ICT based Learning and Social Network for People with Disabilities and Volunteers

Organization, Volunteers, Caretakers

Organization, Volunteers, Caretakers

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  • Is voluntary work really not paid?
  • The power of weak ties
  • Document your work
  • How I started to teach disabled persons to cook

In bestseller Revolutionary Wealth authors famous American futurists Heidi and Alvin Toffler are writing about „no money“ economy like voluntary work, which is not paid. However they found out that sometimes „no money“ economy transfer to money economy. From my experience I know that is true.

My best years were when I was working at University at Tuzla in Bosnia. I left Bosnia in 1985 and I was very depressed during Bosnian war because I did not find way to help people there. In the start of 1995 professor Barucia from Computer Science Department of University Sarajevo visited Ljubljana. We asked him how we could help them. His answer was – distance learning, which has to be interactive. The Bosnian war was going to end, when I was starting to teach online students in Sarajevo. It was great expereince, students were very motivated and it was nice to teach them. Because there was no money I was teaching for free. It was typical no money economy. However it was important reference, which helped institute to get several grants and to develop and grow. It was good example of transition of no money in money economy.

It was first example, later I started to teach disabled people to swim. Again it was voluntary work however expereince achieved during this work we used to prepare proposals for different project. We were successful and again the transition of „no money“ economy to money economy happened.

I could find another examples but to be short – voluntary work is not paid immediately but there are several benefits including money which are usually realized on long term basis. So do voluntary work because you will be satisfied and and awarded when you will not expect.

Famous social scientist Mark Granovetter in paper “The Strength of Weak Ties”  explained that  in marketing, information science, or politics, weak ties enable reaching populations and audiences that are not accessible via strong ties. The concepts and findings of this work were later published in the monograph Getting A Job, where he found out that people are founding jobs mostly with weak ties.

This is very important for organizations supporting people with disabilities because they are always looking for some kind of support.  In most cases people are trying to find support from people who are close to them (relatives, friends and so on). However if you could not resolve your problems asking people who are closed to you (strong ties) you have to go ask people, whom you meet rarely (maybe once per year) so called weak ties and that persons can help you because they have own set of strong ties  which can help you.

I will describe few cases where weak ties helped me.  About ten yours ago somebody ask me to talk about information society to youth organizations. In that time I was reading the bestseller The Rise of Creative Class written by Richard Florida so I suggested lecturing about Creative Class. They accepted and organizer asked me to joint to lunch after my lecture. During the lunch I mentioned that we want to publish the Rise of Creative Class in Slovenia however we have financial problems. The person who invited me to lunch (I saw her first time) said to me. Maybe we can help you.  So we translated and published the book.

Another time I was on the meeting where mind map technique was presented. At the meeting I met a editor of children journal I said what I am working on. Few months later she asked me if I wanted to have a workshop From Idea to Realization for theirs young readers.  I did it successfully, so next year I had workshop From Idea to Patent. It was successful so I made proposal to organize several workshops on that topics for young people in our country. We got grant and the intellectual property became important topics realizing in our institution.

So do not be afraid to communicate with people you are not closed with. Talk about your problems and surprising success could happen.
If you want to learn more about the role of weak ties read

http://sociology.stanford.edu/people/mgranovetter/documents/granstrengthweakties.pdf

And do not forget, people like to see the success of other people. Watch the video at

One of most exciting moment in volunteer work with people with disabilities is when they learned something or achieved some goals. However in most cases the process of learning and monitoring of progress of disabled persons are not documented. It is pity because the experience can be useful for not only for person who was leading the process of learning but also for other volunteers, parents, caretakers… who are trying to do the same or similar staff.

So I highly recommend to at least a lot of visual materials (photos, video…), which will document what is going on. It will be useful for people, who were performing action,  people who want to resolve similar problem, for organizations supporting disabled peoples reference, and even for scientists and researchers active in that field. So I highly recommend that you document your work as much as possible.

After I graduated physical education at Tuzla university I was looking for a job several years.  Fortunetaly I got internship in NGO supporting disabled people. After internship I started to work in that organization. It was challenging job. I was always trying to find something new what will be useful for children with disabilities I was working with.

When couple of years ago I got small grant to visit CIP (Centre for Inclusion and Support) at Pula I found out that theirs members with disabilities are cooking. So I decided to do in my NGO too. It was not easy job. First I had to find sponsors who will help us to buy necessary equipment.  I was successful at that stage and after our small kitchen was ready we started to teach our members to cook. It was a lot of fun. We learned to make simple dishes and have enjoyed in process of cooking. I think always is important to be open to new ideas and try to realize them although several times it looks like mission impossible. And do not forget the Ford quote „If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”.