05 December 2013

International Volunteer Day: volunteers as agents for change

"...let us remember the large numbers of citizens who, day in and day out, through acts of volunteerism large and small, bring hope to so many of the world's disadvantaged. Let us ensure that this wonderful resource, available in abundance to every nation, is recognized and supported as it works towards a more prosperous and peaceful world."

- Kofi Annan

Former AVI volunteer, Tammy O'Connor accepting an award on behalf of SAHA from the South African Human Rights Commission's representative.Since 1985, the role of volunteerism in forwarding development around the world has been celebrated on International Volunteer Day on the 5th December each year. 

Volunteerism is a critical component in strengthening development work and building civil society in South Africa, with both long- and short-term volunteers having played an important role in the history and development of the South African History Archive.

With its origins in the United Democratic Front, a movement in many ways defined by the spirit of volunteerism, many of SAHA's collections speak to the spirit of sharing skills and working together selflessly to build a better South Africa. 

In recent years, SAHA's relationship with International volunteering programme Australian Volunteers International (AVI), in particular, has been critical to building SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme. Since its inception in 2001, FOIP has benefitted from the expertise and commitment of five Australian lawyers and professionals who have joined SAHA for 1 - 3 year at a time, to share their skills and experience with colleagues, both at SAHA and in broader civil society networks. Through this programme of volunteerism, SAHA has be able to:

  • Establish a comprehensive capacity building training programme for civil society and community based organisations to learn more about using PAIA to forward their struggles fo justice
  • Produce a range of publications and resources reflecting on, and working towards advancing in practical ways, the right of access to information in South Africa;
  • Contribute to legal reform initiatives through commenting on, and campaigning for information legislation to advance the constitutional right of access to information.

SAHA has also benefitted from South African and international volunteers who have joined the Struggles for Justice programme for a few months at a time to share diverse skills and experience in history, heritage, law, governance and education with SAHA by:

  • Helping us to process archival collections so that we can make these more widely available;
  • Bringing curatorial expertise and experience to the process of developing exhibition kits SAHA is now able to loan out free-of-charge to schools and communities for commemorative events;
  • Researching much-needed fundraising opportunities for the organisation;
  • Undertaking laborious editing and data capturing for web publications like the SAHA / SABC Truth Commission Special Report website

But the story of volunteering within the SAHA team has not one of work alone - it has been about learning more about other cultures, ways of being in the world, and building meaningful, longlasting connections and networks around the world

As previous volunteers and interns share:

"Working with SAHA was an incredibly rewarding experience. Being able to contribute to building civil society in a new democracy where the culture of activism and the fight for human rights is part of the daily dialogue of ordinary citizens was inspiring and fulfilling.

My South African experience was extremely rewarding from both a professional and personal perspective. I had professional opportunities I never dreamed of, from working with the African Commission on Human and People's Rights to organising protest marches, while at a personal level I learned patience, resilience and the extraordinary capacity of people for forgiveness.

Perhaps most inspiringly, my time in South Africa taught me the power of collective movement."

- Tammy O'Connor, AVI volunteer, 2010 - 2012


"I had studied the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at an academic level and had always hoped I'd get to South Africa one day and play a role in reconciliation and development efforts in the country. When I saw the volunteer job advertised at SAHA I jumped at the opportunity and I'm so glad I did. Working for SAHA is still, to this day, one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences in my life. I learnt far more than I expected to and enjoy staying in touch and hearing about the progress of the organisation."

- Charlotte Young, AVI volunteer, 2007 – 2009

Without the contributions of these volunteers, SAHA would certainly not be the organisation it is. This International Volunteer Day, please join us in celebrating and recognising volunteers as agents of change, locally, nationally and globally, and applaud all those who volunteer to make the world a better place.

Learn more about volunteer and internship opportunities at SAHA.