Manitra Raoliarisoa, former UN Volunteer Local Support Specialist with UNDP in Madagascar, with her family.
Manitra Raoliarisoa, former UN Volunteer Local Support Specialist with UNDP in Madagascar, with her family.

"We still remember traveling 1,000 bumpy kilometres by taxi bus over four days for me to start serving as a UN Volunteer"

Due to COVID-19, this past year has placed a tremendous burden on families and parents. We have had to deal with lockdowns, separation from loved ones, school closures and online learning, and shouldering additional responsibilities. As we mark the International Day of Families on 15 May and the Global Day of Parents on 1 June, we feature the very personal stories and coping strategies of our UN Volunteers – as partners, parents, children and more. In this article, meet Manitra and Eun Young.

Manitra Raoliarisoa, former UN Volunteer Local Support Specialist with the United Nations Development Programme in Madagascar

For over five years, I had the pleasure of serving as a national UN Volunteer with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and contributing to the development of my country – Madagascar. Time passed so fast, but the fond memories have stayed with me.

As a UN Volunteer, I helped UNDP with irrigation projects that now feed 130 hectares of fertile land and guard against drought. I also supported the renovation of two dirt roads linking communities and markets, stabilization of 50 hectares of sand dunes, establishment of a fodder area and launch of castor oil processing units for local cooperatives. 

These initiatives helped 5,406 individuals implement sustainable income-generating activities. And I learned that communities thrive when engaged in defining and prioritizing their needs.

During my assignment, I was always accompanied by my family. Despite all the difficulties involved, my husband and children sacrificed their comfort to be with me in remote areas. This was not always easy. We still remember traveling 1,000 bumpy kilometres by taxi bus over four days for me to start serving as a UN Volunteer in one of the poorest and toughest areas of Madagascar – and this had an impact on all involved.

For me, a volunteer is someone who wants to contribute to the development of communities beyond their own comfort zones. And it is the most fulfilling experience ever. Having concluded my UN Volunteer assignment, I continue supporting community development in other parts of Madagascar and will keep serving wherever duty may call me.

Eun Young Jung, UN Volunteer Communications and Outreach Specialist with UNV in Sri Lanka

After seven months of telecommuting, I finally landed in my duty station, Colombo, early this year. Although starting my volunteering assignment remotely was not easy, my colleagues helped and we worked towards the same goals.

Despite many difficulties, remote working enabled me to spend a lot of time with my parents while I was serving an organization based in a foreign country that I was not familiar with. It was a valuable time to understand my family deeper, and I was grateful to be with loved ones during this most challenging time for everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded me of the significance of physical and mental wellbeing, especially of family members. My family is scattered across South Korea, Sri Lanka and the USA. We draw moral and emotional support from being together via video calls, which encourages us to overcome difficulties and move forward. Recently, my nephew was born in the US, and I have only been able to ‘meet’ him via Zoom. How I long to hold him, when we are able to be together in person.

Volunteering is a great way to experience solidarity with other volunteers and local people, while finding innovative solutions together beyond the barriers of race, religion, gender or age.

As Communications and Outreach Specialist, fully funded by Korea, I promote UNV, volunteerism, and the contributions of UN Volunteers to the 2030 Agenda in Sri Lanka. One of the beauties of this assignment is that I meet committed and talented volunteers from different backgrounds and learn from their experiences. This deepens my perspective and knowledge and enables me to inspire more people to join in and contribute to peace and development. 

In Colombo, I have met many nice UNV colleagues from different countries. Since we all have gone through similar difficulties and experiences from COVID-19, I feel a closer bond with them, and feel lucky that we are able to fill the void by sharing moments of joy and struggles while being away from families.

SriLanka_EunYoungJung_DSC_0862_web.jpegEun Young Jung, UN Volunteer Communications and Outreach Specialist with UNV in Sri Lanka, connecting with her family online. ©Eun Young Jung, personal archive