THE HOLY FATHER AND
10-11 November 2011
Address by Ms. Kristalina Georgieva
Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis
Eminence, Excellencies, dear participants
And foremost - dear volunteers!
Let me first of all express my gratitude to be able to speak to you
today in this location. I am truly honoured to be able to represent the
European Commission to this event marking the European Year of
Volunteering 2011. I would like to thank wholehartedly the Holy Father
for honouring the work of volunteers.
In all religions, Solidarity, caring about the other, 'caritas' - is a
core value. Christian religion invites us to see others as our brothers
and sisters, our neighbours, and to care about their wellbeing as we
care about ours.
Those who engage to improve the lives of others are cherished in all
religious communities. What a nice thing to think of volunteers all over
the globe as the one red thread that goes through all societies and all
religions and as their biggest common denominator. This makes them the
Ambassadors for inter-religious dialogue.
In Europe, we can be proud of our strong traditions in charitable work.
In fact, tomorrow, when we celebrate the 1918 armistice, it is also the
commemoration of Saint Martin, the European Saint of Charity,– European
because he was born in Hungary, educated in Italy and was a bishop in
In modern days, it was another European, Mother Teresa, who became a
symbol of caring or others. In 1979, she received the Nobel peace prize
for establishing the Missionaries of Charity. In her own words, she did
it to care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the
blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared
for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society
and are shunned by everyone." By the time of her death, she had created
610 missions in 123 countries.
Pause a moment - Can you imagine the life of our parishes without all
those who are engaged in voluntary church councils; in organizing youth
groups; in leading the church choir; in ensuring that the life of the
church is lively, active and that members of the religious community –
whoever they are - can participate?
Can you imagine the World Youth Day that was celebrated in August in
Madrid without those 40,000 volunteers who gave their time and energy to
support the logistics and organisation; to show the young people coming
from all over the world their way; and to simply make them feel welcomed
Can you actually imagine society at large without volunteer fire
fighters? Without the trainers in our local sports clubs? Without all
those who have an open ear and helping hand for those members in our
communities who are ill, alone or in despair?
2. Volunteers care about society – the EU cares about volunteers
Volunteers care about society. And I am here to say that European Union
cares about volunteers. The discussion today is a true mirror of what
the Volunteers think. In Europe, 3 out of 10 Europeans tell us they are
active as volunteers and close to 80% of respondents feel that voluntary
activities are an important part of democratic life in Europe. This
means that more than 100 million Europeans volunteer in some capacity
and make a difference to our society. And 16 million of them do so in a
religious organisation. As a European, I am proud to see that
volunteering is in the DNA of Europeans!
There are of course many traditions of volunteering all over Europe;
many ways in which citizens get active; different motivations behind
such an engagement; and also changing patterns from 'life time
commitments' to more sporadic, one-off volunteer experiences. However,
what is common, is that wherever people engage together in activities to
help each other; to support those in need; to preserve our environment;
to campaign for human rights; or to make our religious communities
thriving - both society as a whole and the individual volunteers benefit
and fundamental values such as social cohesion and solidarity are
For this reason, it is important that in these more difficult days the
European Union has declared 2011 to be the European Year of Volunteering
- to thank all volunteers for their relentless efforts. The European
year is there to make these contributions more visible, to show we care
We need you !
3. The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps as a programme for
solidarity – and a lasting legacy of the Year 2011
This year of volunteering is also ideal to launch a new programme: the
European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps. When looking at the last two
years, this action is more needed than ever before. The earthquake in
Haiti; the devastating floods in Pakistan and just now in Thailand; the
triple disaster in Japan; the unimaginable droughts in the Horn of
Africa; the fighting in Soudan and Somalia. I close my eyes and see all
these disasters. I see Ishmael, a boy who had to crawl though camps in
yemen. I see kids inhe Horn of Africa that are severely malnourished. I
see a 90 year old woman who has lost everything in Japan.
But I also see the faces of those who are there to help, such as the
Kenyan doctor who left his home in Nairobi and his stable salary to come
and care for those in the camps. I see the family and fellow villagers
helping the 90 year old in Japan.
And facing these crises, I am proud to say: Europe cares! And Europe
acts, including through the largest humanitarian budget worldwide. And,
since I came into office in February 2010, I have also made one of my
priorities to add a human face to this support. With disasters on the
increase, we have to nurture the spirit of volunteering in Europe.
The European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps will give the opportunity
for Europeans to get actively involved in EU humanitarian operations and
show solidarity in action – this time with those countries and people on
our planet that need it most. Europeans are keen to help with cash – but
they are also keen to help with their hands where they are needed.
The experience of recent mega-disasters proves that the humanitarian
community sorely lacks enough competent, trained staff to deal with the
many crises that are happening in parallel. But they also show that the
engagement of people wanting to help need to be well managed. Nothing
can be worse than a situation as in Haiti where the goodwill of many
volunteers on the island was at times doing more harm than good. This is
why we hope that the Voluntary Corps can make a difference for the whole
sector, in proferssionalism and coordination.
We launched during the European Year of Volunteering 3 pilot projects
inviting our humanitarian partner organisations to test how the future
Corps can look like. Organisations such as Save the Children, the Red
Cross movement or Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) have offered projects
and will select, recruit, train, and deploy the first humanitarian
volunteers of the EU. I am particularly delighted that the Czech Caritas
is also part of these pilot actions.
Already the first 100 volunteers are being mobilised and 25 of these
volunteers from 10 nationalities have recently spent 4 weeks in Wales to
get trained by Save the Children on logistics of humanitarian operations;
first aid and security; project management of emergency response; and
have gone through a field scenario exercise before being sent mid
October to 14 countries all over the globe from Haiti to Indonesia; and
from Mozambique to Tajikistan. We will be following their experience and
learning – and invite you to also do so on my blog, where some of these
will report their stories.
There, I will follow Anna, a Polish volunteer from Wroclaw who is now in
Tanzania. And I will follow Colm, from Ireland, whose first placement
with Save the Children is as Logistics Officer in Haiti. Colm is also a
physiotherapist, so he’s particularly interested in the work of
organizations like Handicap International in Haiti. Both he and Anna see
this as an opportunity to take the first step in a career in the
humanitarian sector. Their experiences – and those of others
participants in our pilot projects – will help us develop the
These are just our first examples, as we are still in a crucial phase in
preparing this programme until mid 2012 when we will propose the final
set-up of the Corps. In the meantime, the next project, this time
organized by the Red Cross, is about to start and you will be informed
on our websites on opportunities to get involved.
Let me conclude by inviting you to try to be part of this adventure and
to share your views about it. Through this, we will also shape further
together the humanitarian corps. When do you have the chance to get
involved in a very early stage of a brand-new European programme process
and have a real influence?
I come from Bulgaria, where volunteering was sometimes too strongly
encouraged by the authorities during communism. As some people still
resent this, we together need to give a new meaning to giving and
sharing. Let's share volunteering stories so that we encourgae young
Europeans to give and share again !