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Many willing helpers

 Surprise (Switzerland) 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 05/2010) Voluntary work has become a trend and those lending their time for good causes are in danger of being exploited. Swiss street paper Surprise takes a closer look. (English summary) (985 words) - By Stefan Michel

On his way home, computer scientist René von Dach turns into a bike trial coach.  He stands in a hall in Zurich-Oerlikon in cycling clothes, which is cluttered with an obstacle course made of pallets, tractor tyres and giant spools of cable. Young men and two women balance on their bikes from element to element. The youthful-looking 36-year-old's competitive career was a long time ago. For several years he has been president of Bike Trial Club Zurich, or more precisely trainer, organiser, webmaster, and much more. It was only after prolonged mental arithmetic that he can estimate the time spent in his office; 250 hours per year. He doesn't seem to regret it. On the other hand, he is dissatisfied with the coaching situation, "We need more people who can run a structured workout, that is why we now offer a compensation of 30 francs per-led training. Yet, no one has signed up. "

Joe Frey has no sporting background, but he does have a background as an engineer and business advisor.  At the age of 70, the independent advertiser sold his business.  For two years he has been advising people with dementia, people with debt, alcoholics and others who need help with business and official matters.  As a private counsel, he negotiates on behalf of his clients with health insurance companies, banks, debt collection agencies, or the Spitex. "If a client is happy, this is the greatest satisfaction and I find it interesting. It is a world I did not know before." The simplest of his current four clients he visits every two weeks, the most complicated takes five to six hours per week. "Sometimes I wake up at night and start trying to come up with a solution for a client. Fortunately for me it's no problem, it's just interesting work." Does he expect gratitude from his clients? "No," he replies without hesitation.

Helping people instead of ripping them off

Along with Joe and René, more than half of Swiss residents do some voluntary work alongside their day jobs.  Men are in the majority when it comes to club activities, whereas women dominate informal neighbourhood support, as well as organisations such as those committed supporting the elderly, looking after children, promoting culture, sport and cohabitation in the neighbourhood. Together, they work for more than 700 million hours per year voluntarily, as can be estimated from the Swiss Labour Force Survey and the Volunteer Monitor Extrapolate Switzerland. This represents about 350,000 full-time positions.

A spontaneous survey by a dozen organisations supporting volunteers doesn't result in a clear picture.  Some complain that it has become a lot more difficult in the last few years to recruit volunteers.  Others think that voluntary work has become a trend.  Elsbeth Fischer-Roth from Benevol Switzerland, the voluntary umbrella organisation, determines two opposing movements. "The pressure from the workplace results in a recession for those who fear for their job or have already lost one, doesn't commit themselves to voluntary work.  On the other hand, more people are signing up even if they have a good job who now want to give them sign of the rip off mentality."

Volunteers as a free work force

It is obvious that voluntary work is being institutionalised.  Professional broker's offices such as Benevol office or public authorities such as District of Zurich's social department coordinate between the volunteers and those who require support.  People often profit who were already looked after by an institution, in the old people's home, in the crèche, nursing home or care home.

Voluntary work in public assignments is run by the Zurich asylum organisation (AOZ) and their programme, TransFair.  Around 90 people accompany people seeking asylum and accepted refugees in their integration process in Switzerland.  They explain the most important written and unwritten laws to them, accompany them to the authorities, practise German with them and support them with their integration into the neighbourhood.  One to two hours work a week for 200 Francs in expenses per year.


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Originally published by Surprise. ©

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