In this world of tweets and pings, it feels like we are moving faster and faster, continuously desiring something new that will make us happy, be it an object or an experience. Volunteering is a real world way to get outside our desires, and ourselves, to experience something new and rewarding. It’s a way to truly give, just for the satisfaction of helping others achieve a better life. That is exactly why I am going to Tunisia this week!
It was just one year ago that I signed up to be a volunteer with the International Executive Service Corps (IESC). IESC’s guiding principle is for the creation of prosperity and stability through private enterprise development. They use volunteers all across the globe to support and foster the development of private enterprises and businesses in developing countries. My experience working with small organic producers in Latin America allowed me to acquire a special education about the benefits of organic agriculture and international trade. That work was for profit but also rewarding, as I witnessed continuous social improvements for the growers. You can read more in my blog “Uncovering the Fair Trade mystique”.
It’s a recognized fact that organic agriculture is a strategic benefit to people in developing countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) dedicates an entire long-term project to enhancing food security, rural development, sustainable livelihoods and environmental integrity by building capacities in organic production, processing, certification and marketing. Their publication, Organic Agriculture: African Experiences in Resilience and Sustainability demonstrates that organic management can benefit people, the economy and ecosystems. This can be achieved in Africa, where hunger and degradation stubbornly persist, despite decades of development efforts. Organic agriculture is a strategic path to achieving balance in Africa.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) is another organization that has been the leader in promoting the organic movement in more than 100 countries. Their vision is a worldwide adoption of ecologically, socially and economically sound systems based on the Principles of Organic Agriculture. IFOAM’s “AgriBioMediterraneo” works in Tunisia and aims to promote, develop and disseminate information, knowledge and expertise related to Mediterranean organic agriculture and food production. The goal is to establish the connection between organic agriculture and sustainable development in Mediterranean countries.
Tunisia is the smallest country in Africa located right at the northern most point. In antiquity this country was a thriving civilization and achieved great wealth as a result of its strategic position on the Mediterranean. The ancient metropolis of Carthage was built in the 5th century BC and became the dominant civilization in the area. Today the country suffers from a high rate of unemployment that often leads to social unrest, especially among youth. Organic Agriculture and its products offer great hope for prosperity with an estimated 300,000 hectares of organic farmland that is expected to expand to 500,000 hectares by 2016. The organic sector in Tunisia is growing quickly; there are approximately 2,000 organic food operators in Tunisia as of 2011, and this number has increased exponentially since 2001, when only 10 operators existed. The primary organic export products include olive oil, dates, vegetables and medicinal and aromatic plants. Export values of organic products from Tunisia increased 20% since 2010, reaching $55 million in 2011. The purpose of this buyer’s mission is to help facilitate trade between companies in the organic food sector to bring more products to the U.S. market. Volunteering for this mission will increase the prosperity of organic producers who work to increase sales and create jobs.
I really have no idea what I will encounter as I travel to this foreign land, but I am thrilled to get out of my own preoccupations and volunteer to help organic producers. Some volunteers build houses and schools, dig wells and repair infrastructure around the globe. If you are an organic expert I know there is a job for you. You don’t have to travel across the globe to lend a hand. Whether it’s digging beds for a Farm to School project or volunteering at your local organic farmer’s conference, there is an organic way to give back to our community.
Volunteering increases self-confidence and gives people a healthy boost in self-esteem and life satisfaction. The better you feel about yourself the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Creating goodwill and prosperity by boosting organic production and consumption is something we can all do.
As the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Why Volunteer? It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
Tell me what your volunteer project is this next year! In the meantime, I will tell you more about my experience from Tunisia!