Many expats and visitors of Zagreb are looking for volunteering opportunities during their stay. It may not be easy to see all the possibilities specially when you have the language barrier and trying to volunteer and connect in English.
We had a visit to the Volunteers’ Centre Zagreb (VCZ, www.vcz.hr) which is a civil society organisation dedicated to development and promotion of volunteering since 1996.
We were hoping to discover more about the available volunteering options, the laws that organizes this service and in particular how can an expat volunteer. And here is what we found out.
VCZ is coordinating and organizing short-term and long-term volunteer projects in the City of Zagreb, organizing international volunteer work camps of diverse thematic in various parts of Croatia and coordinating short term and long term international exchange of volunteers. With an online volunteering database which counts over 600 different organisations and around 15.300 interested in volunteering. In the past few years they successfully connected more than 2.000 volunteers with organizers.
The available opportunities are in the following areas: working with children, youth, elderly, homeless and people with disabilities, environment and animal protection, art, culture and history, education, sports, human rights, peace building and democracy, etc. It’s important to emphasize that these are just some of the possibilities where volunteers can get involved.
On a daily basis VCZ provides counseling and information on volunteering through various communication channels every working day from 09:00 to 17:00, including a free volunteer telephone at 0800 400 005 from 11:00 to 15:00. Information and counseling is done live, in the office of VCZ, by phone, e-mail and through VCZ internet portal and online volunteer base.
As a foreigner becoming a volunteer does not depend on age, gender, nationality, grades in school nor the financial resources. Foreign volunteers have a possibility to choose in which kind of voluntary work they want to be involved – projects concerning volunteering in local communities in Zagreb, or the ones designed more for foreigners.
If a foreigner is living in Zagreb and is interested in volunteering locally, the first step is to find an organization where they would like to volunteer, whose activities correspond to the volunteers’ interests. VCZ can here help with providing contacts of volunteer organizers from their database, but after that it is up to the volunteer to get in touch with them personally and arrange all the details about the volunteers’ engagement. Note that the Law of Volunteering states that all foreign – volunteers must sign a contract on volunteering with their organizer.
Other possibility is to volunteer on certain predefined voluntary projects intended precisely for foreigners. VCZ, among its activities, has a program of international exchanges, which includes providing an opportunity for foreign volunteers to participate in short-term and long-term international programs.
Short-term volunteering is carried out through international volunteer workcamps that take place throughout the year, but mostly during the summer months and last for 2-4 weeks. International volunteer workcamps are a unique form of volunteering that offers positive and practical ways of meeting people from different countries and different cultures to live and work together on projects that contribute to the communities in which they are held. The general objectives of all camps are building peace, solidarity, unity, intercultural, break down prejudices and stereotypes, promotion of tolerance and understanding among people. VCZ is organizing workcamps in Croatia, usually an average of 7 to 8 different workcamps each year.
Long-term volunteering, on the other hand, implies volunteering on projects lasting from 2 to 12 months. One of programs available to foreigners aged between 17 and 30 is European Voluntary Service (EVS), part of Erasmus +, and funded by European Commission.
EVS allows volunteers to give their contribution to the world and thereby gain new knowledge and skills. In addition, it gives them an opportunity to express their personality through unpaid voluntary work in Croatia.
Knowledge of Croatian language can be a barrier but it doesn’t need to be. It can happen that while volunteering on local projects and with certain categories of beneficiaries one would need to know the language. But if a volunteer is involved on a voluntary project designed specifically for foreigners, there should be no language barriers, as in this cases, volunteer position is adjusted for non-Croatian speaker.
Comes to the mind an important aspect of volunteering which is “Money”. Do you get paid for volunteering or it is simply a 100% free service?
Well, Croatian Law on Volunteering defines volunteering as a voluntary personal investment of time, effort, knowledge and skills to perform services or activities for the benefit of another person or for the common good, without the existence of conditions for payment of monetary compensation or other pecuniary benefit.
But, on the other hand, standard of good volunteer program requires that, when volunteers are giving of their time, they are not exposed to any additional costs. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to compensate volunteers’ expenses incurred in the course of volunteering. This expenses can refer to: costs of travel, accommodation and meals incurred in connection with volunteering, costs of education outside the school system needed for volunteering, allowance for travels related with volunteers’ work, the cost of obtaining documents or payment of fees necessary for volunteering, and other costs incurred in connection with the execution and performance of voluntary activities.
There are some exceptions when one is volunteering, and one of the examples is already mentioned – European Voluntary Service, where volunteers are covered with essential life expenses: food, accommodation, health insurance and an allowance, which depends on the country of volunteering. Volunteers are also provided with the course of local language and participation in a training related with their involvement in the Service.
This is because the program itself supports and enables young people to dedicate completely to the projects they are participating in, and that they focus on themselves entirely, their self-learning and improving their competences and skills.
We hope this this information was useful and covered some of the questions you had in mind concerning volunteering as a foreigner or expat. If you have any experiences in this field you would like to share with us, please feel free to send us to firstname.lastname@example.org