Sri Lanka is a nation with a rich volunteer culture embedded within the day-to-day activities of its citizens. For this reason, volunteering is a subconscious norm that is part of everyone’s lives, including mine. Still, working as a UN Youth Volunteer was a life-changing experience. It helped me discover that youth have the capacity and dedication needed to contribute to national initiatives through volunteerism.
I served as a national UN Volunteer in Sri Lanka. During this time, something I found most interesting was the opportunity to work with volunteers who are diverse in every possible way; be it gender, ethnicity, language or religion.
One of my early experiences as a UN Volunteer in 2013 was serving in a reconciliation project called, The Twinning Schools Programme (TSP), which was aimed at bridging the gaps between school children affected by Sri Lanka’s civil conflict. As a young member of the Volunteer Task Force (V-Force, initiated by UNV Sri Lanka) I was a member of a three-person coordination team facilitating the organisation and administration of the TSP.
We engaged the volunteer efforts of public figures and professionals from fields such as sports and the creative arts, towards a five-day series of activities including a 'Career Carnival' and a 'Cultural Show'. It wasn’t just the Twinning Schools Programme that made a difference, I believe that seeing a group of diverse volunteers come together for a common cause was an invaluable example we brought to the lives of the participating children.
I felt that our volunteer involvement made an impact as we facilitated nurturing a sense of group belonging amongst the children, paving a path towards post-conflict reconciliation. I believe that UN Volunteers can be role models of social change and reconciliation.
Another memorable opportunity was engaging, in 2016, as a national UN Volunteer in the Public Representations Committee (PRC). It was a unique opportunity to be involved as a young person at a national initiative on constitutional reform. Working as Coordination Officer attached to PRC within the Prime Minister’s Office, together with a fellow national UN Volunteer, I assisted the translation, documentation, data management and e-archiving process which produced the “Report of Recommendations”, submitted to the Constitutional Assembly. We also brought together seventy V-Force volunteers from Law and Social Science backgrounds who extended their skills and knowledge to the PRC. This was indeed a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for Sri Lankan youth to contribute to the development of our country.
My entire UN Volunteer experience was never limited to merely volunteering my time and skills. Volunteering has made me a more empathetic person, aware of ground realities and the significance of being an active youth citizen of Sri Lanka. Volunteering has given me the opportunity to mentor and guide fellow volunteers while advocating and being an example of the change and progress volunteerism can bring. The diverse nature of the work that I have been part of and the large group of volunteers that I have had the privilege to work with have made me see volunteerism as more than just work or hobby, but more of a lifestyle— one that makes it possible to work in the development of the country while inspiring others through the spirit of volunteerism.
To my fellow youth volunteers, I urge you to seek within yourself the things which inspire you to be a part of this momentous Volunteer Force, and spark the same fire in young people around you. It is in our responsibility to ensure that nobody is left behind.