Volunteerism and volunteering have become powerful means of engaging people in tackling development challenges, including addressing disaster-related crises. UN Volunteers in Nepal have been among the first responders on the ground in the face of the 2015 earthquake, 2017 floods and recent COVID-19 pandemic, to name just a few. This week, Mr Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, is visiting Nepal. He is meeting United Nations and Government partners to strengthen collaboration and explore new opportunities to promote volunteerism. He has also applauded UN Volunteers for their support to the United Nations system in accelerating progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As of May 2023, 95 UN Volunteers are serving with nine United Nations partners in Nepal. These are community, specialists, experts, youth and university students, and are actively engaged in communities.
Mr Kurbanov talked to AP1 Television’s Sama Thapa. He was joined by Dichhen Tamang, a national UN Youth Volunteer with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), who shared her experience as a former volunteer during the 2015 earthquake and as a Public Health officer during the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive. The interview is below, followed by an excerpt.
Journalist: Welcome to AP talk time!
Mr Kurbanov: Namaste! Thank you for having me.
Journalist: Thank you for being here this morning. Tell us more about your trip to Nepal and how has been?
Mr Kurbanov: This trip so far well it's been wonderful, it's my third day I haven't seen much and unfortunately, I haven't left the Kathmandu Valley yet, but I think it's been a wonderful three days. I've been looking around and absorbing everything that I see, and this country has a lot to offer in terms of diversity, cultural richness, strong sense of community as well you could feel at all levels.
Journalist: So, what have you seen of volunteering and the impact it has on community development level here in Nepal what's your observation?
Mr Kurbanov: I think the community of volunteering is in DNA of Nepali Society. Isn't it?
That's what we know, that's how the volunteering in Nepal is known around the world. Well, I was observing the last couple of days as I said, it was a strong sense of solidarity, and it shows itself how people commit to volunteer action at the daily level in many communities. Of course, we also know the tragic history of the natural disasters, the earthquake in 2015, the floods in 2017, the latest of all disasters being the COVID-19 pandemic and in all these calamities the community, volunteers in Nepal took a very important leadership role, attending to the social care, being the first respondents to the people in need.
Journalist: Every country in the world has their own uniqueness Nepal cannot be an Exception. For a nation, caught between a severe economic crisis and large-scale migration of its youth population, how do you think UNV’s specific strategies and initiatives could be undertaken to provide support and create opportunities for Nepalese youth and communities?
Mr Kurbanov: That's a great question! I think with humility, we have to acknowledge that volunteerism cannot be a solution to any problem. So, we need to ask ourselves which problems can volunteering solve and at what scale and here a couple of things come to our mind: one - volunteering particularly volunteering with the UN will provide additional exposure to the Nepali youth, equip them with technical skills, you know in the UN, we have needful Volunteers in so many different areas and having worked in the UN as UN Volunteer, the Nepali youth will be more accustomed and more professional in working at the UN standard which is a standard acceptable by all the countries around the world. I think, secondly equally importantly and sometimes would even say even more importantly is also how volunteering contributes to the Social Capital to the sense of bonding, to the sense of community, to the sense of solidarity that hopefully is an avenue that volunteering with the UN can provide to the Nepali.
Journalist: In this context, do you see somewhere the sense of bonding, the sense of giving back to community is a bit declining?
Mr Kurbanov: In Nepal or globally…
Journalist: Globally or if you want to be specific in Nepal, because with the rise of social media and so many other platforms, somewhere I feel that people are obsessed with themselves.
Mr Kurbanov: Yeah, yeah, you know these days and age of course, volunteerism cannot be taken for granted just as solidarity cannot be taken for granted. There are many hopeful signs growing commitment of volunteering. If you zoom out of Nepal, if you look at the global scale there was some interesting developments in the last 15 to 20 years that speak to the future growth of volunteerism. One of them is the fact that societies are aging, 70 is the new 50 as we know. In the past, volunteering was mostly for Young People by young people. Today, we see more and more senior citizens also engaged in volunteer action after they retire at 65, many of them have good health, they have a wealth of wisdom and many of those retirees are looking for ways to give them back to their communities. Also, volunteering is something that is globally universal. We've seen in the last few years a growth of volunteering both in the global North as we say in developed nations and in the global South, but I think you are right volunteerism in this day and age cannot be granted so volunteers should be paid attention to. We should be intentional as societies and supporting volunteers, equipping volunteers and creating enabling environment, making sure that volunteers are not only in demand, but they're also appreciated.
Journalist: What are some of the challenges that are hindering the promotion of volunteerism?
Mr Kurbanov: Well, I'll need more than one day to start listing all the challenges (smiles). The challenges you know are one we just spoke about. The risk is that if we take volunteerism for granted, it might just gradually decline in significance. Making sure that the society recognizes the role of the volunteers and equip them in delivering on that role is very important. We have very recent experience of COVID-19 in most countries around the world volunteers were there to help people in need, many societies were relying because of the volunteers. If there were not volunteer societies would have swapped, social care would have stopped, medical care would have stopped. What also happened during the time of COVID-19 is increasing the digital volunteering because remember those days of the lockdowns and staycations, were caught and something else a lot of people were still willing to contribute to the world at large and many were volunteering digitally. UNV also offers online volunteering platform to the global citizen but that also comes with risk because if you don't interact with volunteers on a daily basis, the engagement may not be as meaningful especially if you take volunteers for granted. So, these are some of the more recent challenges in the in the world of the volunteering.
