When Will Volunteering Become More Appreciated in Croatia?

By 17 September 2017

Want to know how many volunteers we have in Croatia? How many companies allow their employees to do volunteer work as part of their regular work? How many schools have their own volunteer clubs? So many questions, so few answers...

When we talk about organised volunteering, the Croatian Ministry for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy published data that indicated that 48,731 volunteers did 3,332,984 hours worth of volunteer work in 2016.

Croatian volunteer centers in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, and Osijek have statistics for each of them, but they told us they were well aware that there are many volunteers who are not part of their organisations who engage in volunteer work.

And while we might get lost in the mess of unconfirmed and not exacts numbers, one thing is certain - volunteering in Croatia is still not appreciated anywhere near as much as it should be and seems to not be a hugely important part of our culture. Some people say the reason for that is because all should start with such ethics from our very early days of childhood, as is it the case in the United States and some other western countries. Our education system does encourage helping others, but only very few schools in Croatia have volunteer clubs of their own and most kids don’t get that invaluable experience instilled in them during their very early years. Generally speaking, the media in Croatia isn't helping either, because generall speaking, it is not remotely as interested as it should be in such stories.

These days there are so many negative statistics coming out of our country, especially from Slavonia, where more and more people are deciding to up and leave in search for a better life. But that doesn’t mean you can't find many volunteers, who, with their humanity, altruism and social responsibility, are helping others throughout this region.

One of them is Doris Kopf from Osijek, who has been volunteering for the past seven years. A 22-year-old student of chemistry who speaks English, German and Spanish told us her hobby is volunteering at different events. What other people think of her volunteer work and why she encourages other people to do the same, you can read in the interview below:

When did you start volunteering?

My first experience was in Youth Association Breza seven years ago, and I still volunteer there. In primary school I used to participate in workshops during the international educational cultural festival for children “Land without borders” and then I found out I could also participate by preparing some creative stuff for that festival which is organised by that association. Not really knowing what volunteering was [at the time], I decided to go along with my sister and help them. The experience was amazing and this is how my volunteer journey started.

In Breza, I found out what it meant to be a volunteer and since 2013, I have participated in different events, mostly in my hometown. With volunteering for the festival ''Land without borders'' every year in Breza, I participated at some Erasmus+ projects (Mogući svijet, Impact Sprint, I Sea You, GameSustain) which provided me with opportunities to visit Poland, Germany and Italy. For the past five years, I've been volunteering at Grand Prix Osijek Challenge Cup, where gymnasts compete.

My other experiences include different sports, cultural and educational events such as Osijek's ''Summer of Culture'', the Osijek Half Marathon, the European Women's Handball Championships, the Tour of Croatia, the European University Football Championship in Osijek, participating in various projects, the European University Games in Zagreb, the Davis Cup in Zagreb, the Volleyball Women's World Championship qualification in Osijek…

Why did you start to volunteer?

I started to volunteer because at first I had plenty of free time, and I wanted to express my creativity. Later on, I realised that I was interested in many different things which I can try and develop [my skills at] by volunteering in different positions during those events.

What do you like the most about it?

The way volunteering shaped me as a peson is the thing I most like about it. Meeting new people is definitely the best thing in volunteering. Osijek is a small city so now I already know several people who I see regularly at most of the events, and we've since become very good friends. Other positive sides are gaining new knowledge and skills. With my experience from different situations, I've learned to be communicative, improved my English and Spanish, developed my organisational skills and learned how some organisation works from the inside and what is necessary for an event to go well. I think volunteering can be only a plus in someone’s CV for applying for jobs.

How much is volunteering appreciated in Croatia?

In my opinion, volunteering in Croatia isn’t given enough credit despite the fact that there are organisations which revolve around volunteering, and respect them and know their value. Unfortunately, there are some people who think volunteers are a free workforce. Most of the time when I mention that I’m volunteering, the first question I get from other people is: Why am I doing it when I'm not getting paid or how can I work when I'm not obligated to do so by contract? I’m not affected by such comments anymore because I think with volunteering, like I've previously said, I have gained much more than I would usually get from regular paid work.

What is your message for encouraging other to start volunteering?

These days there are many more opportunities to volunteer than before. It all depends on what someone is interested in. In all different events, not only in Croatia but worldwide, you can apply at different sports events or music festivals, but also on the European volunteer service. You can find everything online, and by applying, you can’t lose anything! On the contrary, you have a great chance to gain some great life experience and have fun, plus create new friendships.