Irene Amodei reports from Geneva about a new NGO project using the strength of international conferences volunteers
Geneva annually hosts hundreds of high-level meetings, conferences and workshops (261 in 2005, according to the International Geneva Yearbook), mainly related to the humanitarian, social, environmental and medical field. In the front or often in the back line, mingled and hidden among delegates, speakers, media and officials, there is often a discrete (unnoticed) but vital group of people that is indispensable for the smooth running of every special event. Sometimes they help in the welcoming and the logistic services, or the bag-packing and room supervision, in other occasions they interpret, write and edit reports, proceedings or on-line news, depending on their various and eclectic skills.
And this peculiar group is composed of volunteers. Or, more precisely, of international conferences volunteers. Aged from 16 up to over 80 years old, coming from approximately one hundred countries and speaking some sixty-five languages, they are recruited, trained and coordinated by ICVolunteers (www.icvolunteers.org), an international NGO founded in 1999 by Viola Krebs. ICV become in 2005 an International Federation, its headquarters still in Geneva, but national offices and associate members located in many parts of the world, including France, South Africa, Mali, Uganda and Spain. â€śThe first seeds for ICVolunteers were planted in 1997â€ť, explains Viola Krebs â€śwhen I led the recruitment of more than 800 volunteers to help to coordinate and report on the 12th World AIDS Conference in Geneva. Following this event, a permanent team of conference organizers and volunteers was createdâ€ť.
Granted over the years of associative status by the Department of Public Information of the United Nations (DPI), and of special consultative status by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC), ICVolunteers â€ścooperates with organizations which often have very limited budgets and therefore heavily depend on the help of volunteersâ€ť points out Viola Krebs. By mobilizing volunteer interpreters and translators, for instance, ICVolunteers often allows non-profit events that otherwise would be monolingual (namely English-spoken) to be multilingual, therefore accessible and comprehensible to a wider audience.
The linguistic assistance is also the line of action of ICVoluntarios-Barcelona, which is currently supporting foreign immigrants and refugees with the translation of legal documents, simultaneous interpretation during daily interactions and assistance during the legalization process. In 2006, ICVolunteers counted a network of 6,500 volunteers, 1,500 of whom were active. During the past year over 40,000 hours of work were spent in more than 45 projects. â€śFor many volunteering is a move of solidarity,â€ť Viola Krebs clarifies, when asked about the motivations of the volunteers. â€śFor many, it is a simple way of getting involved in an international project and to meet people from all over the world.
For the younger volunteers it often provides an opportunity to apply skills and knowledge acquired during their studies. By offering their time, volunteers share their knowledge and strengths with those who need them, while acquiring new expertise that benefits them both personally and professionallyâ€ť. Involved in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) since its early stages, and focal point of the WSIS Volunteer Family during both phase one (Geneva, December 2003) and two (Tunis, November 2005), ICVolunteers has always been keen on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This interest is at the origin of one of its pivotal CyberVolunteers Program. â€śA cyber-volunteer is a volunteer who puts his or her expertise in the areas of ICTs at the service of NGOs, associations and cooperativesâ€ť, explains Cyrille Schmid, one of the CyberVolunteers Program Managers. â€śOur cyber-volunteers first receive training preparing them for a more extensive field experience. They then focus on a particular project, where for instance they might help connect a city hall, develop a web site for an NGO, design training materials, or train people who have little knowledge in the field of information technologiesâ€ť.
The CyberVolunteers Program in particular focuses on South-South cooperation, also including North-South and South-North exchanges. In this way, a young citizen from Burkina Faso can, for example, become a cyber-volunteer in Mali, Switzerland or Cameroon.