After having had my education in India necessary for my academic career - as well as having imbibed "education in human values" from mothers' milk - I landed for about 43 years ago in a country quite unknown to many of my fellow countrymen. In the 60's very few knew about this land and very few had heard about its capital "Wonderful" Copenhagen, its attractions like Tivoli, the Lego bricks and of course one of its famous legends – the story teller Hans Christian Andersen, well known for his fairy tales which even today enchants children all over the world.
Denmark has a very social democratic background and well known for its great men like the philosopher N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783 – 1872) who gave amongst other things the background for and has been the catalyst for the modern tradition in social organization, social work, free schools, etc. Grundtvig's philosophies and ideas have very much in common with those of our own Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948).
So the idea of voluntary work has had deep roots in Denmark. According to 2010 statistics 43 % of Danes above the age of 16 - i.e. about 1.9 million Danes (population of Denmark: 5.571.000 in 2011) are actively engaged in social work – mainly in the field of Cultural and Sports activities, but also in the social field engagement is quite big. The corresponding figures for 1999 was 25% and for 2004 35%.
What is a social organization and how is it governed? All social organizations have a formal organizational structure, visions and aims, a governing body and salaried employees, a set of rules and regulations that the organization has to follow. Organization should be in the general interest of the public and not instituted to promote personal or individual or family related issues.
All incoming and outgoing money has to be accounted for – just like any other institution. But there is no profit and all the money collected through donations or received from funds or the governmental subsidies (except that which is used for the managerial functions and for maintaining the organization – which of course is a very small part of the total turnover) should be put to benefit the people the organization intends to work for. Except for the managerial staff and necessary suppliers and contractors, all the others who work on different projects the organization takes up do work voluntarily without salary. As the organization by nature is a non-profit organization, money not used up during a fiscal year has to be taken up for projects during the next fiscal year.
The organizations are completely free of governmental or public authorities and not controlled by them either. Of course the organizations have to prepare the annual reports, and file the annual financial statements reviewed by authorized chartered accountants, as is laid down by the Danish rules and regulations for sales and income taxes and the VAT.
The organization can have local subsidiaries, but these subsidiaries have to follow the rules and regulations for the main organization.
Male volunteers slightly outnumber female volunteers - 46% male and 40% female volunteers – as organizations with sports activities attract male section of the population; social welfare activities attract the women. There are many organizations that work with sports. The volunteers are attracted not only to be acknowledged for their work, but also because this gives them a good chance for social interaction.
Many of these volunteers use about 1 to 4 hours per week on voluntary work. Nearly 55% of people in the age group of 40 – 49 are active. In recent years number of volunteers in the age group of 16 – 29 and in the age group of 60 – 69 is on the increase. In fact since 2011, it is made obligatory for children in higher secondary and other technical schools to work for a minimum of 20 hours during their 3-year schooling in a social organization which can help them in their future life as this will be an added asset to their CV. This scheme has been introduced by The Ministry of Social Welfare.
There are nearly 3.000 national organizations, 6.200 charitable funds, 8.000 independent organizations and about 83.000 associations in Denmark, all working on non-profit voluntary work. According to 2004 statistics the turn over from these organizations amounted to 135 billion Danish kroners (approximately 9% of GNP).
Since 1st June 2011 even voluntary work is governed by regulations as laid down in the law under the Danish Working Environment Authority for a safe, secure and healthy environment for the volunteers.
My association with voluntary organizations started in the early 80's. It was the Danish Red cross as well as the Danish Refugee association. We (our family) became members. We took part in going out and collecting funds. In Denmark fund collection is very well organized. They take place once a year on an announced date – normally on a Sunday. It will be announced in the newspapers and many a time on the news media. So we do not take any one by surprise. We recruit people to go out with sealed containers and knock on the doors of each and every house and request them to contribute as much as they would like to.
Slowly we became members of many other organizations. Fx. The Cancer Association, The Danish Church Aid, the National Sclerosis association, the Arthritis association, The Danish Refugee Association, Danish Red Cross, etc. We cannot be active volunteers in all of them and so we have chosen to be active in a few of them.
I have been elected as the Chairman for the Cancer Association for our Municipality (Rudersdal: population: 54.630 pr. 1st. January 2012). We have lot of activities to promote information about cancer and to promote preventive measures and rehabilitation.
I have also been elected Chairman for the Building Group of the Senior Council in our Municipality. We come with our suggestions to building works and the technical aids to help the senior citizens manage as much as possible of their daily routine – fx robot vacuum cleaner, devices to lift people from beds, etc.
With the Danish Refugee association I help the refugee children in 3rd grade to the 10th grade with their school works in Danish, English, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry. I am with those kids for 1½ hours per day 2 days a week.
Through the Danish Red Cross I visit old people who feel lonely in the old people home or in their own houses. I keep company with them for nearly 1½ hours each week. They eagerly look forward to the visits. Of course, they do have interaction with other people residing in their complex.
I take part 4 times a year for fund raising – once for Cancer Association, once for the Church Aid, once for the Refugee Association, and once for Red Cross – 4 Sundays a year. With regard to the Cancer Association I am also involved in planning the activity. Normally we send out 350 voluntary persons in our Municipal area to go out on this sacred cause – to collect money from approximately 25.000 households. Each and every amount is welcome. We expect that many will give their contribution, but even if they do not, we do not despise them, but say "have a good day". Children under the age of 16 have to go along with an adult.
For 8 years I used to go about propagating information about building trade to 8th and 9th class students. This I used to do 4 to 5 times a year and it was for one whole day. This was to give the youngsters an idea as to why they should choose building trade after their 9th class or after completing their higher secondary. Similarly people working in other trades used to come and give information about their trade to those kids.
For three years I was one of the resource persons who could be "lent" just like books from a library to youngsters who did not have the family background to find out what they should aim at. We were about 60 – 70 different trades like lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers, actors, journalists, nurses, etc., who did this work under the Red Cross and one of the public libraries in Copenhagen. The youngsters could get information from many of us, before they could decide on their line of studies.
These activities keep me occupied but they give me satisfaction that my services go to those who are not that resourceful or need a helping hand to come further in their life / endeavors.
Sri Sai Das
Peder Mathiasens Vej 6 B, 3460 Birkeod, Denmark.
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