The latest fad is to jump on the volunteerism bandwagon, with people taking selfies, wearing a crisp-clean event t-shirt or holding a spade for no more than 25 seconds, just enough time to post something on social media. One reason is that it has become a fashionable gimmick or even a social status symbol for individuals, while companies and organisations take advantage of the free media publicity to add a feather to their caps or a trophy on the mantelpiece.
In fact, volunteerism existed in Cyprus long before the 2013 economic crisis. It’s just that it was downplayed, ignored even, because only the Church was allowed to have a charitable character, with public interest organisations such as the Red Cross, the Lions and the Rotarians considered secular, hence heretics. That is also why community service organisations or non-profits found it hard to register for tax-deductable status, preventing hundreds if not thousands of needy households and causes to benefit from donations or contributions.
Now that the Church itself has been struck by financial demise, selling off its stakes in banks and industries to make for the loss of dividend revenue and interest, society seems to tolerate volunteer organisations that had been viewed as suspect in the past.
But did everything have to have ulterior motive? Could it not be that a handful of concerned citizens felt a need to give, in kind or in service?
Enter the volunteerism commissioner, Yiannakis Yiannaki, who no doubt is doing a good job to coordinate activities and is trying to put some order in the “NGO market”. Of his own admission this week, there is still a 50% rate of apathy, with a worrying 25% simply “not interested” and tese mainly from among the under 30 year-olds.
Despite what the survey said, it is wrong to conclude that young people are disinterested or not well informed. Quite the contrary, for decades volunteer teams at private schools, and more recently in public schools, have been raising funds for charitable causes, at home and abroad. These youngsters, who go off to study and become ‘community activists’ at Cyprus or overseas universities, are the ones who really care about the wellbeing of their fellow people and the environment.
In fact, the greatest segment of apathy comes from none other than the civil servants, who, as is the case of volunteers popping in to get collections from government offices, are often snubbed or turned down with excuses such as “I’ve already made my contribution” or “I don’t have loose change.”
These “have-nots” are the same people that the civil servants’ union chiefs arrogantly argued should not have had their salaries cut in 2013, claiming that state employees were the ones who supported the economy by buying milk and bread back then, and making their shopping from local supermarkets.
These are the same civil servants who have duped the administration into returning their pay scales, to be subsidised out of the license fees from the awarding of oil and gas exploration rights.
No wonder then that we need volunteers, because this government is broke and it cannot afford to spend on development and social welfare.
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