We spoke with Edmérçio Ricardo about the PFIF volunteer representation. Edmérçio completed his volunteer service at Welthaus Bielefeld in 2017-18 as a South-North volunteer and has been working since then in health care and care for the elderly in Germany. He has been working in the Political representation group of volunteers in international volunteering services (PFIF) since the start of 2022 and was elected to the Programme Steering Committee (PSC).
PFIF - the polictial representation group of weltwärts volunteers
When and why was the political representation group of volunteers founded?
Edmérçio Ricardo: PFIF was founded in 2014. The aim of the representation group is to include the view of former volunteers at the policy programme level in the PSC.
The implementing association of PFIF, grenzenlos - Vereinigung internationaler Freiwilliger e.V., was founded in 1999. It advocates for former international volunteers across implementing organisations and programmes. Grenzenlos also organises the “And Now” Conference. All former volunteers can exchange ideas about further commitment after returning from their volunteer service there.
How does PFIF work? What range of offers/activities do you provide?
Edmérçio Ricardo: We alumni meet weekly online and exchange ideas on all sorts of topics. We help prepare the PSC meetings as well as the “And Now” conference, develop new ideas, work in work groups on sustainability or mental health and lots more. These meetings are open to all former volunteers, and we are always happy to hear from more committed people who would like to volunteer and help shape the programme.
It is especially exciting when we can participate (sometimes in person, sometimes online) in return seminars to learn from the experiences of volunteers and motivate new volunteers to join PFIF.
Two elected representatives of former volunteers serve on the PSC, where they can represent the volunteer perspective at the policy level for two years at a time.
How many volunteers are members of PFIF? How many former South-North volunteers are involved? Do members pay fees?
Edmérçio Ricardo: We currently have 24 active members of PFIF, of which at least three are former South-North volunteers. All are volunteers and are quite motivated. We are part of the “grenzenlos” association. You can become a member there for 30 Euros a year. However, it is also possible to get involved without being a member of the association.
How do you recruit new members for the advocacy group?
Edmérçio Ricardo: All former volunteers are always welcome to join us. We advertise PFIF through our Instagram channel and Facebook. And of course, we would like to recruit new members at the seminars for returning volunteers. We would also like to have more former South-North volunteers – but we realise this is very difficult. When they return to their home countries, they have many other problems they need to solve first and usually don’t have the time or the opportunity to remain involved in Germany.
What would you like to achieve over the next two years with the representation group?
Edmérçio Ricardo: First, we would like to have more South-North volunteers represented in our group; but we are aware of the challenges.
Our goal is to strengthen the perspectives after returning to the volunteers’ home countries and to better support the volunteers.
The current intensive focus on the mental health of volunteers during and after their service is very important to us and should receive even more attention at the programme level.
What was your personal highlight at PFIF?
Edmérçio Ricardo: When I did my service as a South-North volunteer in Germany, I was not familiar with the structures of the weltwärts programme. Through my involvement with PFIF, I now understand them far better. I think it is great that the weltwärts joint operation involves all stakeholders and makes democratic decisions about the programme. At the same time, I would like to see more work done equitably and, for example, recognition of the fact that the priorities and needs of the Global South with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are different from those in Germany.
I also think our new digital network for former volunteers is great. The ww-N is open to all former volunteers, but they have to register here first. There the PFIF work groups are introduced, online meetings are arranged, the programme is described, and news is reported.