Mobilizing Youth as Volunteer Partners

UNICEF volunteer strategy-built capacity for today’s COVID response in Nicaragua

Emmanuel Michaud, UNICEF Nicaragua & Kenneth Chomba, UNICEF NYHQ
On December the 5th, 2019, in the framework of the International Volunteer Day, 268 UNICEF volunteers received a certificate to recognize their commitment and contribution to Children’s Rights in Nicaragua.
UNICEF Nicaragua/2019/Nery García
22 June 2020

Innovation starts at the designing stage

At the beginning of 2018, UNICEF launched a Global Volunteer Initiative (GVI) to support countries in designing context-driven volunteering strategies. With punctual experiences working with group of students, UNICEF Nicaragua decided to be part of this initiative and seize the opportunity to innovate and structure its approach of volunteering.

At the early stage of this initiative, three key elements were contemplated to come up with an innovative strategy: generating an added value to business-as-usual approaches, the involvement of users from the designing phase and an at-scale implementation perspective.

Reflecting on this, Shai Naides, Programme Manager at UNICEF’s Global Volunteer Office said: “UNICEF Nicaragua was an early adopter and jumped right into testing our people-centric, and iterative methodologies, empowering youth to show up as equal partners in a process that resulted in their current volunteer strategy. This work is delivering impressive results across priority areas for the organization in Nicaragua.”

A group of volunteers from the Universidad del Valle implements playful methodologies to improve the knowledge of children from a vulnerable neighborhood of the capital, Managua, on practices to protect themselves from sexual violence.
UNICEF Nicaragua/2019/Benjamín Duarte
A group of volunteers from the Universidad del Valle implements playful methodologies to improve the knowledge of children from a vulnerable neighborhood of the capital, Managua, on practices to protect themselves from sexual violence.

An innovative contribution to Children’s Rights

It is important to emphasize that UNICEF Nicaragua’s approach has always been focused on the contribution that volunteers can have to Children’s Rights, especially the prevention of sexual violence. The number of children impacted by volunteers’ activities is much more important than the number of volunteers.

“Allowing volunteers to develop their own projects and strategies have empowered and given them a sense of pride of their contribution. Volunteers are close to their communities, so they know everyone must sum up to tackle the violence children are facing in their households.”

Ivan Yerovi, UNICEF Representative in Nicaragua

To support the volunteer groups in designing and implementing their projects, an attractive methodology based on human-centered design is facilitated and constitutes an excellent tool to both develop the volunteers’ skills and elaborate innovative community interventions.

For example, after a series of trainings, one of the volunteer groups designed specific games to transmit self-care messages to prevent sexual violence to children from a vulnerable community of Nicaragua’s capital Managua.

“With playful methodologies, children show more self-confidence and it helps them to be expressive, reflective and collaborative. It gives the opportunity to identify that they are understanding the messages and developing their abilities”, specifies Yahoska Ramírez, the Coordinator of this group.

Through these types of initiatives, in 2019, the contribution of 325 volunteers allowed for improving the knowledge of 1,182 children on practices to protect themselves from sexual violence.

A group of volunteers from the Universidad Nicaragüense de Estudios Humanísticos reaches the rural communities of Niquinohomo and shares with children self-protection practices to prevent sexual violence.
UNICEF Nicaragua/2019/Nuria Rostrán
A group of volunteers from the Universidad Nicaragüense de Estudios Humanísticos reaches the rural communities of Niquinohomo and shares with children self-protection practices to prevent sexual violence.

Beyond participation, the formation of committed community change agents

Beyond traditional participation schemes, UNICEF Nicaragua has successfully developed an intensive engagement model that allows for forming young change agents committed to Children’s Rights. It is worth mentioning that 89.6% of the volunteers indicate that, as volunteer groups, they have the capacity to improve the social situation regarding sexual abuse against children.

This trust in their capacity to generate impact in their community is closely linked to their competencies. In that respect, 78.3% of them believe that they have enough knowledge and skills to end sexual abuse. Above all, 68% of UNICEF student volunteers feel recognized by their community as agent of change.

This recognition is one of the factors that reinforce their commitment and make it sustainable. Thus, beyond a present contribution to UNICEF goals, the volunteering strategy has built an effective engagement model to form leaders that will defend and promote Children’s Rights in their community, family and professional life in a long run.

The success and sustainability of this model is interconnected with the partnerships forged with public and private universities to develop the volunteering strategy.

On one hand, UNICEF found the ideal ground to form community agents. On the other hand, the Universities have had the opportunity to innovate in their approach of volunteering and strengthen the link with a comprehensive education journey for their students, as highlighted by Yamileth Alguera, Vice-Rector of the Nicaraguan University of Humanistic Studies (UNEH):

“Volunteering contributes to sensitize future professionals and provide the society with better people interested in working for the common good.”

Volunteers from the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University celebrate their achievements during the 2019 certification event.
UNICEF Nicaragua/2019/Nery García
Volunteers from the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University celebrate their achievements during the 2019 certification event.

Adapting the volunteering strategy to the response to COVID-19

Today, the solid engagement model of the volunteering strategy, the strength of the partnership with universities and the clarity of the contribution volunteers can provide has allowed for agilely mobilizing them in supporting UNICEF Nicaragua’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic through a rapid shift to online working dynamics.

First, a virtual diagnosis workshop which involved volunteers from different Universities and Departments of Nicaragua was organized to jointly match their expectations with UNICEF needs. The insights of this meeting led to focus the volunteers’ contribution on improving community commitment and designing attractive communication materials to spread messages on risk prevention.

Based on this, a virtual training session was run to provide the group coordinators with the necessary knowledge to start working with their groups on the COVID-19 response. This workshop included methodologies that intend to reduce stress through the implementation of peer-to-peer support activities during team meetings.

Now, 130 volunteers organized in eight groups are already producing radio spots, posters and videos on hand washing, social distancing and preventing intrafamilial violence. For example, one of the groups of the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) is designing a digital game to combat the impact of fake news. The group of the Catholic University (UNICA) created an Instagram page to share with adolescents and young people how they are managing stress during the containment.

In addition, 29 volunteers provided crucial support in collecting information within the framework of a national consultation implemented by UNICEF and the Global Movement for Children to assess the impact of COVID-19 in the lives of children and their households. A “counter misinformation task force” was also created to generate a weekly mapping of fake news identified on social medias. These different initiatives represent a fundamental support for UNICEF in a context in which reaching communities is particularly challenging.