Journalist: Just adding Nepali context to volunteerism, tribes, communities, economically diverse groups, and Persons with Disabilities as well among others. How is UNV globally and in Nepal promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion to make sure that no one is left behind?
Mr Kurbanov: What we're trying to do first of all, globally UNV represents the United Nations and our first focus on diversity is on having opportunities for people of all nationalities to contribute as volunteers with the UN, equally important is gender diversity. It is not acceptable that in the societies, volunteers are playing a role and yet the volunteers themselves are not representative of the societies. So, the gender diversity, what we say gender balance is also important. Then comes the issue which is now taking additional importance because we've been neglecting it for so long around the world disability inclusion. How many volunteers with disabilities we have around us? The answer is yes, we have many, but we don't often recognize them. In the UN, we have started working on the disability inclusion a few years ago but globally we have about 200 volunteers with disabilities, a few of them are in Nepal and Nepal is setting good standards on disability inclusion.
Journalist: You had the experience of volunteering in both the crisis that Nepal went through, the earthquake in 2015 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you share your experience and how did you make a difference?
Dichhen: The earthquake of 2015, with almost 9 000 people losing their life, more than 20 000 people being injured and several thousand people's livelihood being affected adversely, volunteering at that time was very crucial and in fact I volunteered immediately as first respondent to support the emergency response. I was just 17 at that time and I had heard about earthquakes, watched movies about it but experiencing it and witnessing all the kids around me and that was the time when I realized what emergency and crisis really is. Then came the year 2020, the pandemic which was uncertain causing lots of curiosity among the people and even leading us being locked away in our homes for quite a time. After the vaccination drive against COVID-19 started in Nepal, I applied to become a UN Volunteer, I joined as a UN Youth Volunteer with UNDP as a Public Health Officer to support the government in the vaccine nation drive against COVID-19. So far, we have vaccinated more than 75 percent of the total population and I believe that is quite an achievement for all of us. recently said a lot of people take volunteerism as for granted it's
Journalist: A lot of people take volunteerism as for granted it's not considered as a career or a platform to explore. How do you describe or how do you want to respond to this? What is volunteerism for you?
Dichhen: Volunteerism for me is something that I do for the community, for the government, for the welfare of all the people. Volunteering to me is very important and I always encourage people to volunteer as well even I encourage my sister to join our Online Volunteers, for the vaccination and as well as the election campaigns. I believe volunteers are the building blocks of the nations.
Journalist: In your experience, what was your key role as a UN Volunteer in responding to the COVID-19 crisis?
Dichhen: My first responsibility as a UN Volunteer, was to support the government in the vaccination campaigns and in that I was responsible for a lot of things like managing the vaccine logistics, ensuring the cold maintenance of the vaccines, recording and reporting of the vaccination details a digitalization of vaccinations, also coordinating with the local government and vaccination centers and also supervising them, providing guidance and support to the public regarding COVID-19 vaccination. I was also responsible for case investigation and contact tracing of COVID-19 cases. I have been providing technical assistance and guidance to the local government regarding COVID-19 and the best part is I got to be in micro-planning of vaccination campaigns and there I could give my inputs and that was very empowering role for me.
Journalist: As you have a strong sense of global scenario as well in the global context, what role do you think UNV can play in enhancing collaboration and coordination among different partners involved in crisis preparedness and emerging responses?
Mr Kurbanov: Speaking about crisis a new word had entered our vocabulary last year ‘polycrisis’. The Secretary General Antonio Guterres refers to that as a meta crisis that has so many dimensions, disasters, displacements, diseases so that's a new 3D for you. Therefore, the lessons that Dichhen drew from the Nepal also matter at the global level. Preparedness that's the key word. When you live in the world of public crisis it's not when if the next crisis is going to happen but if it where it's going to happen and when it's going to happen. So, preparedness is crucial. Having some of the rosters of volunteers, so some of the local networks of the volunteers established, ongoing capacity building, communication and multi-stakeholder partnership. Volunteers by themselves will do very little if they are not enabled by the government but at the local level if they are not partnering with the local community organizations and non-government organizations and if the private sector is not playing role in the disaster response. So, these are the themes that are emerging out of orbit experience out of experienced people like Dicchen and that we intend to follow up and to encourage countries to try to replicate good practices. Maybe what we can do is to have one thousand Dicchens not just in Nepal but around the world. You see, a talented motivated outstanding individual who have seen it all, who have done it all and even if they haven't seen them done it, they have passion to do it.
Journalist: When we talk about volunteers, we just remember them in the time of crisis only. I think they can be an asset for a very dynamic and versatile society. Do you feel this narrative should be changed? Volunteers are there to strengthen our community and society forever, they are not just there to respond to crisis. Do you see the need to change this narrative?
Dicchen: I don't think that this narrative has been in the society like only in crisis. We need volunteers all the time. We have volunteers who are working with other organizations for building a community not just for a crisis but for all of the things and we have other volunteering organizations who are helping build our community and the nation. We need more volunteers in the crisis, but volunteerism as a whole is to build a community not only just to respond to a crisis.