The other flood in Germany – generous volunteers

Worldwide, the pandemic has not diminished volunteering. The response of Germans to severe floods shows why: Volunteering helps build trust and affection.

Reuters
Police officers and volunteers clean rubble in an area affected by floods caused by heavy rainfalls in Bad Muenstereifel, Germany, July 18.

Just before record-breaking rains and catastrophic floods hit parts of Northern Europe last week, a global survey announced that volunteering during the pandemic “remained relatively unaffected.” According to the World Giving Index, nearly a fifth of adults worldwide were able to donate time to serve a community, with many seeing generosity as an antidote to fears of COVID-19. A good example of this was the spontaneous outpouring of Germans to those in need of rescue and recovery in the flood zones.

“The civic engagement is extreme,” said one helper in a makeshift shelter for newly homeless people in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. Local businesses, especially hotels, also joined the effort. The use of Facebook and other social media accelerated the response, which included online campaigns for donations.

For those who rushed to the devastated sites from all parts of Germany, the destruction was humbling. Many who offered boats, mops, generators, shovels and other items had to be turned away – even before government workers showed up.

Despite Germany’s reputation as a social welfare state, its global ranking in volunteering remains relatively high. “Everyone has to take responsibility in a democratic system and cannot leave everything to the state,” Katarina Peranić, head of the German Foundation for Commitment and Volunteering, told Finance Publishing last year. “Helping and supporting one another – that is the basis for social cohesion. Often you know much better yourself where grievances are locally and how they can be remedied.”

The last time Germany saw such a wellspring of civic giving was during an influx of more than a million refugees from the Middle East in 2015. About 14% of citizens ages 16 and older provided assistance to the refugees. The unprecedented surge in empathy led to a national reflection on the country’s “welcoming culture.”

In the past two decades, Germany has doubled its number of charity foundations. Last year, Berlin was given the honor of being the “European Capital of Volunteering” for 2021 by the European Volunteer Center in Brussels. Almost 1 in 3 Berliners volunteer in civic groups. Also last year the federal government set up the foundation on volunteering led by Ms. Peranić to promote volunteering in rural areas, where most Germans live.

A country’s civic health can be measured by how many of its citizens volunteer for the public good. Responses to tragedies like those in Germany are a strong indicator of social affection and trust. “We’re seeing a lot of gratefulness and cooperation,” tweeted the fire department in Wuppertal on Friday as the floods hit. Given the generous response to this disaster, Germany has shown that even a pandemic cannot deter those compelled to give to others in need. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.