International Volunteer Day: 5 years of dancing to the rhythm of milONGa international
By Janeth Cárdenas & the Milonga team
On the International Volunteer Day, in which we recognize the work, time and skills donated by volunteers around the world, we also want to remember all the people who have collaborated in the birth and development of the international volunteering project milONGa that, this year, completes 5 years.
A year of celebrations for this international, intercultural and fraternal volunteering project is coming to an end.
When in 2015 some people started thinking about the idea of an initiative that would connect on the one hand the desire to do something and on the other hand the needs of many people in the world, they certainly did not imagine that they would give impulse to the birth of milONGa (A Thousand Non-Governmental Organizations in Action), a different kind of international volunteering project.
Driven by the desire expressed by young people to “put their hands in the dough” and aware of the needs and difficulties that non-profit organizations faced daily to address the problems of their communities, they developed the idea of an international volunteering project whose driving force was fraternity in action.
Thus, in 2016 the first male and female volunteers left for Bolivia and Brazil, and after them more than 200 young people have followed in their footsteps, crossing borders to provide their time, talents, professionalism and skills to serve others, each contributing their own “drop in the ocean” to transform the inequalities and inequities experienced by many communities around the world.
But what is the point of promoting yet another volunteering project, when there are already so many others? Virginia Osorio and Marco Provenzale, from the project’s coordination team, say that milONGa was an opportunity to create a network of different actors and generate a different system of international cooperation, through the category of fraternity applied in practice, in which service is strengthened by interculturality and training in global and local citizenship, so as to weave ties not only from north to south, but also from south to north and in every direction. This is precisely why the program is called “milonga,” after a dance that represents the Latin American intercultural identity, has African roots, and plays with the acronym NGO. Mille ONG in Azione (A Thousand NGOs in Action).
In addition to the 200 young people who have volunteered in person, there are more than 100 who, due to the pandemic and thanks to coordination with different actors, have carried out a virtual intercultural volunteer experience. This new modality has allowed those who for various reasons cannot go to another country to still serve organizations and communities from home. The virtual dimension has allowed them to contribute to activities such as communication, fundraising, educational support, exam preparation, language workshops… and some of the volunteers who at first had an exchange with the communities only in virtual mode are now preparing to carry out their intercultural volunteering in person.
In 2021 milONGa celebrated 5 years since those first experiences that gave rise to this project that, today, involves not only young people, but also civil society organizations, communities, the little towns of the Focolare Movement, four regional administrative offices, an international work team and an infinite number of collaborators who have allowed the program to grow, consolidate and improve in quality.
In its 5 years of history, milONGa has witnessed the way in which this experience of international, intercultural and fraternal volunteering has marked the lives of many young people: the experience led them to reflect on the role that each one of them plays as a citizen of the world, stimulating them to take action even at a local level, because, as many would agree, even in their countries of origin there are people who suffer, and there too there is a need to act, just as Antonella, an Argentinean volunteer who has done virtual volunteering in Brazil and is now preparing to go there in person, tells us: “Before, I… maybe I had never volunteered, I didn’t participate much, but now I feel like if I don’t dedicate myself to something, I feel like I’m empty, and I think that’s what the volunteer experience has imparted to me.” Or Wilmar, a Brazilian volunteer who has been in Bolivia: “I lived very intense, very strong experiences, not only on a personal level but also on a professional level, now I understand better what needs to be done to develop the ideas I have for my work; here in Brazil I work for social projects…”
Milonga celebrates its first 5 years, but we certainly hope that there will be many more, and that many more will join us following the rhythm of this international dance.