50th Anniversary of Cuso International
Rideau Hall, Monday, December 5, 2011
I am delighted to welcome you to Rideau Hall to mark International Volunteer Day and to celebrate Cuso International’s 50th anniversary.
For the past five decades, the members of your organization have volunteered around the world, helping people in need and building sustainable communities. Today, you are working in over 40 countries, providing essential services, learning opportunities, and improved living conditions for so many.
The volunteers themselves have all gained valuable experience overseas, and have applied the skills they learned wherever their careers took them. I say with pride that our very own Stephen Wallace, Secretary to the Governor General, was involved with Cuso in his youth.
Cuso has always looked to the future: whether assessing a country’s needs or adapting to our changing world.
The discussions that took place here at Rideau Hall were wonderful in that they allowed me to see how Cuso views volunteerism in this evolving world. Hearing what you had to say, seeing the dedication to volunteerism around the world, it was refreshing and inspirational. And to learn about the change that you have enacted in your 50 years, from decade to decade, shows me how important a role you have played and still play in the world.
This organization is a pioneer in international volunteerism. Indeed, many of Cuso’s ideas are now being put into practice in other places and are reflected by other organizations, such as in the United Nations’ State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, which was released today. In fact, one of the authors is here with us today to celebrate the launch of this report.
As Cuso knows, international volunteering is not simply about teaching new skills; it is also about building relationships, collaboration between people, and solidarity across nations.
The shift taking place in today’s globalized world will inform how international volunteerism is viewed in the future.
Three distinct shifts seem to be happening. The first is what the United Nations refers to as “voluntourism,” or short-term volunteering. The market for this sort of volunteer activity has grown steadily. In 2008, “voluntourism” in Western Europe had increased by 5 to 10% over the course of five years.
The impact of this type of short-term volunteerism is uncertain. While the intention is to contribute to the host country, some experts posit that it is a drain on local resources for such a short period of time. Nevertheless, this type of volunteerism is gaining traction, and we must be prepared to rise to the challenge of how to make it viable for all involved.
The second shift is the relatively new phenomenon of young people volunteering during a “gap year” between high school and university or as part of school programs. This combination of giving and learning is, in my opinion, a wonderful way to gain experience and to open a young person up to the world. In this way, we are helping to create global citizens.
The final shift is the idea of diaspora volunteering. This is especially important in Canada, where we have such a diverse and multicultural society. There is great value in this type of volunteering, as participants can bring specialized knowledge back to their country of origin, which ultimately strengthens bonds between countries.
Under the watchful eye of Cuso and counterpart organizations in other countries, people from two separate societies who share similar traditions and ancestry come together for the common good.
In its conclusion, the United Nations report states that “volunteerism is an act of human solidarity, of empowerment and of active citizenship.” International volunteerism, as we know, encompasses all of these.
For the past 50 years, Cuso International has been promoting these ideas and has been at the forefront of meaningful change. I look forward to seeing what your members accomplish in the future.