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U.S. ambassador says volunteerism contributes to development

May 11, 2011 | Harare
U.S. ambassador says volunteerism contributes to development. (Photo: PAS, Harare)

Ambassador Ray encourages volunteerism amongst Zimbabweans

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United States Ambassador, Charles Ray, says the desire to take responsibility for building communities spurred a spirit of volunteerism in American culture which, if cultivated among citizens can contribute to the overall economic development of a country.

“The main factor behind the desire to help other people in my country comes from its very foundation; the notion of the people preceded that of the government, we put people first and then government second,” said the U.S. Ambassador during a Food for Thought discussion session held at the Embassy Eastgate offices on Tuesday afternoon.

“The founders of the U.S. were disappointed with the countries where they had come from and wanted to build a better place, they wanted to take the responsibility for building their communities themselves,” said Ray who also noted the contribution of religion and the churches in creating supporting structures to encourage volunteerism.

Noting the economic benefits, the Ambassador said two percent of U.S. gross domestic product constitutes donations to charity.

Ambassador Ray spoke about his experience conducting volunteer programs in the United States and Zimbabwe.

In September 2010, the top U.S. diplomat led Embassy staff on a two month volunteer project which rendered assistance to eight community based organizations in and around Harare. The diplomats assisted with various chores including cooking, playing with disabled children and tendering gardens at Tose Care and Respite Center, making bricks for a cooperative in Hatcliffe,  holding a party for disadvantaged children and repairing broken windows and cultivating gardens at St. Giles Rehabilitation Centre in Harare.

“I put that up to my staff and we were overwhelmed with volunteers. We started doing waitlists to accommodate staff, and we capped it off with ZIPRA veterans who paid their way from Bulawayo to join us in repairing windows and tendering gardens at St. Giles on November 11,” said the U.S. Ambassador.

“We had so much fun. The fun was in doing something useful, the pleasure in seeing the smiles on the faces of people that we were doing something for,” said Ray.

Responding to questions from the audience, the U.S. Ambassador said that the best way Zimbabweans can start volunteer missions is “just get started” encouraging the audience to understand that they are only limited by their imaginations when looking for ways to volunteer.

“It takes time for this to catch on. In my experience here, organizations that we wanted to assist were suspicious and members of the public who saw us doing voluntary jobs would stop and stare,” said Ray. “After a while people started getting used to it, you do it by doing it.”

The U.S. ambassador dismissed skepticism that his country was using aid and charity for selfish reasons and said voluntarism is not politics.

“The greatest challenge is to overcome the skepticism, and this is not limited to Zimbabwe. There are communities in Zimbabwe who think when you volunteer you are after something, it is not politics; if volunteerism becomes politics, that’s politics, not volunteering,” said the U.S. Ambassador.   

According to a recent report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (June 2010) , the year 2009 saw the largest single increase in the number of recorded volunteers in the U.S. over five years with over 63.4 million Americans, an increase of 1.6 million compared to 2008.

“Volunteerism is hardwired in our cultural gene pool and contributes significantly to the wellbeing of our citizens,” said the U.S. ambassador. ZimPAS © 2011.

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