Helping South Korea to create new opportunities for people with disabilities

At the end of October we had an amazing meeting with a delegation from the Seoul Welfare Foundation. They are travelling around Europe to collect information and share experiences with other organisations on how to improve access to volunteering for people with disabilities, as well as helping them to make a bigger contribution to their local communities.

We started the meeting with an introduction to TimeBank and an overview of our volunteer mentoring projects and the beneficiary groups we support. Specific attention was paid to the lessons we have learnt  and, especially, the transferable elements of our model. The delegation from Seoul was particularly interested in how involving more people with disabilities in volunteering could also help build stronger communities.

We gained the impression that in South Korea there still are big obstacles for disabled people to find employment or even meaningful volunteering. We were keen to emphasise that for us the question was not “if” they could make a valuable contribution to society but “how”. We told them about our mentoring programme The Switch and how we worked with a young person who suffered such severe anxiety that she was unable to leave her bedroom. After 12 months of mentoring, she is now working as a teaching assistant. Also, how one of the volunteers on our English teaching project Talking Together  has MS, but has enjoyed the experience of language training so much that they have decided to train as a teacher and continue working in this sector.

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These example helped us to show  our guests how volunteers and volunteering can help a variety of people to gain new skills, confidence, motivation and support to break down the barriers that keep them from fully developing their potential. I would not argue that volunteering is the solution to all problems, but it can definitely help in many different situations it if is properly managed and supported.

Volunteering also breaks down social barriers. When people from different communities meet, they find they are not so different after all. This is the third time in the last few months that TimeBank has been contacted by organisations from overseas who want to learn from our projects and experiences. We feel very proud and honoured that our model of tackling complex social issues is gaining such an international reputation.  This is further recognition of the extremely high quality and impactful interventions that TimeBank staff deliver. Well done to all of them!