An unprecedented portrait of Jamaica’s voluntary sector


Volunteering in Jamaica is shaped by the vestiges of colonialism. Sociologist Robert Buddan says that volunteerism became popular as people tried to encourage active citizenship and expressed dissatisfaction with the crown colony system, which was worsened by the Great Depression and the crash of the sugar and banana industries. This information is taken from a report by former Cuso International volunteer Brianna Strumm, who was here a year ago and conducted a landmark study on this sector.

The crash in the 1930s ultimately caused rioting and encouraged people to form the first labour unions and voluntary organizations. Some of the first groups to emerge in the 1930s were the Jamaica 4H Clubs, the Council of Voluntary Social Services and the Jamaica Welfare.

Brianna prepared this report (officially called The Contribution of the Council of Voluntary Social Services Members to the Development of Jamaica: Members’ views on their social impact) for the Council of Voluntary Social Services and it was presented to interested parties last week. I say the report is a landmark study since it is the first of its kind; in essence, prior to this, the country had little to no sense of the contributions of volunteers to the nation’s welfare.

Here are some highlights:

Focusing on four sectors, (youth, health, gender and development community and environment), the report surveyed 49 organizations over two months.

Major findings include the revelations that (not surprisingly) the majority of volunteers are female. Out of 49 organization, 1039 members were women and 309 were men at the time of the survey, while the vast majority are aged 25-49. These organizations focus mainly on social inclusion and inequalities.

In terms of beneficiaries, the majority are female (approximately 92,600 versus 61,518); and 36 per cent are youth aged 15-29 (34,236 people).

The most significant challenges indicated by beneficiaries are unemployment, high health care costs, preventative services for women and children and people (mainly women) turning to sex work to support themselves.

Beneficiaries indicated that the types of services they receive are education and training; mentoring; income generation; health care; disability support and religion or spiritual support.

Next steps could include further surveys, development of capacity to do monitoring and evaluation and the development of a plan to build the voluntary sector in line with the nation’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to make Jamaica reach developed country status by 2030.

Ultimately, however, the report recommends increased investment in the sector by government and the private sector and more recognition overall of their contributions. This is a universal issue, I think.

One thought on “An unprecedented portrait of Jamaica’s voluntary sector

  1. Reblogged this on Happily Ever After 30 and commented:
    My good friend and fellow blogger Kate, who is still living in Jamaica and volunteering with Cuso, attended a “Research Day” last week. The event was put on by my former employer, the Council of Voluntary Social Services/United Way of Jamaica and featured the findings of my research study from last fall. I was so pleased to hear that the report was shared and disseminated with stakeholders and community members in Jamaica. I had been wondering what had come of my work and this event was a positive sign that it was, indeed, useful. Read Kate’s blog about the event here.

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