Volunteering in South Africa is development

Exploring CyberVolunteers at the Cape Town Volunteer Center
08 March 2005

In December 2004, ICV South Africa, hosted by the Cape Town Volunteer Center, organized a meeting of the Civil Society Bureau of the World Summit on the Information Society. It is now preparing to receive international cyber-volunteers to focus on an HIV/AIDS project.

While South Africa has become the United States of Africa for some since the end of apartheid, it still faces enormous social challenges: one of the world's highest HIV/AIDS prevalence and unemployment among youth living in poor neighborhoods, to name just a few. These are the people the Volunteer Center is working for. During a visit to the Cape Town office, we discussed cooperation in the CyberVolunteers Program.

Serving 300 member organizations which bring together people form different social backgrounds, origins and religions, training volunteers is a core mission for the Cape Town Volunteer Center. The aim: to improve the work of the volunteers, obviously, but also to contribute to the development of South Africa. "We cannot see volunteering as anything but developmental," said Shaida, Recruitment Coordinator for the Cape Town Volunteer Center. "Few young people can go to university, so one way for them to actually educate themselves is through volunteering. If young people get involved in volunteering, the Center has the duty to make sure that they can develop their skills and learn new things."

Beverley, who is in charge of administration and project management, could not agree more. "One of our successes is that we train volunteers here. We are looking at volunteers with skills and those skills can be put to good use."

So can cyber-volunteers with specific information and communication technology (ICT) skills help train volunteers who are less familiar with computers and technology? Deline van Boom, Director of the Volunteer Center, certainly thinks so. "Our website is terribly out of date, and I have given up on even mentioning it to anyone," admits Deline. In addition, the Center needs help with updating its database and, more importantly, with bringing up to speed the technical skills of the volunteers. Students from Cape Town do help with IT-related work, but only when they have time -- which is less than the Center needs.

In a country that has many IT-skilled people, one of the key conditions is that local cyber-volunteers work hand in hand with internationals. In fact, for local volunteers it is a way of doing something for their environment, gaining experience and also showing what they are capable of. Jan, coordinator of an international youth program brought to South Africa by Canada World Youth, stressed: "It is very important that whatever international program is being brought to South Africa, it helps to enhance local capacity and does under no circumstance put it at risk."

In light of all of this, the CyberVolunteers Program will in particular focus on skills transfer and capacity building in the Cape Town region, and with the Cape Town Volunteer Center in particular. (VK)

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