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The United Nations Volunteer: From Global To Local

Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya

George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where  he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for  UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 5 2016 (IPS) - Today 05 December is International Volunteer Day, and every year we recognize the invaluable contributions of volunteers to peace and development.

Consider this. George Gachie has been serving as a national United Nations Volunteer (UNV) with UN-Habitat for over three years. He grew up in the Kibera Slums – a challenging environment, where young people have very few opportunities and early pregnancy, school dropout, organized gangs, crime, diseases and drug abuse are common. In order to make it out of this situation one had to be smart. But as George himself put it during a recent UNV Blue-Room Talks event in Nairobi, ‘I am happy because it is volunteerism that got me out of the situation’.

In an acknowledgement of the expected role of the youth in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, volunteerism has now been recognized as a key driver in the development space. For Kenya, this is particularly apt given the large number of youth graduating every year but who find only limited employment opportunities.

Volunteerism is offering not only a chance to contribute to social development and a sense of self-worth, it also provides them with priceless lessons that sets them up for entering the job market and setting a foundation for their career.

The United Nations Volunteer programme has for many years delivered social services across a range of sectors. Today, the UNV Kenya programme remains one of largest UNV operations in the world, with 148 national and 47 International serving UN Volunteers. Kenya also contributes the largest number of UN Volunteers serving abroad, a testimony to the country’s commitment to humanitarian action and development.

Studies show that engaging in volunteerism from a young age helps people take their first steps towards long-term involvement in development. It is thus a perfect avenue to address the oft-repeated lament by corporate employers that the education system does not prepare students for the job market.

In that sense, volunteering is not just a way to get more numbers to ‘get the job done’, but a transformative opportunity for people from all walks of life, and a two-way exchange between the volunteer and the people they work with. By creating a sense of cohesion, reciprocity and solidarity within society, volunteering builds social capital, because it converts individual action into collective response directed towards a social end.

Volunteering also makes a significant economic contribution globally. It’s generally estimated that volunteers contribute an average of $400 billion to the global economy annually.

UNDP’s Administrator Ms Helen Clark has spoken about “ the tremendous impact UN Volunteers are making within the UN system. In implementing the SDGs, UNDP will continue to see volunteers as catalysts for change who amplify citizens’ voices and facilitate participation so that development can be truly people-centred”.

The impact of a volunteerism programme must be felt at the local level by building the capacity of people, including the marginalized, and should make the governance process more participatory and inclusive.

UNV has a strong track record of getting development results. In Kenya, UNV supported a neighborhood volunteer scheme to help ensure peaceful elections in 2013.

UN volunteers, including data analysts, planners, legal assistants and communication experts are deployed in 35 out of the 47 counties in the country, bringing critical capacity to the devolution process in Kenya.

In addition, 25 national and international UN Volunteers are engaged to support the humanitarian challenges on refugees in the country and well over 50 volunteers support operations of the United Nations Environment Program at its headquarters in Nairobi.

Having seen the contribution of volunteers, we can confidently vouch for community-based volunteering structures in all counties, to not only provide gainful occupation for Kenya’s youth, but to give them greater voice and participation in decision-making.

On the occasion of this year’s International Volunteer Day, the UN is committed to working with the Kenyan Government to integrate the concepts of volunteerism into development programming.

This can be done through various modalities, including facilitating volunteer schemes that target the contributions or integration of particular groups. Another area that holds great potential in advancing the course of volunteerism includes documentation of the various dimensions of volunteer involvement including its impacts on marginalized groups.

Volunteerism can be a powerful wind in our sails as we seek to achieve the SDGs and advance human development in Kenya.

 
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