Active aging and senior volunteer exchanges in Europe

ICV Volunteer interpreters at the European Parliament
ICV Volunteer interpreters at the European Parliament
Article by V. Krebs
20 November 2009

It all started in 2007: SPES -- Centro di Sevizio per il Volontariato del Lazio -- in collaboration with CEV -- the European Volunteer Center -- set up a new volunteer program, called "think future, volunteer together", to facilitate senior volunteer exchanges. Three years later, volunteers and participating organizations met, together with representatives from national and local authorities, European networks of volunteer organizations, trade unions and European institutions, at the European Parliament to present the results of the project and share perspectives about possible future initiatives. Interpreters from ICVolunteers helped facilitate communication among speakers from Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

The Conference was opened by Marian Harkin, Member of the European Parliament. She pointed out how important volunteerism was for European countries. Indeed, the European population is aging. “Many retirees are eager to remain active, feel useful and get involved in meaningful projects and initiatives”, pointed out Renzo Razzano, SPES President and initiator of the project. Krzysztof Iszkowski from the Directorate General of Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunity of European Commission talked about challenges and opportunities of aging European societies. Markus Held, CEV Director presented some facts and figures about senior volunteering in Europe. By 2060, life expectancy is expected to rise by eight years. It is expected that the share of people aged 65 and over is going to increase from 17% in 2008 (60 million people) to 30% in 2060 (150 million).

During two years, 100 senior volunteers from Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania participated in volunteer exchanges. Some of them came to Brussels to share their experience at the European Parliament. Among the topics discussed were issues linked to the preparation of the exchanges and the importance of building partnerships through the project. 100 volunteers went from one country to another, but actually many more people were involved in the project, connecting with other volunteers, helping them to get around, and also becoming friends. Ramona Dragomir from Pro Volbis, the National Volunteer Center of Romania talked about social, linguistic and cultural barriers. She underlined how important it is to have a good facilitator in order to make sure that communication is established. Senior volunteers shared their own stories about how they personally lived this experience and what they got from it.

Participants from the various countries had prepared an exhibition with information about their countries, an opportunity to taste typical pastry brought from home!

The afternoon session focused on the way forward and policy recommendations to be made at the different decision-making levels on volunteering and active aging. Among the speakers were Elena Kolmanova from Unity of Seniors of Slovakia, Alfredo Re from the Municipality of Rome, Italy, Greet van Gool from the cabinet of the Belgian Secretary of State for Social Affairs, Karl Erik Olsson, from the European Older People’s Platform (AGE) and Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament.

ICV Volunteer Interpreters traveled from various European countries to simultaneously interpret from and to English, Romanian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Slovakian and Italian. “It was a great experience to participate in this project”, said Kati from Romania. Sabrina, one of the Italian interpreters added: “It’s too bad that there are not more opportunities for Italian interpretation”. For many of the interpreters it was the first time that they got the opportunity to interpret at the European Parliament.

The day ended with a reception, exchanges and a lot of food for thought for all participants.

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