Virtue of volunteerism

Published On: December 9, 2018 01:00 AM NPT By: Simone Galimberti

Every year, all over the world, the first week of December marks a lot of events. To start with, the 16 days campaign against gender based violence reaches its peak and culminates into the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on December 10. The 

International HIV/AIDS Day is observed on December 1 while the International Day of Persons living with Disabilities is celebrated on December 3 followed by International Volunteer Day on December 5. 

The entire week is observed as the real festival of activism and active engagement where people from different walks of life come together to advocate for social justice. It is important to promote concerted efforts of different social groups with different interests, but bridging the gap between them is important. 

If we think of a thread uniting all the international days celebrated during the first week of December, it is social exclusion which has overarching implications. 

The abuses faced by women like acid attacks, rapes and harassments, the precarious lives of persons living with HIV/AIDS and the multiple barriers faced by persons living with disabilities are all conducive to a status of high vulnerability that perpetuates discrimination and as consequence millions of people bear the brunt of exclusion. Volunteerism can be used as a tool to prevent and minimize many of these ills.

How volunteerism helps 
It can be a tool that can certainly help in uplift and empowerment of vulnerable people.  We can have effective public policy and ethical private companies and yet it is the power of individual and collective efforts that can truly make the difference and turn the society into a place where everybody has a chance to thrive and those left behind are supported for self-empowerment. 

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program recently published a new edition of “State of the World’s Volunteerism Report” which highlights how local communities, often enriched by the work of volunteers, represent the best defense against shocks, inequalities and hidden vulnerabilities. 

We need a strong, vibrant UNV that can fully understand and support the government in harnessing the power of volunteerism. UNV, as part of the UNDP, is ideally equipped to promote it in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but it must be bold and progressive in engaging and, nudging, whenever needed.

Second, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Youth Council (NYC) are now fully in charge and must lead the activities relating to voluntarism. NYC should play a dynamic role in formulation of national volunteering strategy to accommodate youths across the country.  The focus should not be exclusively on full time experiences that are actually technically closer to standard jobs than real volunteering experiences. At the same time the Ministry should ensure that volunteerism is valued and mainstreamed across all sectors and all ministries. 

If we really want to have a paradigm shift, the Office of Prime Minister should also take charge and ensure that the National Planning Commission (NPC) give priority to voluntarism through policy and programs. I say this because volunteerism can be strategically leveraged to create shared prosperity. Any future development plans should include it as a key component. 

Some of the countries in the world have embraced volunteerism in such a strong way that they even have national laws promoting and safeguarding it. Nepal needs a tailored program in this regard. 

If we are really serious about massive involvement of youths in voluntarism, we should move ahead in a very pragmatic way and must strive to fully galvanize our efforts.  Recruiting, training and managing volunteers require financial resources. This should be ensured. 

We need to design system that can monitor and evaluate the impact of all volunteering efforts being carried out in the country. A way to start this long journey in volunteerism could be the creation of a national network bringing together organizations and groups genuinely interested and committed in enhancing and expanding a culture of service in Nepal.

Such network could be loose and not dependent on any special aid program, but rely on the commitment of its members. The Ministry of Youth and Sports, the National Youth Council and UNV are the ones which can create such network. Let us hope that the first week of December next year will be remembered for an incredible cross-cutting mobilization of citizens, an army of peaceful volunteers able to connect the dots among the different issues, all under the banners of the SDGs.

The 41st President of America, George HW Bush, who recently passed away had understood how a culture of service makes the difference. He called for a new era of engagement and activism where every single volunteer could become a “point of light”, a sign of hope for the communities. 

Nepal has millions of such lights, but they cannot remain invisible and hidden forever. Supporting and recognizing them is a must.

The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities

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