In August 2016, the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Ecuador organized the first Regional Meeting of Youth Volunteer Networks, in collaboration with the Municipality of Cuenca. The event brought together 155 participants from Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru and Guatemala. It aimed to promote the exchange of experiences and best practices among youth volunteer organizations and networks in Latin America that work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Regional Meeting of Youth Volunteer Networks responds to the need for a platform to exchange experiences, discuss issues and disseminate information regarding actions undertaken by youth volunteer networks and organizations. The Municipality of Cuenca is a strategic partner as the only municipality in Ecuador with volunteer programmes at the municipal level.
The event began with a morning plenary session with welcome remarks by UNV Ecuador, the Municipality of Cuenca and Martin Bernal Dávila, a young representative of the volunteer network from the Municipality of Cuenca.
“Through volunteerism and volunteer networks, young people not only have a platform to voice their concerns, but also to put ideas into practice and exchange knowledge with other youth from all over the world,” said Mariana Diaz, UNV Programme Officer in Ecuador.
“It is our responsibility to seek a better tomorrow. It is important that we have spaces where we can share volunteer experiences and learn from them,” said Martin Bernal Dávila during his welcome remarks. “Youth can change the world.”
The event proceeded with panel presentations by national and international experts who provided a comprehensive review of the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda, the challenges and opportunities that youth face in the implementation of these agendas, and the Ecuadorian context related to youth volunteerism. “The new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda requires the commitment and participation of all people,” said Nuno Queiros, Deputy Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ecuador. “And volunteers are key to activate citizen participation in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals”.
“Volunteerism is the visible human face of international development,” said Iván Martínez, Technical Secretary for International Cooperation of the Ecuadorian Government. “Volunteerism is the most efficient way to decentralize the management of cooperation, mainly at local level”.
After the presentations, a "voluntary action” took place in the park of El Paraíso where participants had the opportunity to plant trees and contribute to the quality of life of the city, symbolically leaving a legacy of the Regional Meeting of Youth Volunteers Networks in Cuenca.
The rest of the meeting was dedicated to addressing various issues related to the Sustainable Development Goals, such as disaster and resilience, environment and climate change, and equity and social inclusion. Other topics of discussion were the challenges and opportunities of volunteerism in the implementation of the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda; the role of volunteering and participation in national and international events promoting the SDGs; and recognition and volunteer action from public and private institutions.
The active participation of young volunteers generated a dynamic space that allowed everyone the opportunity to express their point of view on the topics discussed by the panellists. This initiative gave youth a voice and the opportunity to play a role as decision-makers in implementing the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.
“My experience in this event was really enriching. I had the chance to be part of a big interaction with people from different countries,” said Johanna Aucapiña, Cuenca International Network Volunteer. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”