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Symposium on Student Volunteering

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Comhlámh’s Philip Mudge and Ruth Powell participated in the Symposium on Student Volunteering held at the Institute for Lifecourse and Society, at NUI Galway earlier this week.


The day began with a welcome and support message from MEP Marian Harkin, via Skype, who wished all the organisations present the very best for the day.  And the symposium was filled with input, challenges, questions and reflection.


Research on students who volunteer, was presented from six organisations, including the NUIG Cell Explorers, DCU, Gaisce, NUI Galway, the University of Padova and Comhlámh.  The key note speech was delivered by Clare Holsworth, Professor of Social Geography, Keel University.



So what did we learn?


Clare Holsworth encouraged people to critically reflect on the act of volunteering and suggested that the value of volunteering should be seen in volunteering itself, rather than trying to impose the idea that volunteering will have such outcomes as “increased confidence” or “increased employability”. She even asked us to consider what “confidence” and “employability” were and if you can measure them at all.




While Volunteer Ireland asked organisations to be mindful of the types of roles they advertise and to be aware of making too many promises to volunteers, which can only reflect poorly on the beneficiaries of volunteering in the end result.


Comhlámh presented findings from its report entitled “New Evidence on Overseas Volunteering from Ireland and its Socio-Economic Impact in Ireland” (2013) which finds that over 75% of volunteers are now going on short term placements  of four weeks or less.  50% of those volunteers are under 30 years of age and most likely travelling with organisations who are relatively young (established after 2000) and have less than ten members of full time staff  to support them.  This could suggest that the student volunteers we are sending out from Ireland, are potentially becoming more and more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties, which could also suggest that the host communities and projects they work on, could be vulnerable too.


After the presentations (and a delicious lunch and refreshments) Comhlámh signed its first “Supporter” to the Code of Good Practice and this was www.studentvolunteer.ie which is the amalgamation of a great deal of work delivered by the staff of Campus Engage.  The “Supporter” category is for organisations that do not send volunteers directly, and therefore cannot be signatories to the Code of Good Practice, but are involved with people volunteering in so-called developing countries every year.  The “Supporter” category should go some ways in reducing the risks for students who are volunteering and indeed the host communities and projects.


Below we’ve curated some tweets from the day.

A super day or learning, engaging and re-thinking volunteering, and an excellent chance to critically reflect on volunteering in general.  And many thanks to the wonderful Lorraine Tansey of NUI Galway who organised it.








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