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Volunteering at Ground Level

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A lot has been said about “spontaneous” volunteering when it materializes as an emergency response to natural disasters – the human impulse to help in some way, any way, when needs are life and death. But every once in a while, these unexpected circumstances illuminate not only the essence of volunteering but also the arrogance of attempting to structure it. The gap between the official response of the governments of Europe and the private actions of their citizens to the alarming exodus of refugees from Syria and other Middle East hot spots raises some important issues about self-directed volunteering.

In this Points of View, authors Susan J. Ellis and Rob Jackson direct attention to the spontaneous one-to-one aid being given by private citizen volunteers in Europe – largely out of their frustration with the inaction of official bodies. While somewhat messy and haphazard, such efforts do at least give food, blankets, and caring to people in need. And these efforts show the caring faces by volunteers who simply “got on with it” and acted, without volunteer managers to coordinate them.

What important and perhaps profound lessons can we learn from such volunteering at ground level?