“Volunteers are friends of children.”
Armanzhan Narbekov about his experience volunteering for UNICEF BeSafe.
Armanzhan Narbekov, 16 years old:
I learned about climate change and disaster risk reduction two years ago when I participated in UN models. These models were structured as debate tournaments where we discussed various problems, including natural disasters, acting on behalf of various countries. That's how I learned about climate change in developing countries and the stories of children affected by natural disasters.
In addition, I have long desired for children and my peers to learn about the ways and means to save their lives or the lives of loved ones during emergencies. I have heard a lot of stories about when children my own age and their relatives panicked during an emergency or did not know what to do, leading to death. Therefore, I decided to contribute to informing children about climate emergencies, as well as preparing them for such situations. However, for a long time I did not know how to accomplish this.
Last year, I had a chance to participate in the UNICEF BeSafe volunteer programme.
BeSafe is a UNICEF volunteer programme aimed at improving the knowledge and skills of schoolchildren in emergency preparedness and climate change disasters. From September 2022 to May 2023, 381 volunteers conducted lessons, held meetings with experts on environmental issues and emergencies, and received simulated disaster training at participating schools in 15 regions of Kazakhstan. In total, 24,890 schoolchildren and more than 3,500 administrative representatives and teachers took part in the programme.
I learned about BeSafe from Daria Petina, another student at my school. She was already a programme volunteer at our school. My classmate, who had applied before me and already conducted lessons, also recommended this programme to me, and I agreed.
I learned a lot during my participation in BeSafe. Firstly, I learned to communicate with children, such as finding the right approach to interacting with them. I also learned how to convey information correctly and how to keep children interested in the learning process. Thanks to other BeSafe volunteers, I now communicate better with my peers.
Two to three times a year we meet with UNICEF experts, where we ask the coordinators questions about how to teach children better and how to make them pay attention. We received useful tips and integrated them in our work.
Preparing for the lessons turned out to be the most difficult for me. I had to first read and understand all the information presented during our training. The main thing is to process and rephrase it so that it is clearer to children. We first retained the information ourselves and then conveyed it to the children in the simplest words.
We occasionally experienced communication difficulties or technical problems, but sometimes, unfortunately, the children also did not listen to us. It was very difficult to get them interested, especially during online lessons, as we could not keep eye contact with them or play engaging games.
But the children usually said that we did great and that we were interesting. They actually asked us to come more often.
Before and after classes, I talked to schoolchildren who told us what could be improved, and we listened. Once I was advised to look less at the presentation during lessons. I fixed it, and going forward, I hardly looked at the screen.
At BeSafe, we practiced an equal-to-equal approach, so we tried to talk to children on equal footing.
“It helps to establish friendly ties, because volunteers are friends of children. We must show that we are not superior; we are equal.”
My life has changed dramatically after participating in the programme. I have made a lot of friends and interesting acquaintances. I even began to study better and became more responsible about my lessons.
Even when I'm just walking down the street and I see garbage, I pick it up and throw it in the trash. After all the lessons are over, I just want to help our environment, help children, and help the world around us.
I really enjoyed being a BeSafe volunteer, teaching classes, and going to other schools. It's like I have found my calling in this.
“Maybe I have saved someone's life with my words and lessons, or I will save them in the future. It motivates me to keep going.”
I am going to keep developing as a volunteer until I graduate from school. Unfortunately, then I will have to go abroad, but I am sure that I will continue to volunteer there. I believe that there are no former volunteers. If you become a volunteer once, you will always be one.