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Based on the Cyprus report on volunteering across Europe, voluntary activities in Cyprus until the 19th century were rooted in initiatives of philanthropy, mostly by providing relief to the ones in need and by making altruistic expressions of kindness, love and “helping one another” especially in periods of hardship, destitution and deprivation. At that time, philanthropy and charity were acts exercised by the individual, the State and the Church.
In the 20th century, the British administration gives municipalities the responsibility to provide relief to the poor and the destitute and to run Relief Committees in order to allocate cash allowances. Voluntary activity is furthermore initiated to collect funds for the support of school infrastructures and to establish charity associations. Also, during that time, an important social legislation is enacted (i.e. the Charities Law, based on the Charity Law of England and Wales and the Clubs (Registration) Law of 1930) and other major improvements are recorded towards the establishment and development of voluntary initiatives and organisations to address various needs.
The activity of organisations expanded including, amongst others, the mental health domain, the children with physical disabilities, the disabled, special education schools, family planning, prevention of crime and treatment of offenders, elderly care, general social and health services, etc. In 1963, the Community Welfare Council of the Nicosia district was established, with the task to act as a coordinating volunteer body. In 1968, the introduction of a Grants-in-Aid Scheme for voluntary organisations operated by the Department of Social Welfare enables the expansion or the introduction of programmes run by voluntary organisations. During these years, there was an official acknowledgement that the engagement of people as volunteers can bring not only an added value to community development, but can effectively address the needs of the communities, support social welfare, represent the interests of vulnerable groups and bring change in governmental policies.
Currently, Cyprus experiences a further expansion of programmes and activities run by volunteer-involving organisations, in more policy fields and ways of engagement. The activities of organisations cover the fields of social inclusion and welfare, environment, culture, human-aid, peace building, human rights, equal opportunities, development, sports, education, community development, empowerment of the social capital, the UN Millennium Development Goals, etc. The government of Cyprus, acknowledging the importance of volunteering, has enacted the Office of the Commissioner for Volunteerism and Non-Governmental Organizations. The youth volunteering emerges as an essential aspect in the lives of young people and is promoted by the public sector in schools, and by NGOs in extra-curriculum time.
There is no national definition for volunteering. However, the Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities of the Volunteer, initiated by the Cyprus Commissioner and approved by the Council of Ministers includes two relevant definitions:
- The definition of “voluntary activity”: “A voluntary activity is carried out by volunteers. The activity is done for a non-profit purpose aiming at improving the society and not replacing paid/salaried staff. The voluntary activity can be carried out by voluntary organizations or on the initiative of a volunteer.”
- A second definition found in the Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities of the Volunteer is the one of the “volunteer”: Volunteer is a citizen who, having free will, carries out activities for the benefit of the society. These activities are conducted without a motive of making profit/on a non-profit-making basis, contribute to the personal development of the volunteer, who devotes his/her time and energy to the general good without financial reward/remuneration.