How a Small Island Nation Built a Community of Volunteers from a Culture of Generosity
As a small island nation with a population of a little more than 150,000 people, it is hard to imagine that NGOs in Curaçao have ever had trouble finding volunteers to support their causes. With a strong cultural standard of generosity, the citizens of Curaçao are rarely without help in their time of need – but until recently, there was no formal infrastructure to connect volunteers looking for ways to give back and opportunities to serve.
“Seeing it’s such a small community, a lot of people depend on each other … you live very closely with your neighbor,” said Lysayé de Windt, who co-founded Curaçao Cares with Deva-Dee Siliee de Windt in 2012 to help connect engaged community members with opportunities to serve local organizations in need of volunteers.
Through a collection of signature programs, Curaçao Cares, a Points of Light global affiliate, aims to inspire, mobilize, equip and recognize volunteers:
- Music and Memory Curaçao is an initiative that uses music from dementia patients’ pasts to help combat their memory loss. Curaçao Cares recruits and trains volunteers to support the program as “musical detectives” – visiting nursing homes and interacting with people suffering from dementia to figure out what type of music they like.
- Through Desaroyo NGO, a capacity-building program, Curaçao Cares engages pro bono volunteers to help developing NGOs with expertise and resources in a series of trainings and workshops. Through these trainings, members of these organizations enhance their nonprofit management and leadership skills so they can better manage existing resources and retain volunteers, and also improve projects through corporate collaborations.
- The STAR Volunteer program, celebrated annually on International Volunteer Day, honors and recognizes volunteers who have dedicatedly served local NGOs – and inspires others to do the same.
But the annual highlight for Curaçao Cares is organizing Cura Doet, the biggest volunteer effort on the island. Celebrated annually in March in the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ four constituent countries – the Netherlands, St. Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao – the Doet weekend unites people in service to their communities across cultural and geographical differences. The event consists of two national days of service, organized to encourage the communities to get out and do something to help local causes and organizations.
Since its inception in 2013, Cura Doet has engaged more than 16,000 volunteers who have collectively participated in more than 96,000 hours of service. In the past four years, the project has experienced significant growth; from 132 projects and 2,600 volunteers in year one to 217 projects and almost 5,000 volunteers.
To help with the organization of the Cura Doet, and to also support participating NGOs with organizing their projects and managing their volunteers, Curaçao Cares enlists volunteer coordinators for different regions on the island. Each volunteer coordinator works with about 10 to 15 organizations. During Cura Doet, NGOs get an opportunity to spruce up their location and grounds, parks and schools get a makeover, and elderly and people with special needs are treated to an extraordinary day.
“What makes this event unique is the fact that the whole island is wrapped into positive action for two days, with people coming together and experiencing a sense of community and unity. You see excitement and smiles everywhere, and hear people expressing the satisfaction they feel to be able to lend a helping hand,” said Deva-Dee Siliee de Windt.
“And, of course, the fact that this happens in all the countries of the Kingdom, that everyone is participating together on the same date is very special,” added Janis Vinck, project leader for Cura Doet.
Cura Doet would not be possible without the support of local fund Reda Sosial and Dutch fund Het Oranje Fonds, which initiated NLdoet in the Netherlands 10 years ago and expanded it to the Caribbean islands. Het Oranje Fonds awards a $600 grant to all NGOs participating in Cura Doet.
Since Het Oranje Fonds was established as a present to the king and queen on the occasion of their marriage, the Dutch royal family has remained quite involved with many of their activities, including the Doet activities throughout the Kingdom. During this year’s Cura Doet, Princess Laurentien rolled up her sleeves to kick-off a painting project at a local school. While she was in Curaçao, the princess also met with several Kids Councils on the island to see the amazing work they are doing. These Kids Councils were developed with the support of the Missing Chapter Foundation, started by Princess Laurentien to encourage organizations and companies to involve children in decision-making processes.
Through its various programs, Curaçao Cares engages more volunteers each year to put their do-good spirit towards helping the causes they care about. With a continued dedication to helping NGOs more skillfully leverage their volunteers, Curaçao Cares has established itself as the volunteer conduit in their country – every day striving to provide their community with an answer to one question: “What good can I do today?”