Coming soon: A new brand of humanitarian volunteers

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva unveiled the EU Aid Volunteer initiative at a news conference. Photo by: European Commission

The European Union is preparing for the launch of its own brand of humanitarian volunteers, who will be deployed in post-disaster, but not conflict situations.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva unveiled the EU Aid Volunteer initiative Wednesday (Sept. 19). The project, she stressed, comes at a time when natural disasters are increasing in intensity and affecting a growing number of people. Apart from providing humanitarian assistance, the volunteers will help prepare communities reduce their disaster risks.

The initiative was incorporated in the Treaty of Lisbon, which defines the actions and principles governing the European Union. Greece was the first among EU member states to lobby for it, urging the bloc to launch the humanitarian aid corps in 2011.

Under the initiative, 10,000 volunteers will be deployed in humanitarian projects outside the European Union between 2014 and 2020. A similar number will be tapped to carry out online campaigns in support of these humanitarian projects. The initiative will train 7,000 people from the supported communities to build their capacity as well.

The program stands to benefit the European Union, its citizens and victims of “humanitarian catastrophes,” Georgieva said in a news conference. The program is a chance for EU youths to gain “invaluable skills and competencies.”

The initiative runs along the same lines as the Peace Corps, the United States’ premier volunteer program, and the Australian Civilian Corps, which the Australian Parliament approved in 2011. ACC operations are also set to start in 2014.

The EU Aid Volunteer initiative will be different from the European Voluntary Service. The latter’s activities are only confined to Europe and, according to the proposal document, “are not based on humanitarian principles.” The program will be open to EU citizens or long-term residents above 18 years old.

Volunteers will be deployed via nongovernmental organizations certified by the European Commission. They will undergo training and be sent to humanitarian projects identified by these NGOs. There were fears the creation of the program would only duplicate the organizations’ work and “siphon” already stretched funds, Georgieva said. But the volunteers would be supplementing — not duplicating — NGOs’ work on the ground.

The proposed budget for the initiative is €239.1 million ($312 million), to be used for training (€58 million), deployment (€137 million), community capacity building (€35 million) and supporting activities. The initiative, Georgieva reiterated, is not about branding EU volunteers, but about the people the bloc intends to help.

“There is nothing wrong for us Europeans to take pride in what we do,” she said, adding that the European Union is the largest humanitarian aid donor. “Recognition of our work is by the people who receive our assistance.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.