SAT 11 - 7 - 2020
Jul 24, 2019
The Daily Star
Toward a culture of volunteering
The complexity of our developmental and national problems has opened the room for plenty of non-state and nontraditional actors to play a considerable role in solving social problems. In this sense, the notion of volunteering is evolving positively.
Volunteering has existed ever since the formulation of society in all its forms, from tribal to city and other structures. Personal initiation is a key feature of human instinct. People usually care about themselves and their communities, as they consider that they have the right and duty to personal initiative.
Originally, the core of volunteering was linked to religious practices and military and humanitarian aid. Volunteering behavior is influenced through history by the dynamics of social relations and groups. Nowadays, it has expanded to all developmental fields.
Volunteering can be done in various forms and purposes. In Lebanon, with a vibrant civil society and a large number of civil society organizations, volunteerism has been evolving through various phases. It used to be linked to charitable organizations, and the concept developed with the evolution of the organizations’ work from charity to development.
Volunteering has been institutionalized in schools through a ministerial decree. Each public and private high school must engage students in the community service program through the three years of secondary education. Students are supposed to conduct 60 volunteering hours without any restrictions on topics or groups. Templates are available online on the Center for Educational Research and Development’s website to guide students in designing and implementing their volunteering activities, and a committee in the Education Ministry receives and evaluates the activities. But there is no specialized department that puts a national system for promoting volunteering in schools or assesses the volunteering hours within a set of indicators.
On another level, the Parliament recently enacted a law to replace penalties of imprisonment for some specified minor crimes that don’t exceed one year, with social work in some social service organizations. This is a huge step in the legislation toward achieving juvenile justice. Youth in prisons can be transformed into criminals and terrorists when mixed with other criminals.
In addition, prison conditions have deteriorated to the extent that they are not capable of carrying out their rehabilitation role. When youth, especially those under 18, are separated to serve their punishment in a different way and place, we will be intervening in direct rehabilitation and tackling a major social problem in Lebanon.
However, juvenile justice also requires a system with a governance structure and process of rehabilitation and capacity-building by a group of experts. Such process shall also be centralized and linked to the Interior, Education and Health ministries. Such systems have existed worldwide for many years, and some states have reached the level of having youth courts that are based on peer-to-peer judgment in addressing the behavior of youth.
Peer pressure in youth courts is used positively in the rehabilitation of the accused. Moreover, young people have opportunities to volunteer in youth courts as jurors, judges, prosecutors, defenders, clerks and bailiffs. In this way, volunteers learn the laws, impact of crimes on the society, and procedures of prosecution all through the process.
Volunteering can have various models such as in the education system, non-governmental organizations and courts, to promote civic engagement and citizenship.
However, there must be systems to institutionalize volunteering as a culture in a society that builds the capacities of its citizens and enhances their citizenship and trust in the state.
We can benefit from various models and methodologies all over the world and contextualize according to our society and needs. In this way, investing in volunteering can be a milestone in causing any transformation in the state - a state in which every citizen has the power to influence the future of society.
Hiba Huneini is manager of the youth and civic engagement program at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 24, 2019, on page 3.
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