How to overcome social exclusion? How to reduce inequalities? How to create a more inclusive future? These were among many issues addressed during the Sahel Roundtable on the contribution of volunteerism to development in the Sahel. Held 19-20 November 2019 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the Roundtable pioneered a platform for practitioners to showcase the strong impact of volunteerism in promoting equality and an inclusive future for people in the region. It was also a prelude to the celebration of International Volunteer Day (IVD), which focused in 2019 on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.
On the occasion of IVD, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme has highlighted initiatives that include more people in sustainable development through volunteerism. One such initiative is the new UN Community Volunteer category, which enables more people to participate directly in social, environmental and economic change.
UN Volunteers contribute to rebuilding the lives of many communities in Africa and open up doors that otherwise would have remained closed. The region has high rates of poverty, social exclusion and inequalities. Accordingly, volunteerism is literally the key to unlock opportunities and make development more inclusive, states UNV Regional Manager for West and Central Africa, Afke Bootsman.
Volunteers' contributions promote an inclusive future, as they facilitate the participation of all segments of society, especially women and youth, in the quest for peace and development. This year, we promoted inclusivity through several volunteer categories, especially UN Community Volunteers, in many countries. Our goal is to support the implementation of development initiatives and programmes for and by the most vulnerable people. --Afke Bootsman, UNV Regional Manager for West and Central Africa
Promoting inclusion of women, youth, refugees and communities through different modalities
The UN Community Volunteer category was launched in North-East Nigeria in 2018 as a pilot with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
UN Community Volunteer Raihana Bello Furo strives to improve living conditions in her own community, Guyaku (North-East Nigeria), which have been severely affected by conflict. She promotes income-generating activities through a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) for thousands of displaced people, especially women and youth.
According to her, the VSLA in Guyaku has increased social cohesion, inclusivity and economic change:
Despite the fact that members of the community lost their properties, they are willing to come together and save, so that members can take loans to engage in various forms of income-generating activities. --Raihana Bello Furo, UN Community Volunteer
Since early 2018 in crisis-affected Northeastern Nigeria, ten further UN Community Volunteers with UNDP were instrumental in successfully implementing Village Savings and Loans Associations. The aim was to jumpstart a process of economic recovery for conflict-affected people, including displaced and host communities.
Under the ‘Volunteer Action Counts’ campaign, several pilot communities in this part of Nigeria were mobilized to participate in advocacy and awareness-raising around health and agriculture, tree planting and clean-up activities, borehole renovation, drainage construction, and the rehabilitation of health centres.
The added value of UN Community Volunteers is that they reside within their communities, speak the local language and understand the culture and norms. They are directly involved in humanitarian, peacebuilding and post-conflict recovery activities.
I am highly impressed by the manner in which the community came together to contribute towards this campaign. After going through such a disaster, this community volunteerism effort will foster social cohesion aiming towards lasting resilience. --Edward Kallon, United Nations Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative of UNDP, Nigeria
In Nigeria, more UN Community Volunteers are expected to work with UNDP in 2020. Other countries and UN partners are also inspired by this category of volunteers, such as the World Food Programme (WFP) in Benin and Burkina Faso, where 31 UN Community Volunteers (out of 85 serving UN Volunteers) support peace and development efforts.
In Burkina Faso, UNV partnered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in engaging refugees as UN Refugee Volunteer at the community level. In Senegal, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria, refugees were deployed with a range of UN agencies in their field of expertise, after having finished their tertiary level education with a scholarship from the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI).
In 2019, more than 8,000 UN Volunteers served around the world, including about 2,400 in West and Central Africa. Mobilized locally and internationally, UN Volunteers help millions of people in vulnerable situations affected by natural disasters, political or social tensions.