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Bruce Bucknell

Former British Deputy High Commissioner Kolkata

Part of UK in Minsk

17th August 2015

Volunteering is GREAT

It’s been hot this summer. I’ve been getting out of Minsk to have some fresh air and enjoy the countryside. This has included visiting British volunteers working outside Minsk.

It’s been great to meet them, because most are young people who haven’t experienced living in foreign countries before – except on holiday. I enjoyed hearing about their experiences of Belarus. In return, I think they were interested to meet me and find out what diplomats do, and what they are like (answer: just like other human beings).


Most of them work with children in summer camps. Many Belarusians they meet are surprised that they are giving their time for free and have, in fact, paid for their own flights and accommodation in Belarus.

Volunteering may not be widespread in Belarus, but I met a few Belarusian volunteers working alongside the British volunteers, and a couple of young Russian volunteers when I visited the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve.

So why is volunteering great?

While people may enjoy the jobs that provide their livelihood – there is more to life than just earning money. Many people like to give back to their communities, or participate in causes that are important to them – and are happy to do so without being paid. Volunteering can be rewarding and fun – and the work is often very different from the day job!

Some successful people who earn a lot of money earlier in their life, later turn to philanthropy to help others. This has happened in many societies in different epochs, but there was a revival in 18th and 19th century Britain, when many people became rich as a result of industrialisation.

Not many people are rich enough to set up charities and give away their money. But they can give time and labour instead. Many volunteers in Britain are actually retired people – who have a pension but like to keep busy. They meet others, and together make a difference to their communities by sharing their time and services.

Young people who volunteer may do it for other reasons. The young British volunteers I’ve met recently in Belarus have come to gain experience of another country in Europe, and one that, to be honest, is not very well known in Britain. They were keen to see different cultures and places.

People often say they want “the chance to meet new people”. It may be a bit of a cliché, but it is an important skill to be able to meet new people, relate to them and put them at their ease. It doesn’t always come naturally, and sometimes the skill has to be learnt.

Some of the British volunteers I met were frank about the advantages to them personally of gaining wider experience and skills that help build self-confidence. Such self-development could improve their future job prospects. Someone who has lived and worked abroad and experienced different cultures is likely to be more open to changes and challenges in the workplace.

The volunteers included a group of students who were studying Russian at university. For them, meeting Belarusians and speaking Russian, and learning about the Belarusian language were very relevant and useful for their studies. In return, the children in the camp they were working at were able to meet Britons and practise their English.

The power of volunteering was perhaps shown off best in Britain at the time of the 2012 Olympics. The organisers needed lots of people – called Game Makers – to be on hand to do all sorts of things from greeting visitors, checking tickets and acting as stewards at the Olympic venues. Nearly a quarter of a million people applied to help from whom 70,000 were chosen. Many said they volunteered so they could experience the atmosphere of the Games.

Spurred on by the great interest to help at the Games, a group of Game Makers set up an organisation called Join in to continue attracting volunteers to help with local sports groups.

There are many other organisations that support volunteering in Britain. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) acts as an umbrella organisation which represents over 10,000 voluntary organisations and champions the work of the voluntary sector.

It runs the Institute for Volunteering Research which carries out a regular “Community Life survey” which shows that 42% of people questioned reported volunteering formally (ie through a group, club or organisation) at least once in the previous year, and 27% took part in volunteering activity at least once a month.

Volunteering Matters, which used to be known as Community Service Volunteers, is a charity that finds volunteers to work on community projects around Britain. It places around 16,000 volunteers a year in projects across Britain. It was founded in 1962 by Alec and Moira Dickson, who had set up Voluntary Service Overseas five years earlier.

The internet age allows information about volunteering to be shared far more easily now. There is a national database do-it.org which tries to “bring people together to help solve society’s problems through voluntary and civic action”. The site reckons that there are over a million volunteer places available.

I don’t know if I’ve persuaded Belarusian readers about the advantages of volunteering or not. But I’m delighted to have young Britons come to Belarus to undertake voluntary work and mix with young Belarusians. They can be ambassadors for their country and meet far more people than I can.

I very much hope that more young Britons will follow their example, and come and see Belarus for themselves. They will be given a friendly welcome.

5 comments on “Volunteering is GREAT

  1. Lera, Liza and Julia of Lida School no 9: I’m sorry for the delay in posting your comments.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. I’ve met volunteers in Belarus, and while it may not yet be widespread, you can help by volunteering yourselves. Good luck!

  2. Unfortunately, this kind of pastime isn’t widespread in Belarus,but I’m sure there are many kind-hearted people that are redy to lend a helping hand, and sometimes they don’t know how to do it. I’m absolutely sure everyone who has read this article thinks about joining the volunteers.

  3. We’ve discussed this arcticle with our teacher at school.The text I have just read impressed me very much.The text is about volunteering in Great Britain.Many British people think that volunteering is great because there is more to life just earning money.And it’s right.I fully agree with this opinion. There are many volunteers in Britain. They work on community projects aroun Britain.They help other people. Volunteering gives many advantages to people. They gain wider experience and skills that help build self-confidence. When they work abroad they experience different cultures and traditions.I got to know that many British volunteers undertake voluntary work in Belarus.It’s a good opportunity for our Belarusians teenagers to meet young British friends and practise English. As for me I would be very happy to live in such a camp, to communicate with young Britons and help them and, of course, brush up my English.

    1. As for me I would be glad to be a volunteer somewhere in Britain, to work for any organisations and learn British traditions and customs,visit many places and of course practise my English. In conclusion,I’d like to say that volunteering is great and I would like to see many volunteers in my native country.

  4. Volunteering between countries is a wonderful opportunity for young people to understand each other’s culture and way of life and to give something back to humanity.
    However it’s a pity that our country cannot be more understanding about issuing visas to young people over eighteen from Belsrus.

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About Bruce Bucknell

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016. Bruce grew up on a…

Bruce was the British Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata from 2016 to 2019. Previously he was Ambassador in Minsk from July 2012 to January 2016.

Bruce grew up on a farm in southern England and enjoys walking in the countryside and visiting wild places.

He studied modern history at Durham University, and takes a keen interest in the history of the places he visits.

Bruce used to play cricket when he could see the ball. Now he enjoys watching cricket and many other sports in his spare time.

He has had a varied career in the Foreign Office. Between his postings to Amman (1988-91), Milan (1995-9) and Madrid (2003-7), he has spent much of his career in London mostly dealing with Europe and Africa.

He is married with two grown up sons.