The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme advances the inclusion of persons with disabilities by providing volunteering opportunities around the world. Three UN Volunteers with disabilities serving in Namibia, Madagascar and South Sudan share their inspiring journeys of strength, passion and success.
Josua Amukwaya is a national UN Volunteer serving with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) as Strategic Information and Data for Development Officer for Persons with Disabilities. He lost his eyesight at the age of 14 and moved from northern Namibia to Windhoek in 2007 to pursue education at a school for the visually impaired. He now holds a bachelor's degree in Lifelong Learning and Community Education.
Jonathan Andriambalohery is a national UN Volunteer who serves with UNV Madagascar as Communications Assistant. He refuses to allow his disability to come between him and his passion and hard work for a career in communications.
Michael Panchol is a national UN Volunteer Human Resources Assistant serving with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in South Sudan through funding from the German government. He believes that with a strong mind and a big heart, it is possible to achieve anything.
Here are their stories.
Josua Amukwaya, Strategic Information and Data for Development Officer for Persons with Disabilities, UNFPA Namibia
I have been working closely with government ministries and national statistics offices to strengthen data collection systems that include persons with disabilities in national planning and development. Prior to this role, I volunteered at the Disability Unit of the University of Namibia for four years and interned with Project Hope Namibia for six months under the DREAMS and Family Matters Programme.
One of my key achievements in my current role was supporting the establishment of the Namibian Organization of Youth with Disability (NOYD) during a conference in 2022. Through this conference, I supported key processes such as designing the NOYD strategic plan and organizational structures. This conference also allowed delegates like Ndapandula Shikela to appreciate their own abilities and power to help themselves and others.
The NOYD conference opened many doors for me to interact with fellow youth with disabilities and to appreciate how God created me with my disability. I thought I was not good enough, but the conference showed me the power I hold as a human to help myself and those around me. --Ndapandula Shikela, a visually impaired delegate at the NOYD conference
In addition to my work with NOYD, I have represented youth and learners with disabilities during national consultations on transforming education, advocating for disability-friendly school infrastructures, learner support, inclusive education training for teachers, and increased accessibility to educational materials for persons with disabilities.
Getting out of my comfort zone and doing something completely new and unknown was initially challenging for me. However, doing so has really helped me grow. My passion has been my main driver. I did not over-think or over-analyze situations. That helped me believe in myself and overcome my vulnerability and fear of failure.
Through volunteering, I have gained a healthy boost to my self-confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction, and I continue to develop new skills and insights about myself and the world around me. My role as a volunteer has given me a sense of pride and identity, and I am doing well for others and the community. --Josua Amukwaya, Strategic Information & Data for Development Officer for Persons with Disabilities, UNFPA Namibia
Jonathan Andriambalohery, Communications Assistant, UNV Madagascar
I am responsible for promoting the work and impact of UN Volunteers across the country. I create various content, including photos, videos, and articles about volunteers and their achievements. I also manage the programme's social media accounts and provide communications support for workshops and events.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my assignment is interacting with UN Volunteers, motivating them to keep dreaming big and making a difference. Through my efforts, I have been able to increase the visibility of the UNV programme and support talent outreach.
As a volunteer with a disability, I face challenges with multi-tasking, but I believe that nothing is impossible if we believe in ourselves. My supervisors and colleagues have been a great support system, and their mentorship and empowerment have helped me succeed in my role.
Volunteering is a natural act of empathy that can turn into action. I was inspired to volunteer after a group of volunteers helped me and my family when I fell sick in my hometown village. Today, I volunteer to help others and hope to inspire those around me to do the same. --Jonathan Andriambalohery, Communications Assistant, UNV Madagascar
Michael Achiek Panchol, Human Resources and Administrative Assistant, UNDP South Sudan
I am responsible for record-keeping, facilitating visas for incoming UN Volunteers and assisting with high-level meetings. Despite the challenges of completing tasks with only one arm, I have learned to prioritize and manage my time effectively.
I am proud to have supported events such as International Volunteer Day and Go Green campaigns, and I have learned a lot from working with volunteers from diverse backgrounds.
As a person with a disability in a society full of stereotypes, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a UN Volunteer in South Sudan. My host agency, UNDP, regularly acknowledges and appreciates my work, reminding me that it is what I do that matters, not how I look. --Michael Panchol, Human Resources and Administrative Assistant, UNDP South Sudan
I am particularly grateful for the support of the UNV programme and the funding from Germany since 2021, which has helped me and my family significantly. This assignment has allowed me to achieve things that I never thought were possible, and I hope to inspire others with disabilities to pursue their goals as well.
When I lost my left hand at the age of 12 years, I lost all hope and felt unaccepted. Now I am thankful and proud to be serving the UN as a volunteer, where I am not only growing professionally, but also as an individual. This opportunity is a blessing.