NEWS

Bringing order – and benefits – to volunteerism

Although Greece is one of the last countries to catch on to the idea of volunteerism, it appears that despite the problems and lack of infrastructure, there are actually dozens of volunteer groups made up of thousands of volunteers. The first official register of volunteer organizations able to deal with a natural disaster is being drawn up by the General Secretariat for Civil Defense. So far, it has recorded 85 organizations with 70,000 members, spread out over 39 prefectures. Over 50 more organizations were rejected as they did not meet the criteria. In only 12 prefectures was there not a single volunteer group: Argolida, Boeotia, Fokida, Evrytania, Arta, Thesprotia, Corfu, Florina, Kilkis, Chios, the Cyclades and Rethymnon. The 85 groups on the list cover a range of activities in 11 sectors, the most numerous of which are forest fire protection and earthquake relief. Surprisingly, 23 groups specialize in responding to technological accidents and 16 to industrial hazards. Apart from the register, a volunteer task force is also being put together under the General Secretariat for Civil Defense for people with special skills in medical and technical professions, communications and rescue operations. Already 60 people have been chosen from a list of 180 candidates. The 85 groups on the register received subsidies totaling 450 million drachmas in 2001 to improve their equipment. They also participated in the respective prefectural organizations for the coordination of volunteers, and will soon be included in the mobilization of plans to confront natural disasters. At a conference held on December 12, the Civil Defense secretary-general, a member of the committee drafting the bill on volunteers, pointed out that the new legislative framework will provide insurance for members of volunteer groups, as well as incentives for employers and staff, and leave for the volunteers, who will also be eligible for training. Pilot programs for encouraging volunteerism will take place in regions that lack such groups and where the risk of catastrophes is greater. According to S. Papaspyropoulos, who is in charge of the program for the Interior Ministry, the bill also obliges all ministries to set up a register of volunteer organizations active in areas under their authority. It also provides for procedures to evaluate and fund these groups and to set up a website for all organizations with volunteer programs. Already five ministries have taken action to support volunteerism. Apart from the Interior and Foreign ministries, a special service has been set up to support groups active outside Greece, as well as a committee to establish links with non-governmental organizations. The Public Order Ministry is implementing a legal framework that incorporates volunteer firefighters in municipal operations. The Health Ministry has passed a law on volunteer welfare assistance groups and the Education Ministry is supporting young volunteers under the age of 29. At the conference, Deputy Interior Minister Lambros Papadimas made it clear that there would be legislative and political measures to encourage people to undertake voluntary work. Of late, Nicosians have learned to live with the realities of their city, with some of the trendier and busiest restaurants, cafes and bars now located a stone’s throw from UN posts on the line dividing their city.