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Volunteering for English speakers hits Sweden

Oliver Gee · 5 Apr 2012, 11:10

Published: 05 Apr 2012 11:10 GMT+02:00

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UK-native Claire Thomas, who recently launched The English Volunteering Project in Stockholm, has volunteering in her blood.

Coming from an English family which has been involved with volunteering "for generations", she claims that helping people is part of her life.

When she found herself in Sweden in 2010, thanks to her husband's new job, it wasn't long before she started scouting for volunteer opportunities on Swedish shores, but the initial searching proved fruitless.

"I realized fairly quickly that while Sweden does already have a great volunteer recruitment agency, the "Volontärbyrån", there was no real opportunity to sign up and help if you were an English speaker," she tells The Local.

At least not then.

After noting the interest and potential for English-speaking help around Sweden, Thomas proposed a collaboration with the Volontärbyrån - to add an English recruitment section to their website, and has since got the go-ahead for the project, dubbed The English Volunteering Project.

Thomas claims the concept will be a great way to help ease some of the initial challenges associated with moving to a foreign country.

"It can be hard to find any kind of work here when you don't speak Swedish, and it's often tough to meet people. When you can tick off these kinds of boxes, while at the same time giving much needed help, the experience can be really rewarding," she explains.

However, many foreigners miss this opportunity due to not speaking enough Swedish to learn about or meaningfully engage in existing volunteer opportunities.

And while while some expats have gotten the impression that this means Sweden is simply not interested in getting help, that is not the case at all, according to Thomas.

"It's just a matter of accepting that Sweden is different, in a good way. Many people don't talk or brag about their contributions to non-profit organizations like they might in other countries," she says.

"Volunteering in Sweden can seem invisible, but it really isn't. There is a whole different culture behind the volunteer sector, but this is not a worry – it just means things need to be negotiated differently".

And this is where Thomas steps in.

The English Volunteering Project is now well on the way to becoming a reality, and already has Prince Charles's seal of approval, which he personally gave Thomas during his recent visit to Stockholm.

"He told me thought it was a brilliant idea – which was really encouraging," Thomas says.

Vanja Höglund, spokesperson for Volontärbyrån, has big expectations too, claiming that the possibility of engaging English speakers with Swedish society is an opportunity that's too good to miss.

"It's incredibly nice when you hear of someone who wants to contribute their time commitment, and of course we want to be able to take advantage of that commitment," Höglund tells The Local.

"Our vision at Volontärbyrån is that everyone who wants to be able to find a volunteer assignment that fits them will be able to, and if we can reach even more people with an English translation of the service, then we've succeeded with our mission."

But it has been a long road, which started in November last year, and has occupied Thomas while juggling her first pregnancy.

However, Thomas is keen to get the project through the final stages so that it's up and running before her baby is.

"We hope to be able to work on the English web section on Volontärbyrån in June, with the Project coming into full swing in September or October," she says.

Now all that's missing is the funding that will allow the creating of the English sub-section.

Story continues below…

While interest in the project may be sky high, more donations are still needed before it can be created and officially launched online.

To achieve this, the Project is setting up an account with "Funded by Me", an online crowd-funding programme, in which people can donate to the project through a web-based social media platform.

The account will be launched in a matter of weeks, according to Thomas.

In the meantime, Thomas is still working hard on the project and volunteering in her spare time, but is keen to point out that volunteering is a two-way street where everybody can gain something positive.

"I love volunteering, but it's not just about giving. In fact, volunteering has actually given me quite a lot. It's been a way for me to take the focus off myself when things haven't been easy," she explains, adding that her work on this project is completely voluntary as well.

"Volunteering enriches your life, and helps others at the same time. Hopefully English speakers in Sweden can jump on board and help get this project going."

UPDATE: Click here for the The English Volunteering Project donation website

Oliver Gee (oliver.gee@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:00 April 5, 2012 by skogsbo
why can't Volontärbyrån just become bilingual? Do they really need set up another organisation behind it?

Funding if they need money for IT support, can't someone 'volunteer' their support in the form of IT skills to get the work done, it can hardly be extensive.

Will this organisation not hamper the intergration of those English speakers, better to pair them with a Swede who speak English using the existing system in Volontärbyrån, so everyone wins that way.

This will probably get pushed along because this woman has connections in high places, then when her fella moves to another job in a few years, it will fall down.
12:18 April 5, 2012 by Abe L
#1 - Exactly what I thought.

As everyone in Sweden speaks English anyway, now you have people who are willing to help out for free. Shouldn't be any problem if people could get of their high horse and just address them in the language they both speak already. Absolutely no need for a second organization, just integrate it in the one already existing for this purpose. Less overhead and organizational work actually causes more volunteering to happen and make it a lot more meaningful.
12:43 April 5, 2012 by si
"Everyone in Sweden speaks english anyway" overstatement of the year..
14:04 April 5, 2012 by respect4ALL
"Everyone in Sweden speaks english anyway" a joke.

but swedes respect u wen u speak english than wen u speak their own language.

i wish i was in stockholm to take part!
14:51 April 5, 2012 by stacyparrish
Why doe not someone volunteer to take the Swedish Volunteer Bureau into the 21st century? Redo the Swedish Tax code while your at it..... and review the way Sweden buys and sells electricity too!
16:38 April 5, 2012 by HYBRED
After paying all these Swedish tax's, and high tax's at that, I am having a issue with donating anything. Damn, I think I'm becoming Swedish.
17:04 April 5, 2012 by skogsbo
It doesn't matter if where they go to speaks english or not, just team them up with a swede who does, that solves the whole problem and this do gooder can find something else to do. Perhaps encouraging the English speaking volunteers to learn some basic Swedish? Or is it because this organiser doesn't speak Swedish and won't learn it herself, that triggered this whole thing??
18:51 April 5, 2012 by Douglas Garner
Spending time with Swedes or other English speaking expats (regardless of what their native language may be) is a wonderful idea. We all need to meet people and make connections that may lead to friendship, a support community, or job opportunities.

