The first Arab Youth Camp for Voluntary Work concluded last week in Bahrain with participants affirming the need to promote a culture of volunteerism and social responsibility in Arab societies.
The Bahraini Good Word Society organised the camp in cooperation with the Arab League's Arab Federation for Voluntary Work. Young men and women from 18 Arab countries were invited, and the camp's theme was "Volunteering is your window into life".
Held between April 17th and May 2nd, the camp included field visits to homes for the elderly and orphans and to charitable organisations for people with special needs, a naval tour by the Bahraini Coast Guard on maritime rescue operations and a visit with civil defence forces to learn how to extinguish fires.
Participants told Al-Shorfa the camp helped them develop volunteer skills and promote charitable work through practical exercises and interactive discussion.
They said the camp's significance lies in its development of a new generation of young volunteers in the Arab world who can form successful teams to manage crises and assist people in need.
"The camp provided us with a strong start in developing volunteer work in the Arab world with a new approach capable of entrenching the concept of Arab voluntary work," said Yusuf al-Kazim, secretary-general of the Arab Federation for Voluntary Work.
He said preparations for a second camp have begun, with Sudan, Yemen and Qatar offering to host the event. The host country will be announced in July.
Al-Kazim said propagating a volunteer spirit in the Arab world is not an easy process because of the disparity in experience and environment among Arab countries.
"We have tried through the Arab Federation for Voluntary Work, since its inception in 2003, to focus intensively on propagating this culture, establish its concepts among Arab leaders, break existing barriers and bring together what politics has set apart," he said. "We have achieved tangible progress in terms of enhancing Arab involvement in voluntary work from 10% six years ago to 60% now."
Al-Kazim said the number of volunteers in the Arab world has been rising steadily since 2011, attributing the rise to the Arab Spring, which encouraged many volunteers to become active in various fields. In Egypt, for example, the number of volunteers rose from 200,000 before the country's uprising to 1.2 million afterwards, he said.
The total number of Arab volunteers is between three and five million male and female volunteers, al-Kazim said.
"Are they all active? My answer is no," he said. "But if 30% are active in the Arab world, then we are on the path to success in terms of promoting a volunteer work culture in Arab societies."
Hassan Buhazza, president of the Bahraini Good Word Society, told Al-Shorfa the camp's goal was to deliver the message that volunteer work is not boring or difficult but can be fun, creative and interspersed with many entertaining and meaningful events.
Buhazza said he believes volunteer work exists in Bahrain but challenges remain such as a lack of organisation, a lack of understanding about the motivations of youth and how to identify their needs, and a need to design volunteer programs that are of high quality and widely available.
Abdullah al-Owairidhi, a participant from Saudi Arabia and founder of the Saudi Tafaoul Volunteer Group for People with Disabilities, said the programme contained appropriate events for participants, providing them with an understanding of volunteer work and its benefits.
"Participants learned a lot about punctuality, effective leadership, how to react to a crisis and how to carefully manage crises and time, and took classes on electronic volunteering, first aid and civil defence," he said.
Al-Owairidhi said volunteer work in the Gulf is well-established but needs a "youthful outlook that is familiar with new technologies, supports sustainable development and draws on the experience of developed countries to use as a starting point".
Mohamed Ibrahim Yusuf, a participant from Bahrain, described his camp experience as "rich and distinctive" because it generated many topics for discussion, such as the definition of volunteering, methods to attract women and younger volunteers and the characteristics that define successful volunteer work.
"The camp helped us to understand the ideal way to serve people with special needs, the elderly and the blind, and how to identify their immediate needs," Yusuf said. "There is nothing better than putting a smile on their lips and having a sense of the greatness of what you have done for the sake of God and expecting nothing in return."