are clear about their wish to support the city they live in.
Photo: Vladimir Veličković