Swedes may benefit from the English speaking site as well because many of them actually WANT to improve their English and this may present many wonderful and non-threatening opportunities to do so.

I say a heartfelt WELL DONE!
20:49 April 5, 2012 by johan rebel
Ms, Thomas has had two years to learn Swedish, which is more than plenty. What has stopped her? Too busy volunteering?
21:26 April 5, 2012 by hipersons1
I'd really like an explanation of this:

"Volunteering in Sweden can seem invisible, but it really isn't. There is a whole different culture behind the volunteer sector, but this is not a worry - it just means things need to be negotiated differently".

How so?
21:55 April 5, 2012 by Thuku
Ummh......I volunteer to teach SWAHILI.
07:45 April 6, 2012 by skogsbo
Douglas you don't live here do you, Swedes have no desire to volunteer to improve their English, many speak on a par with the UK or US, this new site is just a mean English speakers to hide away together and not intergrate.
11:30 April 6, 2012 by Da Goat
You are probably right Skogsbo the swedes that are altruistic enough to be volunteers are probably the ones who are proficient english speakers and the lazy ones, neither are helpful nor multilingual.

I have indeed met swedes who speak better english than the yanks or the poms in fact the one that comes to mind is also fluent in Finnish and partially so in spanish .

we now just need some from both sides of the divide to volunteer to sort this out!

ROFL everyone is too proud to co-operate.
12:24 April 6, 2012 by ccb
"Swedes have no desire to volunteer to improve their English, many speak on a par with the UK or US"

Swedes have good pronunciation of English words, but their grammar is generally nowhere near on par with native English speakers, neither is the use of pronouns nor certain adjectives. Because we find Swedes impressive compared to some other non-native English speakers, does not mean Swedes are perfect.

Please get that out of your heads, it just makes my job a lot harder!

I seek to improve my English on a daily basis and I am a native speaker. Please get over yourselves!
15:24 April 6, 2012 by libertarianism
Agree with #6. After seeing the shabby return on my exorbitant taxes, I buy as little as possible in Sweden. I shop on Blocket or otherwise wait till I leave the country, and purchase higher quality goods at lower prices. That said, when it comes to food, I do try to always support Swedish farmers.

If I worked with a volunteer organization here, I would consider it a huge advantage to use and be able to practice Swedish. I would much rather hear lovely Swedish and speak Swedish with patient, helpful Swedes than speak English with hall monitor, pompous, old goats, such as #13. Nor would I want my efforts to be associated with your ugly monarchy.
17:40 April 6, 2012 by cogito

+100. We too buy everything ex-Sweden, except for absolute necessities like food.

As for the English language authority Da Goat (#13), did you notice his grammar, use of pronouns and twisted sentence structure? Yet this twit presumes to be a judge of the linguistic proficiency of "the yanks or the pom."

On your last sentence, no doubt he worships his ugly monarchy.
21:41 April 6, 2012 by mibrooks27
There are plenty of genuine Swedes who speak very little Swedish. They are the children of immigrants to Canada and the US and are every bit as proud of their heritage and Swedish culture as anyone in Sweden, maybe even more so. Likewise, you can ind entire small towns, like Junction City, Oregon, and other tones in the Dakota's, Alberta and Eastern British Columbia, Minnesota, and Finland, where half or more of the residents still speak Swedish after 100 years (it's old Swedish but quite recognizable). All of these places have Swedish food, festivals, museums, even schools teaching Swedish literature. Being Swedish is a state of mind, perhaps a racial heritage, more than a linguist skill.
03:29 April 7, 2012 by Frobobbles
I need 30 to 40 well trained volunteers for a project. Lots of action. Bring your own guns.
01:50 April 8, 2012 by mikewhite
Half of the Swedes who speak English in fact speak American !

14:23 April 8, 2012 by Opinionfool
No body has mentioned the obvious, why aren't The Local looking for native English speakers to proof-read and copy-edit what's published here? Indeed I'll volunteer in a bi-lateral scheme ... to improve my Swedish. How about TL?
18:37 April 8, 2012 by ccb
I would volunteer along with Opinionfool. I think it would be a very worthy cause. :)
21:18 April 8, 2012 by skogsbo
The sad thing is the local IS already run by folk with English as a first language.
16:21 April 9, 2012 by Opinionfool

"Run by" is different to "edited by" or "written by" or even "translated by". On the latter Google Translate often does a better job that The Local.
19:58 April 9, 2012 by skogsbo
Ok, the local IS managed by English speakers and has English speakers as editors and contributors. It's all a play on words, but yes, they could do better!
15:00 April 10, 2012 by Opinionfool

"It's all a play on words," which is why The Local needs a native English speaker to ensure that those puns are done right.
21:19 April 11, 2012 by Bill Schacht
Ironic I see this today, I just sent Volunteerbyran a request for help with Shockholm this year (Halloween Parade & Events in Stockholm, the parade will be Sat, Oct 27 2012 at 4PM) and got the reply that they must have that in Swedish. They were actually super nice about that and helped me with the translation, which was really appreciated. I suppose its a policy thing there, there is no reason they couldnt put up a post in English, at least from what I figure (I could be wrong). A section in English would be nice, thats for sure. Good luck with that! And if you want to help with Shockholm..... : )
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