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UNICEF celebrates the work of its global volunteers

© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Deliége
UNICEF Volunteer Antoine Deliége is a Sport & Culture Development Specialist in Rwanda, where he works with a local partner ensuring that children enjoy their right to play and sport.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 2 December 2011 - United Nations Volunteers come from all over the world with different skills and backgrounds, but they have one thing in common; an abiding passion to improve the lives of others.

For UNICEF volunteers, their focus is specifically on helping women and children.

Changing children’s lives

“When I give a ball to a child, I know I can change that child’s life for the better,” said Antoine Deliège from Belgium who’s working closely with a UNICEF partner in Rwanda  that ensures children and young people have the opportunity to play.

“My work as a UN Volunteer with UNICEF Dominican Republic has been the most challenging experience of my professional career,” said Annalisa Staffa , who’s working on the AIDS campaign in that country.

When Daisy Serem  joined UNICEF in Kenya, she found herself thrown into the unfolding humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa, with a visit to the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.

“I had barely learnt the ropes in the Nairobi office and here I was already on my first mission to a camp that hosts over half a million refugees, majority of these being women and children,” she said.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2010/Urresta
UNICEF volunteers lead Timor-Leste children through awareness of water and sanitation issues by playing games.

International Volunteer Day

About 7,700 people from more than 160 countries serve as UN Volunteers in developing countries.  About 40 per cent work in Africa, 26 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, 15 per cent are in Central and Eastern Europe. The remainder are in the Arab States, the Caribbean and Central and South America. 

The United National officially honours their work on December 5th—International Volunteer Day . 

This year marks another milestone—the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, when volunteerism will be discussed in the UN General Assembly  and the first State of the World’s Volunteerism Report will be launched.

It will highlight the work of volunteers such as Water and Sanitation Officer Koenraad Vancraeynest, a Belgian national who has worked in Bolivia since 2009 and has seen the real changes brought about by UNICEF’s programming. 

© UNICEF Bolivia/2011
Koenraad Vancraeynest is a Belgian national working on water and sanitation issues with the Japo community in Chuquisaca, Bolivia.

“A mother explained to me that, before the water system was built, she had to wake up before sunrise every morning to get water and make sure her children could go to school with clean hands and a basic breakfast,” he said. “Today, she can get water in a second by just opening the tap on her patio, which enables her to dedicate more time to weaving and other activities,” he said.

Grateful volunteers

Water and sanitation is also the focus for Muhammad Afrianto Kurniawan, an Indonesian who has volunteered in Timor-Leste since the beginning of 2010. 

“For me, working as a UN Volunteer with UNICEF in Timor-Leste allows me a great opportunity to help many children who need access to clean water and basic sanitation facilities which will improve their basic standard of living and provide them with the means to be healthy and happy in the future,” he said.

Samar Wahba, an Education Specialist with UNICEF Egypt, works on a programme to increase kindergarten and school enrolment of children aged four to six.

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Leclercq
UNICEF Burundi volunteer Masala Boly in Gitega city, chatting with two brothers whose mother just gave birth to a baby boy in a nearby health centre.

“In one of my visits to the kindergartens, the kids welcomed me with a song that they sing to visitors. I was so happy because the kids were happy,” he said.

Gratitude is commonly felt by the volunteers, who through their work have the chance to expand and enrich their own lives.

“For me, it has been a tremendous experience to live and work in such a fascinating country,” said Ewout Erik Stoefs, who works with Vietnamese provincial governments in designing child-friendly social policies.  “Not a day goes by that I don’t feel lucky to have the opportunity to volunteer here.”



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