Posted by: ourvoicestogether | December 4, 2007

International Volunteering Can Create a Safer, Better World

My name is Eric Gardner and I am a board member of Our Voices Together – a network started by 9/11 families and friends who recognize the power individuals can have in countering terrorism through positive, global action.

My brother Jeffrey Brian Gardner was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Jeff worked for the insurance company, Marsh & McLennan. As busy as he was, he always found time to volunteer. He put his fix-it and handicraft skills to good use volunteering for Habitat for Humanity overseas and in Newark, New Jersey.

He spent several vacations in Latin America with Habitat for Humanity’s International Global Village program. When he was murdered on September 11, 2001, he was planning to head back to lead a team of Habitat volunteers in El Salvador.

My family established a scholarship fund to enable college students to volunteer internationally, just as Jeff had. On a small scale, we tried to help those who have the interest and ability to volunteer internationally but who simply lack the financial wherewithal to do so. Now there is legislation in place that can provide this on a large scale.

The Global Service Fellowship Program Act (Senate Bill 1464 and House Bill 3698) has been introduced as part of efforts to confront terrorism, and is part of a comprehensive strategy to broaden and strengthen opportunities to serve our nation through global volunteerism.

Many talented individuals who want to serve their country abroad may not be able to commit to two years of Peace Corps service. The fellowship also strongly supports initiatives to expand volunteer opportunities for talented individuals who may wish to serve but are unable because of economic constraints.

As an organization, Our Voices Together is part of a growing number of people who recognize that, in the fight against terrorism, the contributions of ordinary citizens are critical to creating a safer, more compassionate world.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said:

“if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially …One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more – these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success.”

We all know that Secretary Gates’ list of important elements in national security – economic development, basic services, transparency, and more – are functions of civil society, and the fuel for a healthy civil society is volunteerism.

The Global Service Fellowships legislation certainly recognizes this connection.

The Senate Bill cites research done by Terror Free Tomorrow, an organization in the Our Voices Together network. The House Bill quotes the bipartisan 9/11 Commission recommendation to “rebuild the scholarship, exchange and library programs that reach out to young people and offer them knowledge and hope.”

These are people-to-people or citizen diplomacy initiatives. They include international volunteer programs.

The Global Service Fellowships legislation is timely! Let’s help them understand why our volunteers are one of those national instruments in which we must invest.As I mentioned, I have important personal reasons for supporting this effort. The Jeffrey Brian Gardner Memorial Scholarship has provided overseas opportunities for hundreds of college student volunteers to work side by side with residents of communities in need, building homes, trust, friendships – and hope – just as Jeff had done.

International volunteers, like my brother, provide that source of hope, one person at a time. Let’s make sure Congress knows this too.

–Eric Gardner

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