The Phiren Amenca Network shared its experiences and perspectives on international voluntary service as a tool for social change during an international conference organized by its Ukrainian member organization TOUCH Project Charitable Foundation. The annual conference is held in cooperation with the Social Work Department in the Uzhgorod National University and pursues the aim to address and discuss relevant social issues and innovative practices.
“Volunteering has become our focus, as it is currently hardly recognized in Ukraine, but it plays a crucial role in our work to build inclusive, just and democratic societies.”, as Zita Batori-Tartsi, the coordinator of TOUCH project, explained in her initial statement. Judy Norman, a retired professor of social work of the University of Utah, reflected about the historical development of volunteerism: “The right for voluntary association has been a founding principle of democracy.” She highlighted how the value and need of volunteering has been increasingly recognized by the social work profession to build social cohesion, especially in times of the economic crisis effecting strongly vulnerable groups of society.
Jonathan Mack introduced the voluntary service program of Phiren Amenca as a key tool of non-formal education and social change through dialogue and engagement of young Roma and Non-Roma in order to challenge stereotypes and racism. “Voluntary service programs have become recognized as a key tool of non-formal education. Such an educational program takes place in an organized and structured environment, which allows to define aims, and to assess learning achievements. Voluntary service programs empower young people, and strengthen their intercultural, linguistic, social, civic and communication competences, as well as their critical thinking, independency and team work ability. However, we need to recognize the value of volunteering beyond the individual educational benefit. Young people dedicate their time and energy in order to contribute to society. Phiren Amenca creates the space and opportunities for young Roma and Non-Roma to engage and to challenge stereotypes and racism.”
The international conference brought together over 50 professors, lecturers and students from Uzhgorod University, as well as international guests from the Debrecen University and Human Net Foundation, Hungary, representatives of the TOUCH Project from Corvallis, Oregon (USA), as well as from different local civil society organizations.