Volunteering, to “share a little of what is given to us”

This is a simple cabin door. A careful structure, anchored to the concrete of the car park at Vallorbe station. The railroads on one side, the village and forest on the other. To leave or stay… a symbol. Since 2 pm, and this afternoon, the blinds go up and the door of a weary white opens to greet asylum seekers assigned to the nearby federal center. Here, coffee, tea, biscuits and board games are available for two and a half hours so you don’t have to worry.

That day, Marie-Thérèse Guanter prepared the room. This energetic former pharmacist recently joined the Aravoh association, which works with migrants and notably operates in this area called Vallorbe Café. He quickly joined Suzanne Valet, who had been enrolled for fifteen years.

Their common point? Like three -quarters of the active volunteers at the reception, they have retired. “I have a lot to take care of, and besides, I’m a more lonely person,” Marie-Thérèse explains, but I often have to deal with my work with people from immigrants and I want to help them. Here, we’re not always there. communicates well, but we carry a bit of human warmth.

Cultivate the link

Every five years, the Swiss Public Utility Company (SSUP) publishes a report entitled “Swiss Observatory of Volunteering”. The latest, released in 2020, establishes that more than half of people of retirement age are active volunteers. “Most formal volunteering* is done in sports associations, which explains why men volunteer more formally than women. Women are more active in social and cultural organizations. But often, physical activity decreases in retirement, which means that these people turn to the social sphere, ”explained Lukas Niederberger, director of SSUP.

Also read: Volunteers, ordinary heroes

And among the motivations driven by adults, there is the maintenance of social contacts, the latter of which is often reduced to the cessation of a professional activity. Like the center in their eyes: the desire to “give back” to society is what we receive, as Suzanne Valet points out, with shining eyes. “Since childhood, I consider myself very lucky. Now, I want to give back, share this little bit of happiness, while knowing that volunteering is beneficial for me.

The Suitcase Waltz

Later, in Vallorbe, it was the turn of another couple to enter the scene: Elsbeth Willi and Jocelyne Jeanmonod, also retired. The first sets up his boxes of (homemade) biscuits on the lacquered red kitchen counter, while the second fills the thermos with boiling water.

“Hello Hello.” Three young people from Afghanistan slipped on a sofa while in the back of the room, a small library the joy of a forty-year-old sitting at a table holding a dictionary. He finally got up and challenged Jocelyne: “I have to … luggage? suitcase? “She’s from Iran and needs to be moved to another canton. Elsbeth takes a bunch of keys, and whispers,” I hope there’s more left. “Because the suitcases are flowing like hot cake … Finally , a piece of turquoise luggage is the applicant’s pleasure. Here, we seldom ask first names: the faces we see are rare again. “You learn even in the present moment”, Elsbeth summarizes.

In addition to luggage, clothing is highly sought after. Volunteers collect them and sometimes wash them at home. One hell of a job. The social sciences aptly call it: free labor. However, Lukas Niederberger warns against the calculation that wants to count volunteer hours to translate them into savings for the State.

“The condition for this addition is that if we have the money, we will pay for this work. But if you visit an old gentleman in an EMS, you will do it for free. If the State (or this gentleman) has to pay 55 francs per hour, he probably won’t ask for this service.From an economic point of view, volunteering is therefore a luxury.And of course, we come to a philosophical and political question: why should a banker be paid of 1 million francs a year when visits to an EMS are not paid for? Both works make sense, perhaps even one more than the other. “

The pandemic is over

There is so much sense that some don’t count their hours. Yvette Fishman is 80 years old and has been president of Aravoh for seven years. He has been a member since he retired at age 60. A real rocket, not lacking in ideas. However, he will leave his post this year… “You need to leave room for young people”, he slipped, laughing. Because Aravoh is still getting younger: new volunteers arrive while others retreat in the midst of the pandemic. “A dozen stopped, and it was, for the most part, columns. Some came twice a week. But hey, there’s fear and sometimes health problems,” the president summarized.

In fact, despite the outpouring of solidarity, some charities have found themselves cut off from their basic “little hands”. If 33.5% of the population aged 65 and over engaged in voluntary activity in 2016-the same as the 45-64 age group-this proportion dropped to 28% in 2020.

Sensitize new recruits

“The concept of old age in the context of the pandemic is pretty … old-fashioned. There’s no difference between young retirees and vulnerable older people,” sighs Lukas Niederberger. According to him, there is now a big challenge: conversion in the generation that is now retired and perhaps not so much grown up with the idea – shared within the Churches – of helping others volunteer. “Communities, organizations and companies need to act. It is also a generation where some members have no children. They have the time, the network, the resources. It is a “client” for travel agencies. Everyone wants to win. “

Also read: Volunteering, this activity we always choose

This is another type of travel that volunteers and their beneficiaries experience in Vallorbe. In the room, the conversations dried up. Jocelyne and Elsbeth, smiling, observe a small group of applicants engaging in a game of dominoes. Only the sound of coins falling on the wood of the table remains. At the door, the man with the dictionary let his cigarette burn, looking out into space. He turned, “goodbye!”, Grabbed his blue suitcase and disappeared.

* participation in an association or organization


The 8th colloquium of the Swiss Society of Public Utilities (SSUP) will have the theme “Volunteering of the 65s and over” and will be held on May 13 at the Kursaal in Bern.

On our blogs: Volunteering is a pillar of democracy, let’s change it again!

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