Promoting volunteerism in Uzbekistan

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Volunteerism enables young people to explore and try out new ideas; gain confidence and life skills, and a sense of activism and appreciation in return which can go a long way in the climate of political apathy which often surrounds them. Volunteerism truly can make an impact, and I am glad I had the chance to contribute to its promotion in Uzbekistan.

Andreas Karpati (middle) presenting the Volunteer of the Year Award on International Volunteer Day 2013 held in the National Library of Uzbekistan. (UNV, 2013)

"I am going to Uzbekistan"; "Where? Pakistan?"; "No. Uz-be-ki-stan"; "Aaah! West Pakistan!"

During my year as a UN Volunteer in Uzbekistan, I have often shared stories about the confusion that habitually ensued when I, proudly, announced my upcoming UNV assignment to friends and family. What I secretly omitted is that I myself had to google the country before being able to pinpoint its precise location in Central Asia.

It has been almost a year since I flew to Uzbekistan to take up my role as ‘Community Outreach Specialist’ for a joint UNDP/UNV youth empowerment project.

After a year in the field, not only can I confidently hold a lecture about the differences between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the uninitiated, but can also look back on a year in which I have been given the opportunity to genuinely engage with and get to know the most important stakeholders of every country – its youth.

Whether as participants in the workshops I have learned to hold, as work colleagues (of whom all except the Project Manager were under the age of 30), or the friends  I have made here, everybody had a story to tell, and I was intent to listen.

The ‘Social Innovation and Volunteerism in Uzbekistan’ project of which I have been part of has a simple goal: to help young people in the country to become more active citizens. Knowing that I would not only be a UN Volunteer but also have to promote volunteerism in a professional capacity, I came to Uzbekistan armed with a suitcase full of arguments about why it is important to give something back to society without expecting money in return.

Yet it was only here in Uzbekistan that I slowly came to realise the full extent to which volunteerism can be a transformational experience for young people who are often devoid of the channels for self-expression I had simply taken for granted in Europe. Volunteerism enables young people to explore and try out new ideas; gain confidence and life skills, and a sense of activism and appreciation in return which can go a long way in the climate of political apathy which often surrounds them.

Volunteerism truly can make an impact, and I am glad I had the chance to contribute to its promotion in Uzbekistan.