SA Volunteering. A report by Helene Brand

Joan Daries is a woman to be reckoned with. As the Director of the Volunteer Centre in Cape Town, she promotes volunteering and also acts as an umbrella organisation for companies using volunteers.

It is a demanding job, and requires all of her time – she even takes work home when the day gets too short for her.

There are volunteer operations at all the major hospitals, and support the Cancer Association, various Hospice organisations, the National Sea Rescue Institute, to name just a few. They also train people in volunteer management and look at ways in which they can help people recognise the efforts of their volunteers.

“The kind of volunteer work that is done within our membership,” says Joan, “just blows my mind. That is why I have become such a passionate promoter of volunteering, because it really is amazing. What is more amazing, is that very few people know about volunteering. That is what drives me, because I think that people need to know what it is that South Africans are doing, and not just South Africans, other volunteers all over the world.”

The principle of volunteering it that it is anybody who offers their services. It has to be an offer – nobody can be forced to be a volunteer, it is something that you do willingly. It is based on the principle of free choice, free will and it is unpaid. It is, however, accepted practice to re-imburse volunteers for legitimate expenses involving their volunteering. Even though there is a small cost involved, the return they get for this, is absolutely worth the investment.

Joan saw an advertisement in the newspaper and applied for the position. “I must confess,” she says, “that since I have come here, I really know that this is where I want to be. And this is the work I want to do, because it is so positive. Volunteering has such a magical principle. In your mind, you think you are going out there to help somebody else, but you are in fact doing something so great for yourself in terms of your own sense of self-worth and building your own capacity. The God’s truth about volunteering is that you get much more out of it than you put in.

As an ex-teacher of English, Joan lived through the worst years of the struggle on the Cape Flats. “I left teaching and joined an environmental education organisation”, she remembers. “That taught me a whole lot of different things about how we need to live in the world in terms of living in a limited space. We cannot just live on earth the way we want to. We need to sustain the resources of the earth for future generations. In a way, it has been a journey, a wonderful journey. And I feel very priviledged to do the work that I do.”

Her love for people makes her job so much easier. “I think people are incredible. To me, the word volunteer means that I cannot accept the hardship, I cannot accept the suffering – there is something I can do about it.”

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South Africa’s first Volunteer Centre (originally Voluntary Aid Buereau), started in Cape Town in 1979, as a project of the International Year of the Child. This office opened in 1980, first organised by volunteers.

It soon became clear there wa a great need for such a service. In 1983 at a special general meeting, a constitution was ratified and a management committee elected. The Centre became a registered welfare organisation and was granted a fundraising nuber in November 1983.

Presently funded by the Community Chest and subsidised b y the Provincial Administration of the Western ape, the Volunteer Centre now offers a comprehensive range of services to rganisations and individual volunteers.

Offices are in central Cape Town.