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

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.

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. 

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