Civic participation involves many voluntary activities
Civic participation and involvement with the NGOs
Civic participation involves a wide range of formal and informal activities. These activities can include such things as voting, volunteering, and community gardening, for example. Civic activities can be performed by individuals or groups and provide a direct benefit to the community. These activities can also have secondary benefits, such as improving the health of its participants. Civic engagement has been linked to promoting a better mental and physical well-being. In addition, people who join in these activities are more likely to have a strong sense of community and to view community health as a shared value.
Studies have shown a positive relationship between mental well-being and civic engagement. For example, anxiety and distress are lower among the youth who are engaged in volunteering, as well as lowering the probability that they will become involved in anti-social behaviour. Trauma is a common experience that refugees and asylum seekers share. Many will have witnessed wars, violent incidents, or air strikes, for example, and have been threatened or felt unsafe. Even without these factors, leaving your home and adapting to a new society and culture can cause stress related issues. Trauma needs long-term support before it can begin to heal. Participating in the community could potentially help us to do so, along with other benefits including integration into new society. Becoming a volunteer and participating in collective activities, can provide hope, feelings of optimism, confidence, increased self-esteem, and a sense of meaning. Knowing that you are contributing time and effort to help the community will be psychologically rewarding. A sense of “doing good” can create an attachment and identifying with the community. Joining in group activities and working towards a common goal can increase the connection between individuals in the community and satisfy the human need to belong. It may also increase one’s faith in humanity – action towards a shared goal can help a person see “the best in others” as opposed to working for their own gain. Participating in selfless activities, such as volunteering, can lower down stress hormones and can boost the immune system too.
People who participate in social activities such as civic engagement or meeting friends and colleagues generally have a larger social network. Building such a network is important as it has many benefits, including helping people with issues like isolation and integration. Environmental volunteering is a fantastic way to help improve physical fitness compared to other types of volunteering, as it usually involves outdoor activities. Environmental activities can include field surveys, tree planting, community gardens and so on. Spending time outdoors has been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate and improve mental health (which links back to psychological benefits of volunteering). Physical exercise, such as being involved in environmental activities, releases endorphins (happy hormones) which help to boost your mood. Environmental volunteering can have more health benefits in general compared to volunteering in other areas.
Image 2. Running a marathon for a good cause. Physical benefits, sense of accomplishment and contribution to a good cause. Source: iStock
Behavioural health benefits
Research has shown that people who have quit smoking are more likely to get back to the habit if they don’t participate in group activities. This highlights the importance of social networks in encouraging health benefits. As well as volunteering, other examples of building new social networks might include joining a local place of worship such as a mosque, church or a synagogue, or an English class or any other non-formal education course. Cultural activities are beneficial too, such as visiting museums and art galleries. Social participation not only can help people to stay away from bad habits like smoking, but also are an effective way of integrating into a new society.
Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers (MRAs) and volunteering
Volunteering is one way for immigrants to integrate, however the rates at which immigrants volunteer remains low compared to native-born persons. Volunteering can not only help integration into the community but also can introduce us to the culture of the country we have chosen to live in. Due to emotional, social, and economic hardship, it may take years before volunteering becomes a practical option for immigrants. However, volunteering could be one of the most important activities a migrant could get involved in, as it enhances cultural networks and peer support, as well as equipping you with practical skills and improving language.
If you have never considered volunteering, it can be because of the following reasons:
You might come from a cultural background in which volunteering can be viewed as unattractive since it is unpaid and can put you off from participating.
You might not have knowledge about volunteer opportunities because of having a smaller social network in the host country.
It is good to know that in most European countries volunteering opportunities can be found as advertised online. Also, sometimes, volunteers get paid to cover their travel and/or food expenses.
Fulfilment with environmental volunteering – “I like to think when I’m gone, I will have left this a better place”
Environmental volunteering, more specifically, contact with nature, can be extremely beneficial for people experiencing mental health difficulties. This makes environmental volunteering potentially more beneficial for migrants and refugees who have been exposed to trauma.
Environmental volunteering has many benefits which can promote better physical and mental health. This could be especially beneficial in helping someone overcome such issues as trauma and integration. By working in this sector, we can learn about the importance of protecting the environment, starting at a community level. Through participating in group activities as a volunteer, you will not only learn about the community but also find our own place in it.
Image 3. Community gardening. Source: Fix.com
Woodlands and trees bring people together. Trees provide so many benefits, both long and short term. As well as being beautiful, they remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, slow heavy rain and so reduce the risk of flooding and enhance air quality. In addition, the physical weight of a tree consists of approximately 50% carbon. Therefore, trees have a strong climate change improvement effect when they grow in high enough numbers. This can include the lessening of the urban heat island effect and improvements to local air quality, benefiting people who live in the community. Other benefits, such as the removal of carbon from the atmosphere will benefit the wider population, not just those who live locally.
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