2.10 Current debates and reforms
A few aspects will be key for the development of volunteering, including school volunteering:
- the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in grassroots actions aimed at helping the needy, providing impetus for initiatives such as Visible Hand (Widzialna Ręka) - local facebook groups providing help to people in quarantine or isolation or The Society of Help (“Wspólnoty pomocy”) - local support networks created around parish organisation. Such initiatives enliven the ideals of volunteering (although, once again, this is more general than just youth volunteering) and can be significant for their development.
- On one hand, pandemic weakened volunteer activism in schools (due to lockdowns and remote learning). On the other hand, cross-generational assistance for the elderly by the youth became visible during the quarantine. A great example of such engagement is the Volunteering Center of the Warsaw Rising’s Museum (Centrum Wolontariatu Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego) which organizes meetings between the youth and the last few surviving soldiers of the Home Army who fought in the Warsaw Rising in 1944.
- a new challenge is posed by the work being put by NGOs, volunteers, and private citizens (including hosting families) into aid for Ukrainian refugees. From one side, the war in Ukraine has caused an unprecedented social engagement, but it should be expected that insufficient support and systemic action might lead to disengagements and “burnout” of social energy. However, it seems that a year after the Russian invasion, this effect is weaker than anticipated. Migration experts, such as prof. Maciej Duszczyk, mention as much: “One of the things that researchers, myself included, were wrong on, was the expectation that the compassion fatigue will occur more quickly, that is before the summer holidays. The support for accepting refugees is decreasing, but less drastically than expected. The latest research shows that it is at 60%, while other polls suggest that 75% of Poles support helping Ukrainian war refugees. Those are very high results, especially in the face of a year of record inflation and other social problems. To add to this aid for Ukrainians! This is not an easy time for Poland, but we are facing it successfully.”
The ongoing engagement of young volunteers into helping refugees at the Polish-Belarus borders needs to be mentioned. Those refugees are present due to Lukashenko’s regimes actions, and Polish border guards engage in push-back tactics against them. Unfortunately, this activism not only is not supported by the Polish government, but also is sometimes combated by it, as was the case with the crisis intervention center started by the Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia, or the 2022 arrest of one of the volunteers and charging her with a felony. In the last case, the Polish Ombudsman (Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich) intervened. The volunteer has been acquitted by the courts. Similarly, the courts have decided that the police intervention against the humanitarian aid station of the Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia was unjustified, and the police’s claim it was a human trafficking station false.