In the press
Feeding the volunteer spirit - Port Loko
Port Loko, Sierra Leone: As a UNV volunteer, it's also in Fatima Diang's mandate to encourage volunteerism in the communities she works with. At the Port Loko health centre, she and WFP work with two volunteer-involving organizations: the HIV/AIDS Support and Care Association (ASCA) and HIV/AIDS Stigma Reduction Association (ASRA).
Each holds meetings every month, where people "share experiences and act as motivators for those who are deniers, who deny their HIV status.” Both operate under the National Network of Positive People and both involve People Living with HIV as volunteers.
“People see they are not alone, and they’re surprised,” says volunteer Richard Gborie. “We’ve tried to create these groups so you can meet people who are beautiful as you are so you know you are not alone. This helps reduce the tension and the stigma… Everyone has a story."
Tiansu Kamara, for example, was diagnosed with HIV early in 2009. "I have so many support from ASRA and WFP," she says. "I feel I am not alone… I want to inform people that if they get HIV, it's not like any other disease. But other people can help. Even when I was almost at the point of death, I attended the meetings and heard stories about how people coped. And from that I learned how to cope myself."
Volunteer groups such as these need more than just goodwill, however. In her position of responsibility at the WFP Sub Office, UNV volunteer Fatima Daing plays a part by helping to keep the vulnerable people fed.
“We support them by providing dry food rations for five family members for one year before they are discharged," explains the Sudanese national, stressing that both genders are given equal treatment. "This aid is intended to help patients while taking their drugs, and support their family members as well, regardless of whether the person is the head of the family or a dependant."
And the assistance is continuous, not just emergency relief. When food support is finally withdrawn from a beneficiary, Fatima and the volunteer groups often refer them to skills training, so that they can earn a living – and buy their own food – without fear from the effects and stigmas of HIV/AIDS.
Like Dodou Darboe, as the key UN representative in her area Fatima also undertakes a number of surprising responsibilities beyond food distribution. For example, she works with District Councillors on solving the issue of juvenile offenders.
"They can’t be put in prison with adults, but there’s no other options for them," says Fatima. "I’m working with the council to find a house for them, where community volunteers can help with rehabilitating these young people and training them on different skills."
For Fatima, Dodou and the other UNV volunteers involved in WFP operations in Sierra Leone, this kind of community engagement is just as important as distributing food itself. For many of the local people in these remote and hard-to-reach areas, they are the face of the UN.
"Being a UNV volunteer is a great feeling," concludes Fatima. "When you help people over some hurdles, even it’s not physically, you feel you can make a significant difference in their lives. This is the pleasure that comes from being a volunteer."
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