End of Conscription Causes Headache for Charities

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Catherine Cheney, August 31, 2011.

When Germany eliminated conscription this year, an extensive civil service program for conscientious objectors also came to an end. A new program launched to replace it, however, has not found enough volunteers. Now, many service organizations are facing shortages … //

… Commit Themselves to the Common Good:   

Many social service organizations are concerned that the effort will not be successful. The new Federal Voluntary Service is looking to eventually recruit 35,000 volunteers for placements across Germany. Unlike the civil service program, available only young men opting out of the military, the new service is open to women and does not have an age limit.

German Family Minister Kristina Schröder has said she invites others to “commit themselves to the common good” and to ensure that the new service “will be as successful as the civil service over the last 50 years.”

Critics, though, argue that the government cannot expect to change the “culture of volunteerism” in just a few short months. An all-too-quick transition, they say, has led to miscommunication and confusion. And, looking to the Sept. 1 start date for the voluntary year, they worry that the young men who once opted to work in retirement homes, youth programs, and hospitals did so, at least initially, because it was required.

Now that the national volunteer service is, in fact, voluntary, who will sign up?

“This kind of voluntary work has to be established in Germany,” says Claudia Kaminski, a spokesperson for Malteser, which relies on volunteers for its humanitarian aid work. “Our society is used to this mandatory military service, and now its end shows our society that everyone has to care.”

Rather Difficult: … //

… 2: Cause for Confusion, Reasons for Optimism:

Part The ministry has made marketing a priority for the new service in the hope that it will gain the national reputation of its two counterparts, the Voluntary Social Year and Voluntary Ecological Year, which have been around for decades and already have registered a combined total of more than 30,000 volunteers for the upcoming year.

The Voluntary Social and Ecological Years are also federally funded, but organized primarily on a state-by-state basis. They are available to young people ages 16 to 27. Like the new voluntary service, they offer a minimal stipend and state-sponsored health insurance to its recruits.

Laubinger says there were discussions about the possibility of merging the new service with these two existing volunteer programs, but the government ultimately decided to maintain the balance between having national and regional organizations.

Bernd Kuhlmann, who places young people in Ecological Voluntary Year assignments throughout Berlin, has a different take. “Young people know us, the schools know us, and we’re very successful,” he says. “We would have preferred to … make one organization of it.”

Fearful of Losing Funds: … (full long text).

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