Happy International Volunteer Day – 5 December

Today is International Volunteer Day and it is a great opportunity to celebrate and thank all those who give their time and energy to good causes.

In my own community of Waiheke, where we have a population of around 8000, we have 198 community organisations that rely on volunteers. Between them they contribute in excess of half a million dollars of volunteer labour every year. People like Hera Mohns – a local stalwart who set up Friends of the Street and who, every weekend for the last 10 years, has driven our local teenagers home from parties and kept them safe and out of trouble. There are hundreds of others.

Who volunteers? It’s your neighbor, who delivers meals-on-wheels, or takes books to someone who is homebound. It’s the brave souls who referee at our thousands of sporting matches every weekend, or the kids who bake to raise funds for their pet’s favourite charity. Volunteers are the families who head down to their local stream to get their boots in the mud at a community planting event, the people who give you all kinds of information at your local Citizens Advice Bureau, the group doing the sausage sizzle or the person rattling the bucket on the street in the rain. It might be your Mum who has spent the last 20 years taking care of her partner or your Aunty who has given her time with our little ones at Kōhanga.

According to the Office of the Community and Voluntary Sector, the not for profit sector contributes 2.6% to New Zealand’s GDP and if you add up all the voluntary hours of work it comes to 4.9% of our national GDP – about the same as the construction industry. In dollar terms that’s $6.95 billion per year. The OCVS says that in the not for profit sector around 1.5 million volunteers give more than 270 million hours of unpaid labour to the sector annually.

The Greens support a well-resourced, well-connected and well-funded community and not for profit sector. Too often our community and voluntary organisations become the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Ongoing cuts to spending in the public sector mean that, in effect, more and more work is being devolved to the community sector – which is increasingly under-funded and under-resourced to do what it needs to.

At the same time, we are increasing pressure on families as they work harder and longer at low wage jobs. This impacts on their ability to volunteer or do the things that contribute to our civil society. This is the stuff that ensures we have safe and healthy communities – and volunteering is a huge part of that.

So if you see a volunteer today, please make sure they know their contribution is valued and say thank you. And, if you are a volunteer yourself, you have my support and gratitude.